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Imminent strike for Snoqualmie Valley schools: Negotiations continue, but no more union meetings are planned
Valley teachers are preparing to go on strike. On Friday morning, Sept. 6, potentially their last day of work before the strike, the union blog advised them to take any pets or plants with them when they leave their classrooms at end of day, because they may not be allowed back in for the duration.
Only a majority-approved contract with the Snoqualmie Valley School District can stop the strike, and only if it arrives by 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8.
"At this point, we have a declared strike," said Dale Folkerts, a Washington Education Association spokesperson working with the Snoqualmie Valley Education Association, speaking by telephone Wednesday afternoon. "There will be a strike on Monday, if they have not reached agreement."
Teachers agreed at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 3, to work this week under the terms of their expired contract. At that same meeting, they resoundingly voted down the district's latest contract offer, said union president Lisa Radmer, and agreed to go on strike if they hadn't accepted a new contract by 3 p.m. Sunday.
"The members yesterday spoke very loud and clear," Radmer said Wednesday afternoon, before a scheduled negotiation session. "They are very frustrated with not being heard, they are very frustrated with this wrangling negotiation style that brings us down to the last minute, and I'll be frank, many of them did not want to come to school today."
After two more days of negotiations, Wednesday and Thursday, the district is hopeful about its latest offer, which includes changes to the proposed compensation and language about class sizes which the union requested.
"We are very optimistic," said district spokesperson Carolyn Malcolm Friday afternoon. "We've presented a strong proposal that we're very optimistic about, and we believe a settlement can be reached."
The newest proposal, described on the district website (http://www.svsd410.org, then click Contract Negotiations Update under Latest News) offers a 2 percent salary increase for each of the three years of the contract. The salary package includes the 1.9 percent annual pay increase restored to the state budget in the legislature's last session, for an overall increase of 3.9 percent annually.
With the raises, the staff base salary schedule, included on the website, ranges from a low of $40,017 for a first-year teacher, to a high of $75,425 for a teacher with an advanced degree and 16 or more years of experience. The range for a teacher with 13 years of experience, the district's average according to the OSPI district profile, would earn between $45,586 and $69,932, depending on their education level.
Members of the union and the school district staff began negotiating the new three-year contract in April, and have reached agreement on other, unspecified points. However, Radmer said the union didn't receive the district's salary proposal until August.
The district's optimism for the latest proposal is not shared. The new offer, presented to the bargaining team Thursday evening, is still a work in progress and has not been presented to the 350-strong SVEA general membership. Another negotiation session has been planned for Friday afternoon, but as for an SVEA meeting, Radmer said "We have no meeting planned, unless there is a TA - a tentative agreement."
Elementary class sizes are still unresolved.
"There has been no language in our contract at all on elementary class size," Radmer said. "The union wants to have enforceable language that says you can't just keep stacking kids into a classroom at the cost of a quality education," she said.
That language is in the contract at the secondary level, though. Middle- and high school teachers receive additional compensation each semester for seeing a combined total of more than 150 students in five classes, or for seeing more than 32 students in any class, excluding P.E. or music.
"Half of the high school gets overload pay," Radmer said, "but elementary teachers don't want the pay, they want a small class size so they can work closely with each student."
The district's current proposal sets targets of no more than 25 students per Kindergarten class, 27 per first through third grade class, and 29 per fourth and fifth grade class. Any additional students at each level would trigger a pay increase. These targets are roughly in line with the state recommendations, but higher than the class sizes proposed by the Washington Education Association in HB 1673, presented to the state legislature last February.
Negotiations continue Friday evening and potentially through the weekend. Both sides have indicated a willingness to meet round the clock, if needed.
Mom Kari and her children Olivia and Jackson, both 7, wave signs supporting teachers prior to a union meeting Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 3, at Mount Si High School.