Teachers tailgate ahead of bargaining

Washougal educators throw party to kick off contract negotiations

Hoping to show that teachers and school district leaders can work together without contention, the Washougal Association of Educators (WAE) threw a tailgate party outside Washougal High School on May 30, to mark the start of the WAE and Washougal School District’s contract bargaining negotiations.

The district and teachers’ union agreed on a one-year bargaining contract for the 2017-18 school year on Sept. 26, 2017. That contract expires on Aug. 31.

Teachers barbecued and served snacks and desserts in front of the high school entrance on May 30, while bargaining teams from the union and the district met inside the school.

Hillary Marshall, Washougal High library media specialist, said teachers wanted to start the negotiations off in a more lighthearted way.

“We don’t want to be seen as the adversary. So, we’re going to invite the district to come out to have dinner with us, see that these are your people, and we’re all on the same page,” Marshall said. “We’re all fighting for our Washougal kids.”

She added that the teachers’ union wanted to narrow its main points going into the bargaining process.

Washougal teachers have been turning out for recent Washougal School Board meetings, asking district leaders to bump Washougal teacher salaries up to a level comparable to those in neighboring school districts, such as Evergreen Public Schools, Camas School District and Vancouver Public Schools.

In a petition for higher wages, Washougal teachers state that the average salaries in Washougal lag behind those in the Camas School District by 9 percent, Evergreen School District by 13 percent and Vancouver School District by 7 percent.

Rochelle Quested, Washougal High spanish teacher, recently said her pay gap with teachers in those districts is around $10,000, so it’s important for her position that negotiations are completed in a timely manner.

“Everything is up in the air and all of the positions in neighboring districts are being posted,” Quested said. “We want to be taken care of. And, if we’re not going to be comparable, we need to know in time to do what we need to do.”

Quested has been an educator for nearly 30 years, and taught in Washougal for the past decade. She said she loves the district, but needs to make a wage comparable to other teachers in the region.

“I’m fiercely loyal. I love Washougal,” Quested said. “I’ve set up a program here that I want to stick with. I’ve been working with Central Washington University to get college credit in the classroom here. I want to be here, but at what cost?”

Marian Young, the district’s director of human resources, said district leaders are very interested in giving Washougal teachers a salary that is fair and competitive with similarly sized school districts, such as Hockinson, Ridgefield and Woodland school districts.

The size of a district and student enrollment are just two of the factors affecting teacher salaries. State funds are allocated to school districts based on student enrollment and those funds help a district determine staffing levels and salaries.

Larger school districts also have an “economy of scale,” Young said, with more money coming in due to the larger number of students, but proportionally less overhead and administrative costs. Larger districts also have a bigger tax base available when they pass local tax levies to supplement state funds.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction numbers from May of 2017, the Washougal district had 3,208 students. As a comparison, Hockinson had 1,911 students, Ridgefield had 2,825 students and Woodland had 2,276 students.

The Washougal teachers often compare their salaries to the districts closest to them, such as Camas, which had 7,064 students in 2017, Evergreen, which has more than 26,000 students and Vancouver with 23,709 students.

The union and district are bargaining for which salary schedule will be used, as well as compensation terms, Young said.

Washington has a statewide salary schedule for the upcoming school year that says the base pay for a first-year teacher is $40,000, but can be higher, with a cap of $90,000, Rhonda Reeser, a Canyon Creek Middle School teacher, pointed out. She said that point is critical in this year’s contract negotiations, since this is the first year the state has released the statewide salary schedule to districts for bargaining purposes.

Under the current contract agreement, a Washougal teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience would make a base salary of $36,521.

The union also hopes district leaders will look at reducing class sizes, particularly in lower grades.

Marshall said the union hopes to raise the bar for lowered classroom sizes and have a maximum of 17 students in the K-3 classes.

“So that means bringing in more teachers. But if you have only 17 students in those young grades? Wow. What a difference you can make,” Marshall said.

The smaller class sizes would allow for more individualized instruction, Marshall added.

“We have been committed and will continue to be committed to (have class sizes) at or below the markers that are set forth in the collective bargaining agreement,” Young said. “And we will continue to work with the association with that goal.”

The current class size marker for grades K-3 in Washougal is 25 students. In fourth and fifth grades, it is 28 students.

Lowering those markers would have to be done during the bargaining process, Young said.

“We do want to continue to work with the association with maintaining optimal class sizes, particularly at the primary level,” she said.

The beginning of the negotiations was a positive start, Young added, saying the district’s representatives look forward to continuing the process.

“(The union) did graciously invite us to dinner when we did complete the bargaining, but (the district team) ended up meeting, so we weren’t able to attend. But we appreciated their invitation,” Young said.

Union representatives have said they would like to be done with negotiations by the end of the 2017-18 school year.

“Our goal is to get this done and dusted, so everybody feels comfortable, salaries are set, class sizes are set and we’re ready for the start of the school year by the time we leave,” Marshall said.