Strike ends, school begins in Washougal

District to tap reserves to sustain higher educator salaries

Following a multi-day teachers strike, Washougal students started the new school year Friday, Sept. 7, one week and three days after their original Aug. 28 start date.

The school district and teachers union representatives reached agreement on a new collective bargaining contract on Wednesday, Sept. 5.

The new two-year bargaining agreement pays a first-year teacher a salary of $51,434 per year. The maximum salary for a teacher with 16 or more years of experience and a master’s degree plus 90 continuing education credits will be $96,944.

“Washougal teachers are proud of our new two-year contract, and the competitive pay raises it provides,” Eric Engebretson, union president, stated in a press release sent to media Sept. 6. “On average, Washougal teachers will be receiving an 18-percent salary increase this school year, which will help us continue attracting and keeping great educators for Washougal students. We hope our settlement will inspire superintendents in other striking school districts to negotiate the pay raises their teachers deserve. If we can make it happen in Washougal, they can, too.”

Washougal High School librarian Hillary Marshall said the first day back to school was wonderful.

“I am overjoyed about the new contract,” Marshall said. “I am an educator. It’s my 23rd year, and I feel valued. I want to stay and grow roots here in Washougal.”

The contract also addresses class size and the amount of extra pay a teacher can receive based on the number of students above the target in their classroom, Washougal Superintendent Mary Templeton said.

The class size target numbers for grades K-3 dropped to 24, compared to 25 in the previous contract. In grades four and five, the new target is 26 students, compared to the previous 28, Templeton said.

“Class size changes to the contract will either increase pay to teachers who have extra students, or give them the option of having classroom-aide time to support students in larger classrooms,” Templeton said.

The teachers union wanted to hold K-3 class sizes to around 17 students, but Marshall said union leaders hope to move toward that goal during the next round of contract negotiations.

The money to fund the teacher salary agreement utilizes all of the state funding the district received for teachers, levy money to fund items such as professional development and reserve fund dollars, Templeton said.

The district will use $600,000 per year in reserve funds annually, over the next four years, for a total of $2.4 million, to help pay for the new contract, the superintendent said.

“At the end of our four-year budget projection, we anticipate that we will have made adjustment to our budget priorities in order to sustain this increase well into the future, without continued reliance on the reserve fund,” Templeton said.

The district currently has a 16-percent reserve balance, and the state average is 10 percent. Over the next four years, the district expects to have a reserve balance of about 9 or 10 percent.

“During this process, we were focused on regionally competitive wages for our teachers and the ability to sustain this increase over time,” Templeton said. “We are eager to attract and retain the highest-quality teachers to the Washougal School District.”