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News / Clark County News

Evergreen, Camas teachers’ strikes enter week two

Union leaders disappointed no progress made over long weekend; schools remain closed; Battle Ground Public Schools open as talks continue

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 5, 2023, 6:35pm
5 Photos
Striking educators keep in step as Evergreen Public Schools enters its fourth day on the picket line, as seen at Heritage High School on Monday morning. Union president Kristie Peak said Tuesday that two bargaining sessions held over the holiday weekend yielded no notable steps toward a deal on a new contract.
Striking educators keep in step as Evergreen Public Schools enters its fourth day on the picket line, as seen at Heritage High School on Monday morning. Union president Kristie Peak said Tuesday that two bargaining sessions held over the holiday weekend yielded no notable steps toward a deal on a new contract. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A lack of progress at the bargaining table over the holiday weekend brought Evergreen and Camas teachers back to the picket line Tuesday, beginning the second week of teacher strikes in each district.

Schools are closed again in both districts today. Battle Ground Public Schools, while still bargaining with its own teachers union for a deal, remains open.

Evergreen Education Association President Kristie Peak said Tuesday that bargaining sessions on Sunday and Monday yielded little to no progress toward a tentative agreement. Union members said last week during a rally at district headquarters that they felt the district’s bargaining team wasn’t taking the process seriously.

“We are offering our time,” Peak said. “We knew they were finished bargaining by 5 p.m. Friday. Our message to (the district bargaining team) was that we were going to stay here, and we’ve got things to do. If you come up with creative solutions and think of something and change your minds, we’re here.”

Amy Prentice, a mother of two students in the district, said she feels the impasse is in part due to the district’s leaders not adequately listening to stories shared by parents and staff throughout the year about struggles they’re facing in the classroom.

“There’s distrust in the community,” said Prentice, who sought out Evergreen years ago as a place to raise her kids due to its schools’ positive reputation. “It doesn’t seem like (the district) is taking input from teachers or parents. I don’t know who they listen to.”

In recent years, she said she’s stuck behind the district to support her kids despite criticisms and controversies. Prentice said that this time around she’s grown disappointed with how the district is framing the impasse.

“I don’t know what needs to happen to move the bargaining forward in a meaningful way. My perception of this is the union is working hard to figure something out, and the district is saying, ‘Hey look at these highly paid teachers asking for more money,’” she said. “It feels like they’re trying to make this a conversation about salary only and not giving a full view of the issues on table.”

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What can the board do?

With a week of instruction now lost for over 30,000 students in Clark County, parents and community stakeholders awaiting a deal are growing frustrated. On social media, community members have questioned the role Evergreen and Camas board members can have in resolving the conflict.

Peak said Tuesday that union leaders generally wouldn’t expect to ever talk directly with board members at the bargaining table, but that in the past she’s seen them play a role through making public comments about the process. At this point in bargaining, the union and district are working through a state mediator, meaning they are rarely in the same room together.

Tracie Barrows, a school psychologist in Evergreen who’s walked the picket line since Aug. 31, has a unique perspective on the ongoing negotiations: she’s a board director in Vancouver Public Schools. On Friday, she urged the board to direct the superintendent to find a deal with the union as soon as possible.

“As a school board member (in Vancouver), I’ve seen the impact that a culture of collaboration and mutual respect can have on the bargaining process between the district and union,” Barrows said. “As (an Evergreen union member), I have seen time and time again how decisions by the district leadership and school board in Evergreen erode the trust and relationship between the district and its educators and community.”

In a statement shared via email Tuesday, Evergreen board President Julie Bocanegra said the board has done just that, but that they will only take direct responsibility once a tentative agreement is reached.

“Our role as board members is to set the mission, vision and direction of the school district, with the management and operations taking place at the superintendent and administrator level,” Bocanegra said. “We have directed Superintendent Boyd and our bargaining team to reach an agreement with (the union) that aligns with the mission and vision that we have set and that is affordable for the upcoming year and sustainable for future years.”

Picketing to continue

Third District Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, stopped by the picket line to show support for the teachers union and speak with state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who works at Pacific Middle School.

“I think that public school teachers should be among the highest paid professionals in our country, not struggling to make rent or unable to get a mortgage. We hugely underinvest in our public education and we need America to be the gold standard in K-12,” Perez said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “So, I’m grateful that these folks are persistent in teaching at a time when we’ve lost so many of our educators and I’m hopeful that all parties will come together to reach a mutually acceptable deal. I also know that all of my parent friends are eager to see school get started again, and so I hope that this is a speedy process.”

As schools remain closed in Evergreen and Camas, each district will continue to hold after-school athletics and provide free meals to parents on behalf of their children. Full details on Evergreen meal services are available on the district’s website: https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/strike-meals-2023/home. In Camas, lunch will be served at Liberty Middle School and Lacamas Lake Elementary School from 11 a.m. to noon.

For more information on the day-to-day bargaining process in Evergreen, visit the district’s website: https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/human-resources/eea-bargaining-update.

For information on bargaining in Camas, visit the district’s website: https://www.camas.wednet.edu/about-csd/budget-development/labor-relations/.