PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Education Association called a strike to begin Tuesday after failing to reach a tentative agreement for a new contract with the Port Angeles School District late Wednesday
Members of the PAEA — which includes teachers, counselors, nurses, occupational therapists and psychologists — will be in class today for the first day of school and Friday as its bargaining team continues to negotiate with the district.
The school district announced Wednesday evening while talks continued that schools would open on time and as scheduled for classes today.
PAEA’s contract with the district expired Wednesday. Members will work without a contract today and Friday.
“I never imagined back in February when we were prepared to bargain with the district that we would end up in such a challenging position,” said John Henry, Port Angeles Education Association president, in a PAEA press release.
“However, our union is unwilling to accept a contract that does not meet the needs of our students and staff.”
The Port Angeles School District had not released a statement by 6 a.m. Thursday responding to the PAEA’s announcement.
Top on the the list of PAEA’s priorities and a major sticking point in negotiations has been the union’s push for smaller class sizes in its contract.
“Our members told us that smaller classes and more planning time were important,” Henry said before the strike was announced. “We want the things that are going to help us be better teachers so that students have the best opportunities to learn.”
In the expired contract, K-1 classes are capped at 23 students, grades 2-3 at 26 students, grades 4-5 at 29 students, grades 6-8 at a total of 174 for six periods, and grades 9-12 at 160 students per day.
The Sequim School District, according to its online contract, caps kindergarten classes at 20 students, grades 1-3 at 22 students, grades 4-5 at 26 students, grades 6-8 at 29 students and grades 9-12 at 32 students.
The Port Townsend School District caps K-2 classes at 21 students, grade 3 at 23 students, grades 4-5 at 27 students, grade 6 at 27 students, grades 7-8 at 29 students (and no more than 155 for all class periods) and grades 9-12 at 32 students (and no more than 155 for all class periods).
The PAEA also is pressing for a contract that includes more planning time that is consistent and compensated.
The expired contract called for a weekly average of 30 minutes of planning time a day and some days teachers had no planning time at all, Henry has said. The lack of adequate compensated planning time means that teachers end up working many hours for which they are not paid, he said.
“Do you see all of the cars in the school parking lots?” Henry said Wednesday, the day before classes started. “Those teachers are not getting paid for being there. They’re there because we want to be prepared for our students and give them the support that they need.”
As a comparison, the Sequim and Port Townsend teachers have at least 45 minutes of planning time each day guaranteed in their contracts.
The Port Angeles Paraeducator Association and Port Angeles Educational Office Professionals said they will honor the PAEA walkout
“We stand by our teachers always,” said Rebecca Winters, Port Angeles Paraeducator Association president, in a text after the strike was called.
The PAEA has about 250 members, the Port Angeles Paraeducator Association has 80 and Port Angeles Educational Office Professionals has 34.
The Port Angeles School Board on Wednesday held a special meeting at which they voted to approve six resolutions in the event of a strike that would suspend leave policies, compensation and payment of insurance benefits, and policies that would prevent it from taking action to protect students and school property; and authorizing Superintendent Marty Brewer to close the schools, hire temporary employees and remove from school property any non-authorized person.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at Paula.Hunt@soundpublishing.com