Port Angeles schools mediation aims to avoid strike

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District and paraeducators entered into mediation Tuesday in hopes of reaching an agreement and averting potential for a strike Thursday.

The district announced a special meeting for today — after bargaining sessions with the Port Angeles Paraeducator Association — to consider a number of resolutions if negotiations fail, said Superintendent Martin Brewer.

The meeting is set for 2 p.m. today at the Central Services Building. Board members will consider suspending all policies, rules and regulations, limiting access to public school grounds, taking legal steps to terminate a strike, suspending leave policies during a strike and authorizing the superintendent to close schools.

Paraeducators authorized a strike to begin Thursday if they cannot reach an agreement with the school district over pay by the end of business today.

On Tuesday, Brewer sent an email to all staff saying he firmly believes that both sides are committed to avoiding a strike and said school will run as planned.

“The position is that we’re running school,” Brewer said in an interview Tuesday. “If we receive additional information then we will notify parents as soon as we are notified of that information.

“At this point school is scheduled to run on Nov. 15.”

Port Angeles Education Association President Eric Pickens has said he would urge teachers to support a strike and to honor the paraeducators’ picket line. Pickens could not be reached by phone Tuesday.

At the last negotiations session 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 this coming Thursday if the school district does not make a “fair and equitable offer,” their lead negotiator Barbara Gapper has said.

The district is using a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission to help with negotiations. In his email, Brewer said the goal was to come to a decision Tuesday but that bargaining would resume today if necessary “in the effort to avoid work stoppage.”

Negotiations began Tuesday at 1 p.m. with the mediator spending an hour with district officials. At 2 p.m. the mediator was scheduled to meet with paraeducators.

Then a six-hour mediation session between the district and paraeducators was scheduled, with more time set aside today if an agreement wasn’t reached.

Brewer told staff there is a contingency plan to cover all critical paraeducator positions throughout the district and reminded staff that state law does not give public employees the right to strike.

Brewer would not say specifically what the contingency plan is, but said it relies on district personnel and community members.

Brewer said a resolution the School Board will consider today if it would give the district the authority to ask a judge for an injunction.

He said employees requesting pay for sick leave during a strike would need to sign an affidavit certifying they are actually ill and that only employees who are not withholding services will be allowed on school property.

“At the conclusion of this potential work stoppage, we need to come together and move forward as ONE committed team to meet the needs of our students,” he said in the email.

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 Friday that with a 3.5 percent raise paraeducators would be almost the best paid in the region.

The school district Thursday approved a 4.1 percent raise for other classified staff.

Paraeducators work on a 183-day annual contract and are paid for 11 holidays.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.

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