Camas teachers’ union, district return to table

Union leaders ‘cautiously hopeful’ for acceptable salary schedule

Camas School District Superintendent Dr. Jeff Snell

The Camas Education Association and Camas School District will meet for a third round of teacher contract bargaining negotiations July 18.

At the first meeting, the teachers’ union presented its proposed salary schedule for the upcoming year, but negotiations stalled at the second meeting.

“The district’s response at the second meeting was not productive or encouraging, so we told them to ‘call us’ when they had a counter offer,” union president Mark Gardner said.

Now, Gardner said, union leaders are feeling “cautiously” hopeful the district will present a salary schedule that takes advantage of additional state funding for teacher salaries.

He added that school district leaders told union negotiators at the second bargaining meeting that their priority was to make the average Camas teacher salary equal to the state allocation.

“Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to reduce the current average Camas teacher salary by almost $2,000 per year,” Gardner said. “I don’t consider that their ‘offer,’ but it certainly telegraphs a troubling intention on the district’s part.”

The Camas Education Association (CEA)’s main goal, according to Gardner, is to create a salary schedule that achieves reasonable increases in pay for staff at all experience and education levels.

Camas School District (CSD) Superintendent Dr. Jeff Snell said the district’s end goal is twofold: “To have contracts that honor the great work our staff does every day in our district, and allow us to continue to deliver the programs and experiences our students deserve and our community expects.”

“We have great relationships with our employee groups and respect the negotiation process,” Snell said. “It’s challenging this year, as the new funding model has created many more variables to consider. The challenge presents a great opportunity to work together on behalf of the community we serve.”

Gardner said union leaders entered into the bargaining process with a positive outlook, based on a track record of coming to a collaborative agreement with the Camas district. He added that union negotiators realize local levies, passed by CSD voters, have helped bump Camas teachers’ salaries up to levels higher than many others in Southwest Washington, so that, while union leaders still expect to see gains in compensation, they are aware that a 20-percent increase is not a fiscally responsible goal.

“Rather, our focus has been on maximizing the current and new funds for educator compensation,” Gardner said. “We are only seeking to increase teacher compensation related to additional monies coming from the state. There is also additional funding coming for classified staff as well as administration staff, but we are not interested in bargaining for those funds, because we believe that it is important for classified and administrative staff to be appropriately compensated as well.”

The Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which said state legislators had not been adequately funding public K-12 schools and needed to compensate for the shortfall, and the state legislators recent solution, have prompted big changes at school districts throughout the state, Snell said.

The Camas district will see an increase in state funding but a decrease in local funding, Snell explained. Over the next four years, the district is projecting a net annual increase of approximately 2 percent to its overall budget.

In a letter sent to CSD staff and families, district leaders stated that it anticipates an increase of approximately $8.8 million in state funding for certificated, classified and administration staffing, combined with a $4.9 million decrease in local funding, for a net increase of $3.9 million for the 2018-19 school year.

As the district builds its budget every year, it considers how to best sustain the current programming for students, create capacity for growth and innovation to evolve with students’ needs and recruit and retain staff, Snell said.

“Over 85 percent of our budget is allocated to staff, so we want to ensure they have the necessary tools and support to best engage our students,” he added.

The full impact of the “McCleary fix” will result in about $9 million lost annually, according to the district.

The CEA knew that the composition of the Camas staff being experienced and highly trained — which leads to higher salaries — would mean the state’s new model for funding salaries might tie their hands Gardner said, adding that maintaining the financial health of the district is a high priority for the CEA and that union leaders believe the proposal they put forth in the first round of negotiations was not overly aggressive.

“We expected the district to be conservative, and we share their interest in being good stewards of taxpayer money,” Gardner said. “It just appears that our interests differ in what that means. We believe that investing in recruiting, retaining and competitively compensating people is the best investment of taxpayer money. It is the people in the system who make the system a success.”