Education

Pasco schools open Tuesday after teachers ratify contract

Pasco teachers ratify contract, end strike

Greg Olson, Pasco Association of Educators president, shares several details of the contract 99 percent of the teachers voted in favor of approving during morning union membership meeting at Pasco High School.
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Greg Olson, Pasco Association of Educators president, shares several details of the contract 99 percent of the teachers voted in favor of approving during morning union membership meeting at Pasco High School.

The new two-year contract approved almost unanimously by Pasco teachers Monday morning is a step forward but not a cure-all, teachers said.

A strict timeline for curriculum adoption, a key teacher demand, made it in but it will still take time to carry out.

A local pay increase of about 8.7 percent over the next two years is on par with what the Richland School District recently gave its teachers but is still below what teacher representatives sought.

Still, as an estimated 900 teachers streamed out of the Pasco High School auditorium after the vote, they laughed and hugged and shouted to each other that they would see each other at school. Their strike was over.

“Yes, let’s get going,” one teacher shouted.

With teachers back in schools, all kindergarten through ninth-grade students and all New Horizons High School students start school Sept. 15. The district’s remaining 10th- through 12th-graders start Sept. 16.

The Pasco School Board is expected to vote on whether to accept the agreement at its Sept. 22 regular board meeting. The financial cost of the contract to the district was not released.

District spokeswoman Leslee Caul said the district had no further comment on the contract Monday other than, “We’re just really glad to have kids back in school.”

Officials with the Pasco Association of Educators acknowledged there’s still work to do, and they and the district have said that includes rebuilding relationships and trust.

There still are unresolved repercussions from the eight-day teachers strike — the district has yet to announce how it will adjust its calendar to ensure students have enough days in class. Also, the union and some of its leaders still face court fines for defying a court order requiring teachers to return to work sooner.

The district and union are due in Franklin County Superior Court Tuesday for another hearing, though the teacher’s agreement calls for both sides to drop litigation against each other related to the strike.

Despite that, union leaders and teachers said the contract was a victory and a testament to the dedication of teachers but also the broader Pasco community to provide students with a proper education.

“In two years we’ll be back and hopefully the district will understand you don’t ever want to do this with us ever again,” union president Greg Olson told members to applause.

Pasco’s 21 schools were originally scheduled to open Sept. 1. Delta High School, the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM-centered school jointly operated by the Pasco, Richland and Kennewick district, also was closed through the strike. Union members voted in mid-August to strike if no new contract with the district was ratified by Sept. 1.

The agreement approved by the teachers was based on a draft from union negotiators. It calls for a 4.25 percent pay increase this academic year and a 4.45 percent increase next school year.

That’s in addition to a 4.8 percent increase provided by the state over the next two years. The union sought a nearly 12 percent pay raise over two years in recent contract proposals.

A task force to study standardized testing, proposed by the district, will form by Oct. 1 and have a recommendation to the Pasco School Board by the end of 2015.

Class sizes will be reduced to as low 24 students in kindergarten and no more than 30 in middle and high school classes. Teachers will receive more planning time and be guaranteed compensation if they have to cover other classes during that period.

The district will list the essential supplies it will provide teachers while providing $400 to elementary teachers and $200 to secondary teachers to buy additional items for their classrooms.

Union officials and teachers said the biggest gains came in curriculum. Math and language arts curricula and materials that are bilingual and suitable for special education will be adopted this school year based on a schedule that would put a recommendation before the school board in mid-April. The same process will be followed next year for science, social studies, physical education and the arts.

Laura Hendrickson, an art teacher at James McGee Elementary, will have to wait to receive board-approved curriculum. “But I can be very patient,” she said.

Tamra Roberts, a first-year seventh-grade science teacher at McLoughlin Middle School, was pleased with the contract. “There’s not one thing that’s bad about it. They did raise our pay. They’re working on a committee for the curriculum. It’s a good start,” she said.

Issues such as the district’s grievance procedure, policies on leave, a district proposal for all-day kindergarten and aspects of the teacher evaluation process were taken from prior district proposals.

While difficult and contentious, “I think the union opened the district’s eyes to a few things” during contract talks, said Andre Wren, a Chiawana High School counselor and one of three union officials facing court fines for his role in the strike.

But most teachers sounded excited and relieved to be heading back to the classroom — many went in on Sunday or Monday to make their final preparations.

Trevor Donstan, a fourth-grade teacher at the new Barbara McClintock STEM Elementary School, said the strike gave him a chance to bond with the other teachers at his new school. But he said he was glad when news of a settlement began trickling out via social media on Sunday.

“It felt like a weight off the shoulders,” he said.

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

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