Camas public school teachers hit the picket lines this week, calling for better class sizes; equitable funding for music, health and library programs; and a cost-of-living salary increase that keeps pace with local inflation rates.
The 2023-24 school year in Camas, which was supposed to begin Monday, Aug. 28, has been postponed during the teachers’ strike, and schools remained closed as of Thursday, Aug. 31.
Representatives from the Camas School District and the Camas Education Association (CEA), the union representing around 450 Camas educators, continue to bargain for a new, three-year teachers’ contract this week.
Following failed negotiations Monday night, CEA vice president Michael Sanchez said the teachers’ union continues to bargain “in good faith” despite what he called “threats” from the district.
“By saying that they have presented their ‘last, best and final offer,’ Superintendent (John) Anzalone made it clear that the district had walked away from the bargaining table,” Sanchez said Tuesday in a recorded message to the community posted on the CEA website (weteachcamas.org). “As of the evening of Aug. 28, the district asserted that they expect CEA to accept their proposal without any further discussion.”
Sanchez said the district had also notified parents that the school board had “approved legal action to end the strike.”
Camas School Board members voted Monday, Aug. 28, during their regular meeting to approve a resolution stating that the teachers’ strike is illegal in Washington state and that, “in the event any strike or work stoppage commences, the (school board), in cooperation with the superintendent, authorizes and directs the law firm of Stevens Clay, P.S. to take any and all lawful steps necessary to terminate any strike or concerted refusal to perform services by the certificated staff and other employees of the District.”
The school board’s resolution — which passed with four “ayes” and one abstention from school board president Corey McEnry, whose wife is a member of the CEA — also gives the school district’s attorneys the ability to bring suit against and collect monetary damages from “against any individual employee participating in a strike or concerted refusal to perform services and against any union … or organizations acting in concert with such persons.”
Sanchez said Tuesday that, “despite these threats, the (union’s) bargaining team, in good faith, is meeting with the district today, Aug. 29,” and is “looking forward to continuing negotiations to reach a speedy, fair and sustainable settlement.”
Hundreds of CEA members showed up to the Camas School Board’s meeting Monday evening and gathered outside while dozens of supporters, including parents and students, spoke to the board members during the Board’s public comment time.
Several community members told the school board they were disappointed by the district’s language toward its teachers during the build-up to the teachers’ strike.
One parent of five Camas students said she “trusted up until last night that (the district and teachers’ union) were going to find consensus.”
Her hopes deflated after receiving an update from the school district Sunday night stating that the school district’s bargaining team was “disappointed that CEA is regressing.”
“That language was really harsh to hear,” the parent told Camas School Board members Monday. “To hear our beloved staff and teachers spoken about in that way … I implore you to come back to the bargaining table and make it work for all the reasons people tonight have spoken about. Please support our school teachers and our kids.”
Camas parent Joann Boswell, who also works as a substitute teacher for the school district, also asked the district to return to the bargaining table Monday night.
“This is the first strike the Camas School District has ever had,” Boswell said. “That’s a legacy, and it’s not a good one. Please meet with (the union’s) bargaining team.”
Camas schools superintendent John Anzalone said Monday night that, as a dad, he also wants his children to return to school this week, and said “bargaining teams have been working around the clock” to reach an agreement.
“We gave our final offer … (and) we’ll be meeting tonight after the board meeting,” Anzalone told community members gathered at the school board meeting Monday evening. “As a superintendent and (school board), we have an obligation to take care of our teachers. … But, we also have to be responsible stewards.”
Anzalone said district leaders have to bargain with three other labor groups, aside from the CEA.
“We have to look at four contracts, not just one,” Anzalone said Monday. “We will get this done. We will get these kids back to school. We will get our teachers back to where they belong. That’s a promise to you. We will get teachers and kids back in the classroom. We just need a little more time.”
Sanchez told community members Tuesday that the union believes the district can afford its current proposal.
“We are bargaining for a cost-of-living increase that keeps up with local inflation,” Sanchez said. “With the stockpile of funds the district is sitting on, they can afford this increase.”
The district has said it cannot afford to use more of its general-fund reserves having already used the one-time revenue source to offset revenue shortfalls and taking the fund balance down to around 8% of the general fund.
The school district’s director of business services, Jasen McEathron, told the school board and community members Monday that the district planned to spend $8.5 million from its general-fund reserves over a four-year period to help alleviate the gap between the district’s revenues and its expenditures.
By 2025-26, the district’s general fund balance would be around 7.9% — lower than it has been in two decades, school board member Erika Cox noted Monday night.
McEathron said the general fund’s reserves are needed to cover “volatility” in the district’s revenue streams from year to year.
“In any given year, $800,000 to $1 million (of the reserves) are restricted,” McEathron said. “And we need $5 (million) to $6 million to cover … volatility in cash throughout the year.”
The business services director explained that the district gets most of its revenues in the final two months of the school year and relies on the reserves to cover expenses before those state revenues roll in.
Taking the general-fund reserves down to 7.9%, McEathron added, “is very, very low and leaves little room for error.”
If the district’s enrollment estimates – and therefore its revenue estimates — are off, McEathron said, and come in lower than expected, the district would need to have more money in its reserve fund to help cover its expenditures.
“It has a major impact when you bring it to this level,” McEathron said of the district’s general fund reserve balance.
School board member Connie Hennessey added that everything the board does with regards to the district’s use of reserve funds “has a compounding effect on future years.”
McEathron agreed, saying that “when you spend fund balance in large chunks in one year, it has a legacy to it. So, what are you going to do the next year? Because that expense is there, but the fund balance isn’t.”
He added that the school district does not “want to hold on to money just to hold on to money.”
“That’s why we planned the spend-down (of the general-fund reserves),” McEathron said Monday. “We tried to use it in a manner that doesn’t put (the school board) in a difficult spot a year or two after.”
School board members added that the district cannot use money from other dedicated funds — money restricted to transportation needs and impact fees that must be used to accommodate enrollment growth, for instance — to help pay for general fund expenses, which includes teacher salaries and benefits.
“All of these different funds have separate pots of money, and there really isn’t cross-over between them,” McEnry said “They have to be used for their intended purpose.”
For more information, visit weteachcamas.org or camas.wednet.edu/about-csd/budget-development/labor-relations/.