PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles schools will be closed today as paraeducators prepare to strike after negotiations over wages stalled. Teachers have said they will honor the picket line.
The Port Angeles Paraeducators Association had given the Port Angeles School District until 5 p.m. Wednesday to propose an offer to which they would agree.
With no certainty of an agreement before the deadline, the district announced mid-negotiation that school would be closed today. Families should expect a daily update on the status of classes, the district said.
Extracurricular activities, including high school and middle school athletics, still will occur.
Negotiations were expected to continue Wednesday night, district officials said.
Dale Folkerts, spokesperson for the Washington Education Association, said school district negotiators left negotiations shortly before a 2 p.m. special School Board meeting and had not returned to the bargaining table as of about 3 p.m. today.
“Our negotiators are still at the table,” Folkerts said. “Why they vanished is perplexing to us.”
At the last negotiations session on Oct. 30, the district had offered the paraeducators a 3.5 percent pay increase, and the association countered with a demand of 22 percent.
Paraeducators voted Nov. 6 to authorize a strike to begin today if the school district did not make a “fair and equitable offer,” their lead negotiator Barbara Gapper has said.
Gapper said Wednesday morning the district and the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association were making progress.
In a special meeting Wednesday, School Board members without discussion unanimously approved resolutions suspending all policies, rules and regulations, limiting access to public school grounds, taking legal steps to terminate a strike and authorizing the superintendent to close schools.
One of the resolutions approved says “an emergency exists requiring the immediate action of the Board to prevent or at least minimize the irreparable injury to our students and the education process and damage to school district property caused by the threatened strike.”
Another resolution authorizes Superintendent Martin Brewer to take legal steps necessary to terminate the strike. The district authorized law firm Perkins Coie LLP to take steps to end the strike.
Attorneys were authorized and directed to sue any individual employee participating in a strike or concerted refusal to perform services.
The district then announced school would be closed and went into an executive session to discuss a position on bargaining.
The district is using a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission to help with negotiations. The mediator worked with both sides for several hours Tuesday and today, but the district and paraeducators could not reach an agreement by 4 p.m. today.
Brewer had said the district had a contingency plan in place if the paraeducators went on strike, but then the Port Angeles Education Association voted to honor picket lines.
“We’re hoping the district chooses to avert a strike by negotiating a settlement with our paraeducators,” said Eric Pickens, president of the Port Angeles Education Association.
“We believe it’s important that educators in this community stand together and show we are united. The district can choose to resolve this … or they can continue to stall and drag out negotiations. It’s time to get this settled.”
Paraeducators are among the lowest paid employees in the Port Angeles School District. Base pay for a paraeducator is $15.68 per hour.
The school district said in a news release and on social media last Friday that with a 3.5-percent raise paraeducators would be almost the best paid in the region.
The school district last Thursday approved a 4.1 percent raise for other classified staff.
William Shore Memorial Pool announced an all-day camp for its SPARK Squad members due to the school closure.
Children who participate in the program can be dropped off at the Lincoln Center, 905 W. Ninth St., at 7:30 a.m. and then be picked up by 5:30 p.m. today.
The pool said it would “plan accordingly” for Friday.
For more information call the pool at 360-417-9767.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].