Teacher strikes loom as negotiations continue for many Washington schools

(KATU Photo)

At least two Southwest Washington teachers unions voted to strike if an agreement isn't reached over salary increases by Wednesday Aug. 29, the first day of school.

Members of both the Vancouver and Ridgefield education associations authorized the tactic this week.

Ridgefield Education Association President Joe Thayer said 97.8-percent of his members voted to strike. Only three voted no.

"We love our district, colleagues and students," Thayer told KATU. "We feel we're put in this impossible situation, where we are forced to stand up for each other and our students."

Vancouver Education Association Executive Director Dr. Rick Wilson stated in an online letter that in order to attract and retain the best teachers, they need to be adequately compensated.

"The Vancouver School District has the money to give teachers a fair and reasonable settlement. It’s a matter of priorities," Wilson wrote. "We are afraid we will lose teachers to surrounding districts offering better compensation and working conditions. Our students deserve the best educators and support professionals."

Negotiations reopened in May following an increase in state basic education funding mandated by the “McCleary ruling” in 2012.

The court’s ruling found the state had violated its constitution by underfunding K-12 schools and kicked off years of fierce debate in Olympia over school funding and policies.

It forced lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee to pour billions of dollars into the K-12 school system over the years and even sparked the court’s first contempt order against the state in Washington’s history.

In 2017, legislators and the governor finally tackled a plan to fund teacher and other school-worker salaries, the biggest and most difficult part of the McCleary ruling.

Local school district property-tax levies provided a big chunk of funding for salaries. The justices said the state needed to cover the full cost.

To address that, lawmakers and Inslee in 2017 approved a complex property-tax plan that boosted the statewide tax rate in 2018 and phases in limits on future tax revenues collected by school districts through local levies.

Court justices lifted the contempt order in June when the state had fully implemented its new school funding plan.

Teachers unions began requesting bargaining discussions with districts, including the Battle Ground Education Association.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime shot and if we don't, if we don't get it this year, for every year moving forward, there'll be less compensation that follows it," BGEA President Linda Peterson said. "We're asking for the state dollars sent to the districts to pay for the salaries of educators."

Peterson spent 28 years in a classroom, the majority of that teaching middle-schoolers.

If the district and association can't come to terms, Peterson says members will hold a vote to authorize a strike on Aug. 29, following suit with Vancouver and Ridgefield unions.

Longview Education Association says its members plan to vote Wednesday whether to authorize striking. Evergreen's education association expects to take a vote Thursday.

Unions and districts alike told KATU they are working tirelessly to reach contract agreements and want to avoid delaying the first day of school.

Evergreen Public Schools' current offer:

The district and Evergreen Education Association (EEA) currently are entering the third year of a valid contract. However, the district agreed, although not legally obligated to do so, to enter into discussions with EEA following the new state legislation regarding school funding.

The current offer on the table from the district includes all of the newly allocated funds provided by the state for teacher salaries (which is $69,129 per full-time teacher) plus an additional $10,264 per teacher beyond state funding from the local levy, for a total salary average of $79,393. The starting salary for a new teacher would be $50,687, while the most experienced teacher would receive $96,045, which includes an additional 2.0 percent longevity increase.

Presently, Evergreen’s teacher compensation is the highest in Southwest Washington, and with this proposal, will more than likely ensure it remains at the top, according to district officials.

Starting this winter, the state is reducing Evergreen’s local levy funding ability by 45 percent. With the reduced levy, the total net district funding increase over three years (including the new state funding) is about 8 percent, or less than 3 percent per year. The district’s present offer to the teachers is 8.33 percent for one year.

Information regarding the current offer and process can be found on the district's website.

Vancouver Public Schools' current offer:

Vancouver Education Association (VEA) is proposing starting salary at $51,750 with a top salary for the most experienced teachers at $97,200.

The district says VEA’s proposal represents a 16.2 percent improvement in the average total compensation in one year and increases district costs by an estimated $23 million over the 2017-18 contract. While the VEA says the Legislature provided $47 million in new funding to the Vancouver Public Schools.

VPS’s proposal represents a 14.9 percent improvement in the average total compensation over two years and a 17.2% improvement over three years.

The top total salary for most experienced teachers increases by 16.5% over two years and 18.9% over three years. Teachers at the top of the proposed VPS schedule would earn nearly $100,000 by 2020-21.

VPS’ proposal would increase costs by an estimated $12 million in year one and $20 million in year two above the 2017-18 contract.

After backing out restricted funds and reduced levy and levy equalization funds, VPS will receive discretionary state revenue of approximately $24.4 million in 2018-19; $10.4 million of this amount is one-time money and will not be sustained. By 2019-20, VPS will receive discretionary state revenue of approximately $14 million as a result of the legislated levy swap.

To pay for the contract improvements in the district’s proposal, VPS would need to reprioritize resources in 2019-20 and beyond, including spending down the fund balance reserve by $6 million over three years.

Information regarding the current offer and process can be found on the district's website.

Battle Ground Public Schools' current offer:

Battle Ground Public Schools is currently proposing a 6.5-percent increase for the 2018-19 school year. The average salary for BGPS teachers would be about $72,760 plus benefits. The salary range would start at $46,599 for a new teacher, while the most experienced teacher would receive up to $90,154.

This offer was presented to BGEA during a negotiation session on Sunday at the district office. The session is one of several that has occurred since spring. While the district trusts the negotiation process and is hoping to quickly get to a resolution that is beneficial to all, going forward, Battle Ground is requesting a state-appointed mediator to assist in the process.

"We're vested in continuing the bargaining process with BGEA," said district spokesperson Rita Sanders. "With all the changes to how education is funded in Washington, the situation is complex. We think it would be advantageous to have a neutral party come in and work with both sides to look at the numbers."

The BGPS Board of Directors and leadership team are committed to providing fair local market wages, benefits and working conditions, but the district must do so in a fiscally responsible and sustainable manner.

Complete information about the bargaining process and proposals is on the district website.

Ridgefield Public Schools' current offer:

  • The average teacher salary in Ridgefield for the 2018-2019 school year would increase to a total of $73,302.
  • The average base salary proposed in 2018-2019 exceeds the state allocation for certificated teachers.
  • A beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree in 2018-2019 will earn $47,715.
  • A beginning teacher with a master’s degree in 2018-2019 will earn $58,333.
  • The schedule in 2018-2019 tops out at $91,855

"As we have stated frequently, we value our teachers and believe this offer is both fair and fiscally responsible," the Ridgefield School Board stated last week. "The Board adopted the 2018-2019 budget in which projected expenditures exceed projected revenues by $699,816."

The Ridgefield EA is also fighting for class size reductions. The Board released its response in a letter on Thursday, Aug. 16.

  • K-3 grade band – Ridgefield is tied for the smallest class size average of the ten (10) comparison districts.
  • 4-6 grade band – Ridgefield is tied for the third smallest class size averages of the ten (10) comparison districts.
  • 7-8 grade band – Ridgefield is tied for the second smallest class size averages of the ten (10) comparison districts.
  • 9-12 grade band – Ridgefield has the third best class size averages of the ten (10) comparison districts.

"Ridgefield School District and the Ridgefield Education Association have a proud history of working collaboratively to provide a world-class education for all students," the Board wrote. "We believe our proposal will continue to provide the appropriate compensation, resources, and supports for our well-deserving teachers."

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