Hundreds of Evergreen Education Association members brought the picket line to the district’s doorstep Friday, circling the Evergreen Public Schools headquarters in red and leading chants in support of teachers at the bargaining table.
“These are people who put their heart and soul into their work, and they just want to be respected,” said Larry Delaney, the president of the Washington Education Association.
Delaney visited Vancouver on Friday to walk the picket line with Evergreen teachers, calling the size of the rally outside the district office a testament to the union’s strength.
“The organization that (the union) has shown is off the charts,” Delaney said. “There have been some strikes in the past where we’ve been building the plane in the air, but this union put weeks of work into this to make sure they were ready to stand up.”
Friday marked the third day of the strike in Evergreen. Teachers in the neighboring Camas School District paused from walking the picket lines while the district observed a scheduled non-instructional day Friday. Battle Ground Public Schools, while still bargaining with its own teachers union, remained open this week for the first days of its school year.
Evergreen union leaders said they’ve been disappointed with the district’s approach to bargaining this week. Union President Kristie Peak said in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday that they waited four hours for a response from the district Wednesday; another member said the district “ghosted” the union entirely past 5 p.m. Thursday.
“Last night, (the union) was ready to receive a counterproposal late into the evening until 10 p.m., and they never heard anything,” Delaney said. “A question that needs to be asked of the district is why they’re not coming to the table with meaningful proposals.”
The district claimed on its bargaining webpage Thursday that a state mediator “dismissed both parties at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.”
Special education needs
With the strike on the cusp of delaying the second week of the 2023-24 school year, picketing teachers continued to reiterate their frustration with the district’s focus on salary as the primary barrier in bargaining.
Maryjane Pudlitzke, a special education teacher at Columbia Valley Elementary School, said Friday that staff weren’t adequately prepared for the shift to a new special education model last year.
“They gave (special educators) a book to read in the spring, and then right before school started in the fall, they gave us a couple of hours of prep time,” Pudlitzke said. “The district didn’t come out with any statement of what a ‘neighborhood school’ looks like or what’s expected. We’ve been trying to make it work, but we can’t.”
Pudlitzke and her coworkers picketing outside their school Friday said the new model has promise, but without an increase in support staff for special education students and more time built into their schedules to explain the varying needs of each student to classroom teachers, it won’t work.
“We aren’t receiving training on how to deal with students that cannot self-regulate,” said Beth Petrie, a teacher librarian at Columbia Valley. “A lot of teachers have had to seek medical treatment for injuries suffered working with students on the job. And then they’ve had to use their own sick leave for it.”
Echoing a message from staff picketing at other schools this week, Pudlitzke said she originally came to work in Evergreen because of its once-outstanding special education program.
“I have a child who (went to Evergreen for) special education. I’m not just a teacher. (My son) has had an extraordinary education, but I’m still scared for him. And the model has changed significantly since he was here,” Pudlitzke said. “I need it to be safe. I’d like to not be here striking, but I need it to be safe for my students.”
Bargaining over weekend
Bargaining teams in Evergreen, Battle Ground and Camas will each meet over the three-day weekend. Existing contracts for teachers unions in each district officially expired Friday.
Evergreen superintendent John Boyd said in a letter sent to families Friday that the district will post an update by 4 p.m. Monday regarding whether schools will be open Tuesday.
“The goal is to get our students back in the classroom as quickly as possible,” Boyd said in the letter. “We are committed to reaching an agreement that is affordable, sustainable and fair to both sides within our current budgetary conditions.”