Pasco schools will be empty for the first day of classes Sept 1.
Contract negotiations between the Pasco School District and its teachers union, the Pasco Association of Educators, remained at an impasse Monday evening as teachers, some wearing red shirts that read,“We Teach Pasco,” some wearing shirts identifying the school where they teach, met with their representatives. With no contract in place, a union vote held weeks ago to strike will take effect.
District officials posted at 8:30 p.m. on social media and the district’s website that school was canceled because the union had “not directly communicated with the district regarding their intent to strike.”
Union officials told the Herald such notice wasn’t necessary, given the previous vote to strike, but that an email was sent by union President Greg Olson confirming teachers would be on the picket lines.
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Teachers are expected to picket outside all 21 of the district’s schools throughout school hours Sept 1. That also includes Delta High School, the science, technology, engineering and math-focused high school jointly operated with the Kennewick and Richland school districts. Picketing in future days will be concentrated at specific schools, union officials said.
Matthew Polk, a lead negotiator and Pasco High School teacher, confirmed there was one person who, during the meeting, called for teachers to still report for work. The proposal received no known support after being seconded. That same person brought the motion up again. It failed to get a second.
A vote of no confidence in Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill received overwhelming approval.
“The real heart of this is admitting we have some systemic problems plaguing our schools that come from our leaders failing to fulfill their responsibilities to our students,” Polk said.
The district’s latest offer on Monday was for an $8.4 million package, providing a 9 percent pay increase over a three-year contract, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars to help teachers with needed supplies and materials, increased planning time for elementary teachers, increased contributions to insurance pools and class size reductions in kindergarten and first grade.
There have been minor agreements but union representatives said a third of the pay increase is tied to whether voters renew the district’s maintenance and operations levy in February. That’s a potentially tall order given parent frustration with the ongoing teacher contract negotiations.
Union officials and teachers have said the district has substantial reserves to cover their contractual demands. District officials say much of that money is restricted and can’t go to salaries. Pasco also is unable to generate as much money from local levies compared to neighboring districts and Hill has blamed the state Legislature for not properly funding school districts.
The union had initially pursued a more than 11 percent pay raise for teachers in a one-year deal but would also consider an 8 percent raise for the current school year and a 6 percent increase the following school year.
But the pay isn’t the primary failing of the district’s offers, several teachers and negotiators said. Rather, the district’s refusal to legitimately address the lack of curriculum is severely hampering teachers’ ability to teach students.
“We have textbooks in use now that are almost as old as the teacher using them,” Polk said.
André Wren, a counselor at Chiawana High School, told the Herald he and his fellow teachers want to not just be able to say a student graduated but was prepared for their future.
“I don’t want students to take away from this that we don’t want to work,” he said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for students. I hate it had to come to this.”
Olson blasted the district in an address to teachers during the meeting, saying administrators could no longer make excuses or simply blame the Legislature for not providing enough money.
“We are not going to carry them anymore,” he said to applause. “The administration and this school board is going to find out what PAE can do.”
The district’s board has authorized Hill to pursue legal action against the teachers if there is a strike, as such an action is illegal. Union leaders, though, have told teachers that while a judge could issue an injunction ordering teachers back to work, state law is otherwise silent on the strike issue. There is no immediate threat to teachers’ insurance coverage or pay and they won’t be fired and unlikely are to be jailed.