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Bargaining between Camas School District, teachers’ union reaches tipping point 

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Members of the Camas Education Association, the union representing 450 Camas educators, hold signs showing support for Camas teachers ahead of bargaining negotiations with the Camas School District Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. (Contributed photo courtesy of Camas Education Association)

Camas School District students are scheduled to go back to school next week, but ongoing contract negotiations between the Camas School District and its teachers’ union could delay the scheduled start of the 2023-24 school year. 

Members of the Camas Education Association, the union representing 450 Camas educators, met Tuesday, Aug. 22, to discuss the contract negotiations. 

“With just days remaining before school starts, we are still without a contract,” Camas teacher Michael Sanchez, the union’s vice president and communications liaison, told The Post-Record Wednesday morning. “We need smaller classes, more special education supports, protected teacher planning time, and more equitable resources for music, library and (physical education).” 

Sanchez would not say if union members voted for a potential strike during the Aug. 22 meeting, but did say union members “are dedicated to students’ futures, and … willing to take action to win what they need to succeed in our classrooms.” 

Camas students are slated to return to school Monday, Aug. 28.  

“We are still negotiating … and there could be a work stoppage,” CSD Communications Director Doreen McKercher told The Post-Record Friday, Aug. 18, adding that the district may need to push the Aug. 28 first-day-of-school date if teachers decide to go on strike. 

The teachers’ union was still in contract negotiations with the Camas School District (CSD) as of Wednesday, with the next bargaining meeting set for Thursday, Aug. 24.  

Sanchez said Friday that the teachers’ union and the school district are “still pretty far apart on most substantive issues” including class size, planning time for educators and cost-of-living adjustments. 

“These are not uncommon things to show up in contract negotiations,” Sanchez added, saying the union feels the district is able to afford the things educators are asking for in their new, three-year contract. 

“We feel our proposal is pretty reasonable,” Sanchez said. “We’ve shown ourselves at the bargaining table to be solutions-oriented and have been flexible in trying to understand what the district’s concerns are and really trying to find common ground.” 

The teachers’ union would like to see class sizes reduced to help ease increasingly tough workloads placed on Camas teachers, Sanchez said, noting that “since COVID, kids are coming to us with increasing needs, and our educators are finding it difficult to meet the needs of all of our students.” 

“We’re asking the district for help in facilitating that,” Sanchez said. 

Bargaining between the school district and its teachers’ union began May 18, and continued through this week, with both groups meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 15-16, and exchanging new proposals Wednesday, Aug. 17. 

On Monday, Aug. 21, the district stated on its website that “both the union and the district made significant progress in the areas of grievance procedures, start and end times for staff, and music and library funding.”

In a post published on the CSD website, McKercher noted that school district negotiators had proposed a three-year contract with the CEA union that included a 4.95% raise for the 2023-24 school year. If accepted, this would put Camas educators near the top of the pack for teacher salaries in Clark County – with entry-level teachers in the Camas School District earning a starting salary of $62,679; teachers with seven years’ experience and a master’s degree earning $84,263 a year; and teachers at the top of the salary schedule earning an annual salary of $117,242.

The district’s proposal also includes raising substitute teachers’ daily pay from $155 to $170 for a full day’s work and from $85 to $100 for a half day. 

Union leaders said they initially bargained with the district to match the Seattle consumer price index (CPI), which would have given Camas educators a more than 8% bump during the first year of their new contract, with that cost-of-living adjustment number falling the following two years. 

“We bargained for Seattle CPI, and the district agreed to that,” Sanchez said. “(They) can’t just change the inflator that (they) want to use because it’s higher one year and not another. Our members were counting on that Seattle CPI cost-of-living increase.”  

The district’s proposal also includes language that would include a new definition of “family” under its bereavement leave that would add “grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse, aunts, uncle, nieces and nephews, as well as guardians, those under guardianship, foster family members, step-family members and in-laws.”

Regarding class sizes, the district said in its latest proposal that it has rejected the union’s proposal and that it “cannot agree or disagree” with a subsection that calls for the district to “create a new section provided space is available” for elementary classes that have reached maximum number of students for five consecutive days in September and October until “the parties have a more robust discussion.” 

Sanchez said the union would also like the district to speak to “outlier” class sizes at the secondary level. 

“If I’m a math teacher with a class of 28, and a class of 29 and a class of 27 – and then have one with 35 (students),” Sanchez said, “we would like to discourage that. That’s a lot of kids. And it’s problematic for learning, and logistically for classroom management.” 

On Friday afternoon, the district posted its most current offer as well as the union’s Aug. 17 proposal online at camas.wednet.edu/about-csd/budget-development/labor-relations/

In return, the union posted a fact sheet detailing its proposals, and said “the district will be sharing our proposals with little context, and they will say it’s about more money.” Instead, union representatives said, the CEA “remains focused on (Camas) students and how we can support educators.” 

Union leaders have said they are proposing lower class sizes, consistent language around work hours, manageable student caseloads, protections for classroom planning time, equitable funds for student resources and wages to recruit and retain great teachers. 

“Our financial expert confirmed that the district can honor the bargained CPI while remaining financially healthy,” the union stated on its fact sheet. “If our salaries don’t grow at the rate of current inflation, it will impact all our future salaries as well as our retirement funds. Educators value public education and we would never put the district in financial jeopardy.” 

Sanchez said Wednesday that union members “want nothing more than to be welcoming our students back on Monday morning.”

“It’s up to CSD now to show it values our students’ futures and come to an agreement that reflects that,” Sanchez said. 

To learn more about the bargaining negotiations between the Camas School District and its teachers’ union, visit weteachcamas.org/bargaining-updates/ or  camas.wednet.edu/about-csd/budget-development/labor-relations.