Washougal school district, teachers in mediation

Current contract expires Aug. 31

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Frank Zahn, president of the Washougal Association of Educators (at podium) speaks to the School Board Tuesday.

With a contract set to expire at the end of this month and the new school year just around the corner, the Washougal School District and its teachers’ union are still trying to come to an agreement over staffing levels, professional development and compensation.

The two groups entered into mediation yesterday.

“Major concerns are classroom staffing in the elementary schools, professional development funding and compensation inequities when compared to other districts,” said Frank Zahn, president of the Washougal Association of Educators.

The two sides have been in contract negotiations since late June. The current contract between the association and the district expires on Aug. 31.

District leaders noted on the WSD website that negotiations moved forward early in the summer, but have since stalled.

“Initially, the proposals moved (each side) closer,” the website states. “However, the movement towards agreement stalled in the Aug. 2 session. The association and the district have both presented a proposed settlement with substantial agreement but also substantial differences.”

After talks stalled, both sides agreed to bring in a state mediator to move the discussions forward.

WAE members gathered before Tuesday night’s School Board meeting, in the parking lot outside the district administration office. Several members, all wearing red as a show of solidarity, spoke during the meeting.

Teacher Rebecca Woodings noted that she was greatly concerned about split classes at the elementary school level.

“I am greatly concerned negotiations are less than productive at this point,” she said. “Split classes may look good on paper, but they do not work in reality with the current requirements of students in two different grades.”

Pam Ausman, a Jemtegaard Middle School special education teacher, read a letter from an employee who left the district due to, “a lack of professional consideration.”

“In this trying time of negotiations, I hope that the School Board remembers that when someone doesn’t feel valued and respected, the quality of their work is greatly impacted.”

Mike Stromme, district superintendent, noted that combination classes are scheduled at the elementary grade level when enrollment is not high enough to hire another grade-level teacher.

“In the event this is necessary, the principal meets with teachers to identify the students and grade level,” he said. “Presently, no combination classes are scheduled for the school year. However, pending shifting enrollments, the district reserves the right to consider the combination class.”

Another issue of contention is teacher compensation. The revenue provided to the school district to pay for teacher compensation is generated from two primary fund sources, the state and local levy funds.

“Like other school districts, we compensate teachers based on a state salary schedule and additional compensation called TRI (time, responsibility, incentive),” Stromme said. “A school district’s ability to pay more TRI compensation than another school district is a function of enrollment and the local levy resources. A larger school district has the ability to generate more revenue in each of these two funding areas, thus has the opportunity to provide more TRI compensation beyond the required state salary schedule.”

He adds, “The compensation the school district is negotiating is comparable to other school districts our enrollment size. The association is referencing the comparison to area school districts where enrollment is two, seven and nine times larger than Washougal. The school district is offering a fair and competitive salary comparable to districts our size in the area.”