Teachers’ union set to honor picket line

Without agreement, paraeducators to strike

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Education Association voted overwhelmingly to honor the picket line of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association if it strikes on April 8.

PAEA President John Henry said 100 of its 240 members attended the meeting Wednesday and only two voted against the strike measure, which came after the Port Angeles School District and its paraeducators left a bargaining session with a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission without an agreement.

It was the fourth mediated session since February.

“The paras’ work is essential to the operation of the school,” said Henry, who is a teacher at Port Angeles High School.

“They’re trained, they’re professionals, they have certification requirements,” Henry said. “They work with students with high needs and they do a good job.”

PAPEA President Rebecca Winters said the 130 district paraeducators are grateful for PAEA’s support.

“We appreciate that they understand the severity of the situation when it comes to recognition, equity and how important it is for all employees in the school district to receive fair pay,” Winters said.

“More than anything, it just shows what a united team we all are and how we would support the teachers in anything that they needed from us.”

Paraeducators voted in February to authorize their bargaining team and local leaders to call a strike if an agreement can’t be reached with the school district. The two sides have been bargaining since last summer; paraeducators have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.

Three bargaining sessions are scheduled during the district’s spring break next week on Tuesday, April 5 and 7.

“We’re like, we need to get it settled,” Winters said.

A school district representative said via email Thursday that a letter to families about contingency plans if paraeducators and teachers go on strike was scheduled to be sent to families either Thursday night or Friday.

The key sticking point in negotiations has been paraeducators’ demand for the same 3.7 percent wage increase the PAEA and district agreed to in September. The amount was based on the implicit price deflator (IDP) the state uses to offset the impact of inflation on school employees’ salaries every year. In 2024-2025, the IDP will be 3.9 percent.

The district has said it did not receive adequate support from the various state funding streams to meet the paraeducators’ demands that, in addition to a wage increase, included lowering the salary step from four years to one year; recognizing degrees and certifications; and revising the longevity payment schedule, which now requires 20 years of experience before a paraeducator can qualify for it.

Particularly challenging for the district has been a simultaneous decrease in enrollment and a rise in the number of students who qualify for special education.

During the recently ended 60-day session, the state Legislature raised the cap on special education funding from 15 percent to 16 percent of a district’s total enrollment. However, that fell short of providing for the 20 percent of Port Angeles School District students who receive special education services and which the district must make up through its Educational Programs and Operations levy and other funds.

Eric Pickens, the Washington Education Association Olympic Council president and a teacher at Seaview Academy, said Port Angeles is one of the few districts in the state that didn’t pass through the 3.7 percent IDP wage increase to non-teaching staff. He said that, of 116 WEA locals, 51 negotiated the 3.7 percent IDP, 61 negotiated a higher rate and just four negotiated a lower rate.

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

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