Pasco teachers vote to continue weeklong strike

Pasco Association of Educators President Greg Olson (left, in red shirt) speaks with supporters at Monday’s Labor Day Picnic at Columbia Park in Kennewick.
Pasco Association of Educators President Greg Olson (left, in red shirt) speaks with supporters at Monday’s Labor Day Picnic at Columbia Park in Kennewick. Tri-City Herald

Pasco’s nearly 1,100 teachers will not return to class Tuesday, despite a court order to end their strike.

The strike will instead enter its second week, after teachers decided “overwhelmingly” by voice vote to not return to class without a labor contract at the end of a two-hour meeting, Pasco Association of Educators President Greg Olson said.

“They are very concerned about the curriculum and all the issues that are facing our children in the Pasco School District,” he told reporters.

Teachers filled a large conference room at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel, which officials said was designed to hold more than 1,000 people.

The union was not satisfied with a three-year proposal, released Monday, that the district said would give teachers a 10-percent raise over three years, including 3.5 percent in the 2015-16 school year, according to figures on the district’s website. It also allocates $3 million for curriculum adoption in the 2015-16 school year and at least $2.9 million the second year.

The district was “very disappointed” with the decision not to comply with the court order, spokeswoman Leslee Caul said in a statement.

“The proposal also addressed materials and supplies, class size, planning time, and an aggressive timeline on curriculum adoption,” she said. “The proposal was intended to provide a competitive compensation package and address the concerns of the members while being fiscally responsible and sustainable.”

But the language in the district’s proposal allows it too much wiggle room, Olson said.

“We need timelines, we need it structured,” he said. “They want it open-ended. We want it tied down.”

Franklin County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom granted the school district’s request on Friday for a preliminary injunction to end the strike, which began Sept. 1. But he declined to specify what fines the union could face if the strike continued, saying he might levy sanctions if his order is disobeyed.

The district argued that public employees in Washington as a rule do not have the right to strike and the harms inflicted on students and the community are real.

But teachers are focused on curriculum and class size rather than penalties, Olson said.

“It’s a moral issue,” he said. “We’re going to get the kids the curriculum they need.”

Despite the closed doors, loud voices could be heard arguing their side from outside the meeting room. The speeches were sometimes followed by loud applause.

Teachers spent the first hour-and-a-half of the meeting discussing curriculum before turning attention to whether or not they would return to work, union spokesman Dale Folkerts said.

Ekstrom scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Tuesday to review the union’s compliance with his order.

Teachers are humbled by the support they have received from parents, Olson said.

“We’re going to do what we can for those parents,” he said.

The district announced Saturday that it is canceling the school board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. On Monday the board released a statement “reaffirming our commitment” to addressing curriculum.

“Our expectation is that the review process will be open and transparent. We are committed to addressing these concerns as quickly as we can responsibly do so,” the board said.

The vote came on the same day as all 130 members in attendance at the Prosser Education Association’s Monday meeting voted to ratify an agreement with the Prosser School District that was tentatively reached Friday night. The agreement means school will start as scheduled Tuesday.

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543;; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom