MENLO — Tensions couldn’t have been higher at the Willapa Valley School special board meeting on Dec. 3.
Teachers, citizens, parents, and administrators confronted one another over ongoing teacher contract negotiations and the meeting got fiery.
Willapa Valley teachers voted on Dec. 2 to authorize a strike that went into effect at midnight and has continued on since. The district was advised around 4 p.m. that day about the decision, according to Superintendent Nancy Morris.
Teachers took to the picket line first thing in the morning on Dec. 3 while Washington Education Association officials and union leaders bargained again with the school district. Over a dozen teachers held signs demanding a fair contract.
By the day’s end, teachers from surrounding and far-away districts joined on the picket line in support of the teachers’ plea for a “fair deal” to be reached. One teacher from the Elma School District held a sign in support saying, “Elma supports…”
At a special board meeting last week in the Junior-Senior High School Commons teachers once again lined the in front of the building holding signs and chanting “we want fair pay.”
Dozens and dozens of residents showed up in steady numbers until about 125 to 150 people filled the commons including parents, citizens, teachers and administrators. Several parents made clear their frustration before the meeting started by telling both sides to “act like adults.”
Morris provided correspondence to the board and those in attendance. She read three letters she had received either in person or via email.
“It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter,” Morris read one of the letters. “I feel it is important to do so as a taxpayer in Willapa Valley School District boundaries. My family consists of four generations of Willapa Valley School District.”
She continued, “I get up and go to work for 12 months every year. I put on a bulletproof vest, a gun and pray that I return home safe every day. I work in an uncontrolled hostile environment mostly due to substance abuse and mental health crisis.
“Many of you would think I make more money than you or that I am uneducated. Well, neither is true and even after 15 years of service I make less money than most entry-level teachers do…”
The remaining two letters sent a likewise message to the district and board, “don’t budge.”
Teachers speak out
Several teachers from the district signed up to speak during public comment including Ann Taylor. She spoke about the need for the district to budge on funding better training for teachers and safety.
Other teachers spoke with similar messages that pay increases are rightfully deserved and barely make up for 10 years of teachers seeing little to no raises.
Another teacher urged the district to cave into the need for better funding for behavioral intervention training that is a major need at the district.
Prior to the meeting teachers handed out a flier claiming the strike isn’t about money. So during the meeting the biggest question became, if the strike isn’t about money, then what was it about?
The response was that it actually was about money but included a few separate things such as funding for training, days off and classroom sizes.
The district currently provides about $82,100 for teacher salaries out of its current expenses. The state funds and allots $66,520 per teacher at the district.
The district and teachers then use a pay scale chart to determine what each teacher’s salary is by their years of experience and education.
Teachers said they are “significantly” underpaid when compared to surrounding districts and districts in similar size.
However, the district provided those in attendance with pay scales for the three nearest districts: South Bend, Raymond and Pe Ell.
Willapa Valley pay, compared to the other districts, was fairly competitive or better, several parents commented. For example, a teacher beginning their career in education with only a bachelor’s degree starts out at $46,717 at Willapa Valley compared to $43,375 at Pe Ell, $46,547 at Raymond, $47,021 at South Bend, $44,140 at Adna, and $44,164 at Napavine.
Unlike the other districts that cap each tier of the pay scale at a specific year of experience, Willapa Valley caps all tiers at 16 years of experience.
Kick in some more
The other stalling point has been the amount of money the district contributes to teacher salaries. The teachers union wants the district to contribute over $177,000 from its $2 million general fund.
The district and board say they are reluctant to do so because they believe it will take away “safety funds” the district has for emergencies, including reroofing the Jr./Sr. High School scheduled for 2020.
Teachers also want a 4.25% increase on top of the state-funded 2% for 2019-2020 and 3.5% on top of the 2.1% for 2020.
Tensions boil over
For just over an hour public comment continued with parents, citizens and teachers commenting. Most of the parents and citizens voiced their displeasure with the situation and frustration with the teachers.
Alice Clements, a citizen, gave a speech accusing teachers of not playing fairly by bringing in the WEA and using big-city muscle.
Teachers, on the other hand, accused the district of being the true bully.
After several parents spoke urging the teachers to act like “adults” and quit wanting more money, a teacher stood up and made it clear if the district doesn’t offer up more she will leave the district. Some parents said, “good riddance” prompting all teachers in attendance to walk out.
Sports are expected to continue but bus drivers are refusing to cross the picket line so the district will be using vans instead for transportation. All home games are also being rescheduled because the staffing isn’t available to host any home games.