Emotional school board meeting as Battle Ground teachers continue to strike

Emotions ran high at Monday night's school board meeting in Battle Ground, Wash. (KATU Photo)

The public comment period at a Battle Ground School District board meeting lasted nearly two hours Monday night as community members expressed their frustration with an ongoing teacher's strike.

Battle Ground teachers are the last to strike in Southwest Washington. Over the weekend, the district and Battle Ground Education Association (BGEA) could not agree on a contract.

Teachers received support from a majority of people speaking, but a few expressed their frustration at the ongoing strike.

"I just came at the request of getting it done. Paying what's fair and being done with it. That doesn't seem to be happening," said Echo Boyle, a parent.

"How much do you even care? You can't even be out there when everyone's coming home. That's disgusting," a resident said during public comment.

Superintendent Mark Ross said Monday the district was offering teachers an 11.6 percent pay increase, but BGEA proposed a 19.6 percent pay increase.

At the end of the meeting, Board President Ken Root said he understood teachers, but said the district could not offer more money.

"To sustain a school district with the budget that we're allowed, we have to be firm on what we offer to make sure the school district doesn't go into a deficit," Root said.

A graduate of a Battle Ground high school asked for a change in district leadership.

"I would like to ask for your resignation for detrimental harm to my school district as well as a vote of no confidence for (Superintendent Mark Ross)," she said.

During the meeting, Root warned people about clapping and disrupting the meeting. He told the crowd he would follow a procedure that would allow the board to close the meeting to the public and continue it in another room and only grant members of the media access.

After the final speaker, the crowd erupted in applause. The Board stopped the meeting and went to another room to continue the agenda. KATU News continued to cover the details of the meeting.

Board members voted unanimously to continue to provide teachers with health insurance despite the ongoing strike.

After the meeting, Ross declined to talk to KATU News on camera. He said he would not comment on the request that board members submit a vote of no confidence about his performance. Ross sent KATU News a copy of the statement he read at the board meeting.

Root, a former teacher, said the strike has put him in a difficult position. He said meeting rules allow the board to move a meeting due to a disruption.

"When I read the procedures for public comment it was clear that, what I stated, that any kind of interruption that we were going to close the meeting and move it to another facility," Root said. "We had to close the meeting and move it to the other section to prevent any outburst like what we had in the other room."

Root said he was listening and understanding of teacher's concerns.

Superintendent Mark Ross made the following statements during the board meeting:

With the McCleary dollars the state has provided, Battle Ground will receive funding for an average salary of $69,129 for all state-funded instructional staff. Our current proposal provides an average total compensation of $74,338 in 2018-19 for all teaching staff, not just those funded by the state, and does not include the cost of benefits that the district must pay. This amounts to an 11.6 percent increase over 2017-18, meaning that every teacher will see at least an 11 percent increase over last year with a higher increase for others.
This uses all of the McCleary money that was sent for teachers' salaries and uses additional dollars from our levy that will be reduced by 50 percent over the next two years. We believe this 11.6 percent increase over last year puts us in line with other districts in Clark County, such as Evergreen with an 11.5 percent increase and Camas with a 10.7 percent increase in one year.
Our district will have a budget deficit in years two and three of our bargaining proposal and any additional increase towards teacher compensation will mean additional budget deficits and possible staffing cuts for the future.
BGEA's proposal asks for a one-year 19.6 percent increase in salaries over 2017-18. We believe this is not a sustainable request.
Both sides have continued to disagree on the monies that are available for teacher salaries, which has kept the bargaining process from moving forward. Therefore we have asked for independent fact finding to look at each party's proposals and come to an unbiased conclusion on the extent of availability of McCleary funding for teachers' salaries in Battle Ground. We hope to complete this process as soon as possible, and we are committed to continue working with a state mediator and the BGEA bargaining team to reach a settlement.
We apologize to our community for the delay to the start of school. Our biggest desire is that we can get back to the business of educating our students as soon as possible with a budget that is sustainable and that does not add further burden to our tax-paying citizens.

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