PORT ANGELES – The Port Angeles School District and Port Angeles Education Association met in a five-hour bargaining session Tuesday night without coming to an agreement about a new contract that would have averted a strike authorized by the teachers union for Thursday.
The two sides head back to the negotiating table at 10 a.m. today.
Members of the Port Angeles Education Association on Monday voted to authorize a strike that would start the first day of the school year and the day after their current contract expires if they do not have a new contract.
Among other demands, the union is seeking more designated planning time, smaller class sizes and a wage increase, all which, it argues, would bring the district up to the same levels in other districts on the Olympic Peninsula, offer competitive compensation to its members and be more attractive to recruit at a time when the district is experiencing across the board staff shortages.
“It was a very productive meeting and there are a couple of key issues that we’re still going back and forth on, but the teams really went at it and we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” John Henry, Port Angeles Education Association president, said after the meeting.
“They’ve done some movement on class size and there’s been some progress on planning time and made some progress on salary last week and now it’s down to where it’s about the details.”
Members of the school district negotiating team declined to speak after the meeting ended at about 11:15 p.m. and asked that questions be referred to school district spokesperson Carmen Geyer.
Marty Brewer, the school district superintendent, said, “We’re working at it — making progress.”
The Port Angeles Paraeducators Association and the Port Angeles Educational Office Professionals, which are represented by the Washington Education Association like the PAEA, have said they intend to honor a strike if it occurs.
The school board scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. today to consider six resolutions that would authorize Brewer as superintendent to suspend leave policies during a strike; close the schools; hire temporary employees; limit access to school grounds; suspend compensation and health insurance of striking employees; and allow the Board of Directors to take any action that might be necessary to end the strike or work stoppage and protect students.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at Paula.Hunt@soundpublishing.com.
PORT ANGELES — A bargaining session Tuesday night was likely to decide if the Port Angeles School District would resume classes on Thursday as scheduled.
The Port Angeles Education Association (PAEA) on Monday voted to authorize a strike that would begin the first day of school, if the Port Angeles School District and the PAEA bargaining team do not reach an agreement about a new contract.
The current PAEA contract — which covers teachers, counselors, nurses, occupational therapists and psychologists — expires today.
Sticking points include planning hours, class sizes and pay.
The results of the evening bargaining session between school district and union teams at Lincoln Center, 905 W. Ninth St., were not known by deadline for this edition.
The current contract between the PAEA and the school district was agreed to in September 2019. Seaview Academy, the district’s online education program, and kindergarten classes that start Sept. 7, also would be affected by a strike.
PAEA representatives approached the district in February to begin contract negotiations. Collective bargaining began in March.
“We’ve been working on this well over a year, meeting with our members, talking with our members in small groups, large groups, (conducting) one-on-one surveys, taking all that information carefully, prioritizing things, crafting language, putting together a plan, and then presenting that to the district,” said John Henry, president of the Port Angeles Education Association.
“All we ask is the district take it seriously because these are challenges and our members have made it very clear to us that they want solutions.”
The school district was unable on Tuesday to provide anyone who was involved in the contract negotiations to comment.
“We are putting all of our energy into the collective bargaining process,” said school district spokesperson Carmen Geyer.
“Reaching an agreement with our educators is our top priority, and we hope to settle the deal before the first day of school. The ultimate goal is to reach a fair contract that is sustainable.”
The district had emailed a notice to district parents late Monday night warning of a possible strike and advising them to consider childcare options.
“The uncertainty of this situation weighs heavily on our teachers, staff, students, families, and community. … Our priority is to resolve this as quickly as possible and launch our new school year soon,” said the notice sent to parents a little before 10 p.m. Monday.
The district said it would provide updates at www.portangelesschools.org.
Henry said PAEA members were frustrated by what they saw as the school district’s reluctance to engage in substantive contract talks and refusal to bargain on two of the issues of greatest importance to its members: more and consistent planning time and reduced class sizes.
“Our contractual planning time is very low. Our contract says that beyond the first 30 and last 30 minutes a day, we should have a weekly average of 30 minutes a day,” Henry said. “Some days we get none.”
As a comparison, the Central Kitsap School District’s sixth- through 12th-grade teachers have 45 minutes of planning time each day, the equivalent to one class period.
“If we’re going to engage with students and meet their social emotional needs and their learning needs, we need class sizes to be smaller,” Henry said. “We have some of the highest classes in terms of the region.”
Port Angeles School District 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.
Central Kitsap School District’s K-3 classes are capped at 19 students, and grades 7-12 at a student/teacher ratio of 30:1 with no more than 150 students per day.
PAEA also ask for a wage increase to make teachers’ salaries competitive with other districts, saying that, under its current contract, Port Angeles School District teachers and certified staff are the lowest-paid on the Olympic Peninsula.
The PAEA also wants teachers to receive the 5.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment allotment from the state that was passed by the state Legislature this spring.
The Port Angeles Educational Office Professionals, which, like the PAEA, is represented by the Washington Education Association but in a separate bargaining unit, is also in contract talks with the district.
The office workers’ contract, like the PAEA’s, ends today, but President Adam Purcell said office staffers have no plans to authorize a strike. Its team met with the school district in a bargaining session Monday and was scheduled to meet with it again on Thursday.
“Compensation and salary are on members’ minds, but that’s not the entirety of what we’re looking for,” Purcell said. “We are looking for support in professional growth and development and workload relief.
“Workloads have greatly increased since the start of COVID. New duties have been added regularly, and staffing levels, frankly, have shrunk for office secretaries. So there is more work to do and there are fewer people to do it.”
Purcell said that if an official strike date is announced, the PAEOP would convene a general membership meeting.
Port Angeles Paraeducators Association President Rebecca Winters said low pay has contributed to the school district’s inability to fill key special education teacher positions, which in turn has put more pressure on paraeducators by diverting them from their regular assignments to support highneed students who require intense one-on-one attention in regular classrooms.
Like secretarial and office staff, paraeducators are represented by the WEA but bargain separately from certificated staff.
“It’s a tough job,” said Winters of special education teaching. “And so, when you’re not being compensated and you’re just constantly struggling, you move on. That’s what a few teachers have done, and they can’t get other people to want to do those jobs.”
When the paraeduators went on a two-day strike in 2018 for better pay, it was supported by teachers who refused to cross the picket line, forcing the district to cancel classes. The strike ended when the two sides agreed to a three-year agreement that increased paraeducator wages about 15 percent over a three-year period.
If the PAEA voted to strike, Winters said, “We’d stick with them every time.”
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.