Port Angeles School Superintendent Marty Brewer, second from right, speaks with members of the Port Angeles Parents for Education, on Friday about the Port Angeles Paraeducation Association strike. Assistant Superintendent Michele Olsen stands at right. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles School Superintendent Marty Brewer, second from right, speaks with members of the Port Angeles Parents for Education, on Friday about the Port Angeles Paraeducation Association strike. Assistant Superintendent Michele Olsen stands at right. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

District, PAPEA to pick up bargaining Sunday

Parent group presses officials for answers on strike

PORT ANGELES — After bargaining all day Friday, the Port Angeles School District and the union representing paraeducators will reevaluate each other’s proposals and return to the bargaining table Sunday.

The school district will announce by 5 p.m. Sunday whether or not schools will reopen Monday.

The five-day school closure has pushed the projected last day of the year to June 24.

The 130 members of the Port Angeles Paraeducators walked off the job April 8 to demand a 3.7 percent wage increase. The picket line is being honored by the 222 members of the Port Angeles Education Association, which represents teachers and counselors.

More than 140 paraeducators and their supporters carried signs and chanted as they marched along Eighth and B streets outside the administration building Friday.

Inside, Superintendent Marty Brewer faced about 20 members of Port Angeles Parents for Education, who had gathered in the foyer at 11 a.m., calling on him to end the strike by agreeing to the provide paraeducators with the increase they have been seeking since bargaining began last September.

The parents pressed Brewer on the reasons behind the district’s refusal to meet the paraeducators’ demands, asked how much the district had spent on attorneys’ fees during the bargaining process and questioned him about his $199,000 annual salary.

Brewer, speaking in a calm and measured tones, explained that the formula the state used to fund wage increases for school employees does not reflect the actual number of employees in a school district. Port Angeles received funding for the equivalent of 10 paraeducators, Brewer said, when the district actually employs 130. School districts have to make up any difference between what the state funds and the real number of employees.

It has become increasingly unsustainable for Port Angeles to continue funding this disparity when other funding sources, such as special education and Learning Assistance Program (LAP) funding, are stagnant, Brewer said.

Parents asked Brewer if the money spent on lawyers, including costs related to a temporary restraining order and injunction against the PAPEA to force members back to work, could not have been better spent on providing paraeducators with the wage increase they sought.

Brewer said he did not how much the district has spent on attorneys fees or expenses for mediation through the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission.

“Our board had decided we needed to do everything possible to get kids back in school,” Brewer said. “There’s a time-benefit cost of one-time attorney fees versus that of costs over the length of a contract.”

Parents appeared particularly upset about Brewer’s salary, which has increased from $160,000 when he was hired in 2018.

“How can we afford to pay your salary and not paraeducators’ salaries?” one parent asked.

Brewer said his salary and raises are determined and approved by the board. His salary is in the lower third of districts of similar size to Port Angeles, he said.

He was mindful of the district’s financial situation, so he said he chose not to take advantage of all of the benefits in his contract.

“I gave back 15 vacation days. I didn’t cash them out,” Brewer said.

The PAPEA has consistently argued that the district can afford the $128,000 it would cost to provide its members with 3.7 percent pay increases. It has backed off from its other demands, but the union remains focused on that goal.

Although school is not in session, that does not mean challenges facing students like food insecurity are suspended.

Port Angeles School District family navigators Alicia Scofield and Summer Cooper, in concert with Sodexo food services, have distributed more than 2,000 student meals and bags of food to families since the strike began Monday.

“Those students need to be fed, and we need to make sure families have what they need as well,” Scofield said.

Student meals contain that day’s lunch and the following day’s dinner. The Friday family bags are stocked from food banks.

Information about distribution sites, as well as childcare information, can be found at www.portangelesschools.org/labor.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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