Prosser school district, teachers reach tentative agreement

The Prosser School District and Prosser Education Association reached tentative agreement on a new contract late Friday night, union leaders announced Saturday.

Prosser teachers still must ratify the agreement, and are expected to meet at 4 p.m. Monday to hear details of it and then vote.

Those details will not be released until teachers hear them, said Kandis West, spokeswoman for the Prosser Education Association.

The district’s teachers voted to strike when school is scheduled to resume Tuesday after the holiday weekend if no agreement was reached by Monday afternoon. The school district said Saturday that it anticipates school will be held as usual Tuesday.

“We are relieved that the education of our students won’t be disrupted,” said Fred Bray, president of the Prosser Education Association, in a statement.

Superintendent Ray Tolcacher also said he was pleased that students’ education likely will not be interrupted.

The tentative agreement was reached after plans were announced Thursday to bring in mediators. At that point salaries were the biggest sticking point.

The union was asking for more than $650,000 in extra pay, around double what the district had offered. It also wanted more than $50,000 in pay increases for extra duties, about 10 times what the district had proposed.

Agreement was reached by midweek on issues pertaining to optional and mandatory staff days and time for professional development. The district also had agreed to provide an additional $1,500 for special education teachers. Workday hours, calendar issues and some details regarding leave were worked out.

Bray said the district now acknowledges the importance of recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

“This agreement is a step in the right direction toward retaining great teachers and ending the revolving door of teachers leaving for other high-paying districts,” Bray said.

Superintendent Ray Tolcacher blames the state Legislature for not meeting its responsibility to adequately pay for education.

“We wouldn’t be in this position if the Legislature had done what the Washington State Constitution said,” Tolcacher told the Herald. The state constitution requires schools to be properly funded and the State Supreme Court has agreed, he said.

He has always had a great relationship with Prosser teachers, and it was difficult to sit across the negotiation table from people he has long known and respected, he said.

“School districts are built on relationships,” Tolcacher said. “We all were put in a very bad position.”

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533;; Twitter: @HanfordNews