Education

Pasco School Board approves teacher contract, with some reservations

The Pasco School Board unanimously approved the district’s new contract with its teachers during a Tuesday special meeting, but not without some last minute hand-wringing.

Ratification of the deal, which will increase salaries and related expenses by an estimated $7.7 million over two years, came a week later than expected after district and teachers union officials disagreed over wording in the final document. Another $5.9 million will be needed to pay for curriculum the contract calls on the district to adopt.

Board members Amy Phillips, Steve Christensen and Sherry Lancon said they had concerns with the contract, particularly when it came to details on curriculum. There were also questions about changes to teacher insurance plans, why teachers will receive money for classroom supplies, and how the district will handle the higher-than-planned expense of the overall contract.

“I’m going to approve this, but I’m pleading with our district and teachers that we do curriculum right,” Phillips said before voting to approve the contract.

Union leaders said they were glad the contract was ratified, However, they said the board’s comments surprised and frustrated them, as it sounded like board members weren’t informed during the weeks of bargaining what the contract included.

“It was concerning to me the lack of knowledge the board had,” said Matthew Polk, lead negotiator for the teachers union.

The start of the school year, originally scheduled for Sept. 1, was delayed until Sept. 15 by the teachers strike until a new contract negotiated between the district and the union was approved by teachers on Sept. 14.

The agreement gives Pasco teachers an 8.7 percent pay raise over the next two years. It requires class size reductions, more planning time for teachers, additional money for classroom supplies, a task force review of the amount of standardized testing in the district and strict timelines for curriculum adoption, one of teachers’ key demands in contract talks.

The district will pull from various funds to pay for it, cutting the maintenance budget by roughly $2 million and slashing $800,000 from a budget for future portable classrooms, among other financial adjustments.

“I just think it’s important everybody knows we’re closing our margins,” Christensen said. “We don’t have a lot of extra money now.”

Phillips said there’s a possibility teachers might have little input on curriculum committees, based on the contract language. The district and union will appoint four members each, plus three parents, to each committee.

The projected curriculum budget also appears insufficient, she said, based on her conversations with other districts, which told her curriculum just for kindergarten through eighth grade could cost $3 million to $5 million.

“I just see all kinds of red flags I’m concerned about,” she said.

Phillips asked for more discussion and whether more people could be included on the committees.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Thornton said that wouldn’t be permissible under the contract, and Superintendent Saundra Hill added there would be additional talks about district policy on curriculum.

“We have to get moving on this to get to that step,” she said.

Polk said many of the board’s questions would have been answered had they participated in bargaining talks, as the union requested. If they have concerns, he’s willing to engage with them.

“I’m an educator,” Polk said. “I’m happy to educate people, especially if it improves our schools.”

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

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