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News / Clark County News

Evergreen teachers approve contract, ending protracted strike

Classes in Evergreen Public Schools resume today after a two-hour late start

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 11, 2023, 9:58am

School is back in session in Evergreen Public Schools after the district’s teachers union voted to approve a new contract Monday morning.

The Evergreen Education Association — the largest teachers union in Southwest Washington — reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the district late Sunday evening, putting an end to a teachers strike that closed schools for seven days to begin the year. Schools opened on a two-hour delay Monday following the vote at Evergreen High School.

Union President Kristie Peak expressed relief and gratitude to the community following the vote Monday morning.

“I’ve been in this district for 30 years, and I’ve felt since the day I started that this community places value on quality education for their kids,” Peak said. “Their willingness to engage was really inspiring. I’m thankful they stood up and used their voices.”

In a statement shared Sunday evening, Evergreen Superintendent John Boyd shared a similar perspective after a particularly tense few weeks.

“We are excited for the new school year to finally begin,” Boyd said in the statement. “We know this work stoppage has been inconvenient and stressful for our families, and the best thing we can do now is come together as a district and give our students the education they deserve. We are determined to do so.”

The 22,000-student district sent out another statement following the vote saying the district’s board will vote on the contract Tuesday night. It said the seven missed classroom days will be added to the district calendar to give students the required 180 instructional days.

Contract details

The union’s key points of contention in the bargaining process, which began in March, have been extending a cost of living adjustment, reducing class sizes and getting additional support for special education.

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Early highlights of the contract shared by the union Monday morning showed progress on those goals. The district has apparently agreed to hire up to 10 certificated special education support teachers this school year and up to 12 in the second and third years of the contract. K-8 teachers will also receive additional time built into their schedules to collaborate with special education teachers on necessary support for students not yet meeting learning goals.

Regarding wages, the union said the contract features a 6.6 percent increase in the first year of the contract and a 5.8 percent increase in the second year. The third year of the contract will include a wage increase based on the Seattle Consumer Price index, with a minimum of 4.65 percent and a maximum of 5.05 percent. The increases per year each exceed what was offered by the district in an offer shared in early August.

A full copy of the new deal will be available later this week after it’s ratified by the district’s board of directors.

Community exhales

The final days of Evergreen’s strike last week saw increasing tensions: from students protesting on school grounds to the district warning teachers their paychecks would be delayed if they didn’t report to school Monday.

Peak said after the vote that while she was frustrated with the way bargaining went, she feels it signaled to the community what needs to be done to support public education.

“I’ve been involved in four bargaining sessions, and this one was the hardest, most disappointing and discouraging by far,” Peak said. “One of the bright spots, though, is that this shines a bright spot on underfunding of education in America.

“Schools do a lot, and sometimes the public doesn’t see what we do to fill the gaps,” she said. “What’s really good for education in this country is for parents to own it and demand good public education for their kids.”

A Facebook group called “Evergreen Parents Red for Ed” put parent frustration on center stage last week, attracting 1,900 members in just a few days and bringing protests to the district’s headquarters. Amy Prentice, a parent and one of the group’s moderators, said the group would continue serving as a force in the community going forward.

“I don’t know whether or not the district heard parents’ concerns, but I hope the new contract provides better support for teachers and paraeducators working in classrooms with kids,” Prentice said. “Parents are committed to continuing this momentum and collaboration to advocate for all (Evergreen) students getting the support and resources they deserve.”