Sequim School District teachers and supporters lobby outside the Sequim High School auditorium and along North Sequim Avenue before a school board meeting Sept. 18. Teachers will hold off on a proposed strike after the teachers union came to a tentative agreement with the district regarding teacher contracts Monday. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim teachers pause strike deadline

SEQUIM — Sequim teachers are holding off on a strike against the Sequim School District in light of a possible agreement regarding teacher contracts.

Diana Piersoll, Sequim Education Association (SEA) president, said association membership will vote on the agreement today.

She said Tuesday that, with the support of the Washington Education Association (WEA), a tentative agreement was reached with the Sequim School District at about 8:30 p.m. Monday.

The agreement will be presented at a closed general membership meeting today, she said in an email.

“At that time they will vote and approve or reject the proposal,” she wrote.

School Superintendent Gary Neal confirmed that a tentative agreement had been reached.

If the union does not ratify the contract, mediation will continue, Neal said.

He also said some contract language in the collective bargaining agreement was “outdated and needed to be brought up to speed.”

SEA members have been in mediation with the district regarding teacher bargaining agreements since April and have been making appearances in large numbers — wearing red clothing and holding signs — at school board meetings throughout the past month to show their solidarity for fair teacher pay.

On Sept. 13, members of the SEA voted in favor of authorizing its elected officers to call for a strike on Wednesday of this week, or a later date, if an agreement was not reached before then.

Jon Eekhoff, a Sequim High School teacher and SEA member, said at a previous SEA meeting that some of the issues are class sizes, fair pay and more representation on instructional committees.

Many other teachers have voiced Eekhoff’s sentiments throughout the past several weeks, such as Sequim Middle School history teacher Leif Hendricksen, who has three years’ experience in the district and is a Sequim High graduate.

“We want to get paid for the work that we do,” Hendricksen said.

“We are asked to develop extra curriculum. We are asked to stay late and do extra things and they’re not paying us for it, and we want to be paid for it.”

Sequim teachers have a significantly lower amount of Time, Responsibility and Incentive (TRI) days — about 15.7 — than other surrounding districts, such as Port Angeles, which has 31 TRI days, and Port Townsend, which has 27.5 TRI days; which amounts to thousands of dollars less in compensation each year.

Greywolf overcrowing

Neal said the overcrowding of students at Greywolf Elementary School in Carlsborg also was tied into contract negotiations with the teachers union.

He noted the teachers union was very cooperative in helping the district come up with creative ways to address the overcrowding problem that is still being worked through.

The Sequim School District had been looking at the possibility of moving students from Greywolf Elementary to Helen Haller Elementary if staff were unable to find a solution for overcrowded classes.

Greywolf Elementary has grown in student population by 100 students in the past two years, Neal said, calling the overcrowding at a “critical level.”

In a news release sent Aug. 31, the second day of school for most Sequim students, Neal said district administrators are now looking to partners in the community for potential solutions.

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Erin Hawkins is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at ehawkins@sequimgazette.com.

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