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Friday, September 29, 2023
Sept. 29, 2023

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Camas teachers approve new contract; school starts Friday

Tentative agreement with district had been announced late Wednesday

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Camas Education Association members walk out of Camas High School on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, after voting to approve a new contract with the Camas School District.
Camas Education Association members walk out of Camas High School on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, after voting to approve a new contract with the Camas School District. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

At long last, Friday is the first day of the 2023-2024 school year in Camas.

The Camas Education Association overwhelmingly voted to ratify a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract with the Camas School District on Thursday afternoon, concluding a strike that started Aug. 28 and closed schools for six days.

Teachers in Evergreen Public Schools remained on strike Thursday for a sixth straight day. Unlike Camas, the union has not yet reached a tentative agreement with the district as of Thursday afternoon and schools will be closed for a seventh day Friday.

An estimated 98 percent of union members present for the vote in the Camas High School auditorium voted in favor of the new agreement, which elated teachers described as a proud moment for the district.

“There’s just this huge feeling of relief,” said Eleanor Cosgrove-Farland, a music teacher at Hellen Baller Elementary School. “I’m proud of our bargaining team. They’ve been at this for months, and we’re so lucky to have their expertise. In order for Camas to be the best, we have to keep fighting for it.”

After nearly two weeks of tension between the district and the union, Camas Superintendent John Anzalone expressed appreciation for the district’s teachers and described the agreement as a “shared dedication” to their work.

“Our teachers are not just educators; they are mentors, role models, and often, beacons of stability for our students,” Anzalone said. “Their love for teaching and their unwavering dedication to their students are the very qualities that excite me for our students’ futures and the future of our district.”

Early details in the contract

While the entirety of the newly ratified Camas Education Association contract hasn’t yet been released in full, the union shared a summary of the key pieces Thursday afternoon.

Kindergarten class sizes will now be capped at 22 students for the 2023-2024 school year; the cap was set at 24 for the previous contract. All classes through fifth grade will be capped at 24 students each.

Teachers will also receive a 6.4 percent wage increase in 2023-2024 and a 6.6 percent increase in 2024-2025, higher than what had been proposed in the district’s most recent offer.

The contract also establishes a pool of additional funds to be distributed on a per-student basis to support physical education programs, music classes and school libraries.

“As an elementary school music teacher, I was really excited we were able to see equitable funding for music and (physical education),” Cosgrove-Farland said. “It’s really crucial we’ve finally been able to get some consistent language and yearly expectations for that.”

Excitement and relief

Friday is arguably the most exciting day of the week at any point of the year. To have the first day of school fall on a Friday will make it particularly exciting, teachers said after the vote.

“I was so excited that we still had the chance to start Friday; that it was still possible to see students tomorrow and not have it drag over the weekend,” said Monica Winkley, a teacher at Hayes Freedom High School. “We’ve been ready, students have been ready, but that anxiety builds over the weekend. This way we get to do our meet-and-greet and then kids get to go into the weekend with a schema for what’s to come.”

Staff after the vote Thursday expressed that they were surprised by how the strike managed to bring the community together.

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“I expected the overall process to be uglier. Strikes are not particularly popular, especially for people who work in the public sphere,” Winkley said. “But I just had all these great conversations with people at businesses, at farmers markets. I just helped answered questions about what I do and what matters.”

Kate Gooding, among the union’s key leaders throughout the process, is optimistic for the months ahead.

“I left my previous profession because I wanted to pursue something more fulfilling,” said Gooding, an English teacher at Camas High School. “Going through a strike created a lot of unity in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of division that we will have to sift through, but I’m so proud of where we are.”

Evergreen yet to reach deal

As contract negotiations in Evergreen – the biggest district in Southwest Washington – remain stalled, parents are hosting ar rally outside district headquarters at 11:30 a.m. Friday, followed by a union rally at 1 p.m.

Evergreen parents can pick up breakfasts and lunches for their children at several school locations; it doesn’t need to be their child’s own school. Full details on Evergreen meal services are available on the district’s website: https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/strike-meals-2023/home.

For updates on ongoing bargaining, visit the district’s website here: https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/human-resources/eea-bargaining-update.

The union also has details about what they’re seeking from bargaining on their website here: https://www.eeaoffice.com/bargaining-updates/.

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