Camas educators want to resolve differences, start school on time

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category icon Columns, Opinion

To the families of the Camas community:

The educators — teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, counselors and school psychologists — in Camas want to express our profound gratitude for the support shown to us from our parents, students and community members. If you have attended any of the rallies or school board meetings, you have heard educators passionately express their dedication to the teaching profession and to their students. Working in Camas is an honor for us because we know how special it is to find a community that values educators so highly.

As you certainly have seen, there is turmoil and uncertainty in the world of education right now. The Washington Legislature approved additional funding to increase educator compensation far beyond what we have received in the past. The state also abolished our old salary schedule and changed school funding models to accomplish this. Bargaining units, such as the Camas Education Association, were tasked with negotiating for new systems of compensation with their districts.

We started meeting with the Camas School District (CSD) bargaining team in May and have continued meeting throughout the summer. Although both sides have made progress and movement during these negotiations, on Aug. 26, the CSD bargaining team told us they were “tapped out” and requested mediation.

What does this mean? At a general membership meeting held Aug. 27, CEA members voted to strike with a 95.7 percent approval rate. This was not a decision we took lightly.

We recognize the impact that a strike may have on families and community members, as it disrupts the typical routine. Please know that this action is not one we entered into lightly. It is truly a last resort. We sincerely hope that if the district is willing to continue bargaining with us, it is possible for school to start on time and the rebuilding process to begin.

As for what the CEA has asked for in this bargain, we recognize the CSD is in a challenging position. By state law, districts with our regionalization were legally entitled to seek a minimum salary of $45,651 per year and a maximum salary of $102,715, but this range is fiscally unsustainable for our district due to our highly veteran staff. We have been seeking entry-level annual salaries of approximately $50,000 for first-year career educators with a bachelor’s degree, and maximum salaries in the mid- to upper $90,000 range for veteran educators with the equivalent of two master’s degrees (a master’s degree plus 90 quarter credits of continuing education). Our models show this is financially feasible even if not quite as competitive as we’d like to be. Our goal of offering a more competitive salary is shared by our district, but because of the way the state has reformed the funding model, it would be irresponsible with the current funding model for us as a union to push for salaries at the top of the legal limit.

It is very easy to see educator compensation as something wholly separate from the work schools do for kids. On the contrary, by investing in recruitment and retention of the very best professionals, we are providing for our children the best possible resource for their education: a quality educator. Of everything within a school’s control, research shows again and again that the factor with the greatest impact on student learning is the person working side-by-side with the students.

We know some members of our community question or oppose our decision to strike. We understand that. Some even say that if we are unhappy, we should find different jobs. In reality, this is what we are striking to avoid: We do not want unhappy educators looking for other work, we want to keep the best and most talented people working with your children.

The educators in our association want nothing more than to resolve our current differences with the Camas School District and be at school for students Sept. 4.

Thank you again for your support, kindness and patience. We want nothing more than to settle our negotiations and get back to work for the students of Camas.

Mark Gardner is the lead negotiator for the Camas Education Association (CEA), representing the Camas School District educators in bargaining negotiations with the Camas School District. Shelley Houle is president of the CEA.