The Pasco School District is requesting help from a state mediator because it says negotiations with its teachers union are at a stalemate.
The district’s two-year contract with the Pasco Association of Educators is scheduled to expire Aug. 31. The union has not ruled out a strike.
The school district has met with the union eight times over the last two months and says it has made little progress on issues of concern.
“There has not been any movement,” district spokeswoman Leslee Caul said. “The district is hopeful that bringing in someone else will help us move that along.”
The decision to request help from the Public Employment Relations Commission is disappointing, said Greg Olson, president of the Pasco Association of Educators.
“We are quite a ways off from each other, but I didn’t think it was to the point where we would need a mediator,” Olson said.
The district’s most recent proposal would give the union’s 1,098 members $2.3 million extra in salary and benefits next year, compared to this year, according to district data. But the union is asking for another $15 million, including an 11-percent pay increase for all teachers.
Pasco is losing teachers to Kennewick, Richland and even smaller districts, and needs to provide them more than the state-mandated 3 percent raises this year and 1.8 percent in 2016-17, Olson said.
“I believe we have been short-changed for quite a few years,” he said. “We believe the money is there. The first couple proposals the district has given us are not even close to what we think would be a good idea.”
Pay is not the only issue teachers are concerned about, Olson said. They have called for a universal curriculum for all campuses.
Many teachers are now spending time coming up with their own curriculum, he said.
“It’s kind of gut-wrenching to hear them say they hate Sundays, because they are preparing for the next day instead of spending time with their families,” he said.
District officials have said Pasco does have a universal curriculum for all grade levels, but more than 15 of 123 teachers who answered an open-ended question in a recent community survey said the district’s greatest challenge is curriculum.
Mediation is not that unusual for the district in collective bargaining. Caul said it has been used twice since the 1990s.
But teachers are now facing their worst crisis since a 1978 strike, something they are not ruling out doing again if the contract expires without an agreement, Olson said. They are scheduled to have a membership meeting Aug. 12.
“It is not something we want, but we will talk to the members and find out which way they want to go,” he said. “They want us to stand up.”
The mediation might not happen until the second or third week of August, since both sides must agree to a time, Olson said.
Pasco School Board President Ryan Brault wishes the state Legislature had made greater strides in meeting requirements in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision in its recent session and fully funded education, he said in a statement.
“The Pasco School District has the utmost admiration and respect for our teachers,” he said. “The board is confident that with the help of a mediator, the parties will find a way to honor and value the work of our teachers in a way that is also fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.”