Education

Pasco schools closed for fourth day Friday; court hearing on strike scheduled

Stevens Middle school classified staffers clean up Thursday after holding a tailgate-style barbecue lunch of hot dogs, chips and cookies for striking Pasco School District teachers in a parking lot near the intersection of North 22nd Avenue and West Court Street. From left are paraeducators Erin Hall and Maria Campos, secretary Toni Garza and paraeducator Veronica Daniel.
Stevens Middle school classified staffers clean up Thursday after holding a tailgate-style barbecue lunch of hot dogs, chips and cookies for striking Pasco School District teachers in a parking lot near the intersection of North 22nd Avenue and West Court Street. From left are paraeducators Erin Hall and Maria Campos, secretary Toni Garza and paraeducator Veronica Daniel. Tri-City Herald

Earlier this week, Toni Garza and her fellow staffers at Pasco’s Stevens Middle School took coffee to the teachers picketing outside the school on North 22nd Avenue.

On Thursday, they decided to do a little bit more.

”One of the other (staffers) said, ‘Let’s do hot dogs,’ and so I got a grill,” Garza, a secretary at the school, told the Herald.

Their tailgate, set up next to a neighboring restaurant, offered chips, cookies and soda with those hot dogs.

Garza and her co-workers weren’t the first to show such support to the teachers, who went on strike Tuesday after negotiators from their union and the Pasco School District failed to agree on a new contract.

Parents, students and local businesses have offered food, water and the use of restrooms to the teachers, who are locked out of the schools.

Garza understands teachers’ concerns, but she suspects no one will walk away completely happy once the strike is over and a contract is settled. But having worked in Pasco schools for 15 years, it felt natural to rally at the teachers’ side.

“We’re just doing what we can,” Garza said.

The strike continues Friday, meaning the start of the school year has been delayed by four days for the district’s roughly 17,000 students. A Franklin County Superior Court judge is also scheduled Friday to consider a preliminary injunction filed by the district to force the teachers to go back to work.

Officials from both sides spoke positively at times Thursday about how contract discussions were going. District spokeswoman Leslee Caul said during an early afternoon news conference that “the district agrees to meet as long as the sessions are productive.”

Greg Olson, president of the Pasco Association of Educators, said there was progress on a few small things — but it was still progress, and there was a sense the district had shifted its approach.

“It is something different than what they’ve been doing,” he said.

But Caul was critical of the proposed contract released by the union late Wednesday, calling it “more a position paper,” lacking details on what the union seeks for teacher salaries and other issues.

The district’s latest known contract offer was an $8.4 million package, offering a 13.8 percent raise in salaries, additional money for teacher supplies and materials and other assurances. Nearly 5 percentage points of the raise would come from state money and the rest from local dollars, though teachers would only receive all of it if voters approve a levy in February.

Thursday’s talks also were meant to be a marathon session, going for 18 hours, and only between district and local union representatives, with no outside counsel or state-level union officials.

That’s how they began, but late in the day, teacher representatives announced they were bringing in a budget analyst from the Washington Education Association to demonstrate the feasibility of meeting the local union’s demands when it comes to curriculum.

Teachers have said the curriculum to teach subjects is inadequate or nonexistent. District officials have said the district does have curriculum, and a process to review and adopt more is ongoing.

“ ... The district has stated it cannot afford to purchase school board adopted curriculum, which is required by law, and address issues tied to compensation, class size and materials,” according to a union news release.

The earliest classes could begin in Pasco is Sept. 8 if a judge grants the district’s injunction request. However, Olson has said that he wouldn’t advise teachers to obey an injunction because the district would have no reason to bargain with teachers if they were in classrooms.

In the meantime, there is some activity inside and around Pasco schools and facilities behind the picket lines. Maintenance and ground crews are continuing with routine work and even catching up on some projects delayed by construction this summer, Caul said. Principals are also working, such as developing team-building programs for when teachers do report back to work.

The district’s nutrition services staff is monitoring food that already has come in for school meals. Boxes of bananas at risk of spoiling were donated Thursday to the Union Gospel Mission, and further donations will go there or Second Harvest, Caul said.

Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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