Richland School District, teachers approve contract

The Richland School District signed a new contract with its teachers after monthslong negotiations.

The new agreement has the district absorbing state-mandated pay cuts and sticking to last year's rules about extra pay for crowded classrooms.

The bargaining agreement was ratified last week, just days before the beginning of the school year.

"This is the latest we've ever gone," said Jeri Morrow, president of Richland's teacher union. "It was the most contentious of the last four bargaining rounds."

In Richland, as elsewhere, bargaining was complicated by the state budget cuts. The state is giving districts 1.9 percent less money to pay their teachers.

But pay rates are set at the local, not state, level. This means it was up to districts to hash out the cut with their employees.

Kennewick and Pasco school districts already have reached agreements, but many other districts around the state have not.

Teachers in Kennewick and Pasco compromised with their districts and accepted about half of the state pay cut.

But in Richland, all contract groups -- from teachers to secretaries and janitors -- are paid at last year's rate, ignoring the cuts passed by the Legislature.

This will cost the district about $800,000 out of its reserves this year, said Tony Howard, director of human resources.

The parties in Richland reached a one-year agreement. Contracts typically run longer, but uncertainty about future state budgets prompted the district to shorten the length of the agreement, he said.

The district proposed to increase the threshold of students a classroom can hold before the teacher gets paid extra per additional student, Morrow said.

That threshold ranges from 24 students in kindergarten to 32 in high school.

The district hadn't intended to raise class sizes, but it proposed to raise the extra-pay threshold by three students at each level, Morrow said.

"With more kids and fewer teachers, which is what happens after budget cuts, overload goes up," Howard said.

"It's important to treat our people right," Howard said.

w Jacques Von Lunen: 582-1402; jvonlunen@tricity herald.com