Negotiators for the Prosser School District and its teachers will use mediation in an effort to develop a new contract and avoid a teacher strike next week.
A release sent Thursday by the Prosser Education Association and state teachers union officials said contract talks broke down Wednesday night, and the district requested mediators be brought in. Nearly all the district’s teachers voted recently to strike Sept. 8 if no contract is reached by the afternoon of Sept. 7.
Superintendent Ray Tolcacher dismissed the characterization that discussions broke down, telling the Herald, “We think some fresh eyes can look at (a proposed contract) and help us get to where we need to be.”
The district and teachers have met frequently in recent weeks to develop a new contract, which expired at the end of August. Talks weren’t held Tuesday so teachers and administrators could focus on the first day of school.
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Fred Bray, president of the Prosser teachers union, had told the Herald earlier in the week there was progress.
Details of the union’s and the district’s latest contract proposals Wednesday show some agreements. Both sides have agreed on issues pertaining to optional and mandatory staff days and time for professional development. They’ve also agreed to provide an additional $1,500 for special education teachers. Workday hours, calendar issues and some details regarding leave also have been worked out.
But salaries are the biggest sticking points. The union is asking for more than $650,000 in extra pay, roughly double what the district has offered. They also want more than $50,000 in pay increases for extra duties, about 10 times what the district has proposed.
Thursday’s release from the union focused exclusively on teacher salaries, saying that Prosser teachers are among the lowest paid in the state and many new teachers leave for better pay just a few years after being hired.
“How do you build a sense of community with a revolving door of teachers?” Bray, who teaches fourth grade, said in the release.
Tolcacher said there has been a lot of language and issues that have been resolved during discussions with the union, but added that “it doesn’t help to keep going back and forth, back and forth when there’s one issue.”
He criticized state lawmakers for not properly addressing the need for proper education funding. He said that talks will continue through Labor Day weekend if necessary.
“We’ve got time to work. We’ve been bargaining almost every day,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind that teachers want to get the contract settled.”
The plan is for district officials to meet with the mediators during the day while the union’s negotiators meet with them in the afternoon so that teaching isn’t interrupted.