Without contracts, teachers in three districts might strike

The lack of deals may disrupt the start of classes in Arlington, Monroe and Stanwood-Camano schools.

Students in the Arlington, Monroe and Stanwood-Camano school districts might not be starting classes on time next week.

That’s because their teachers are negotiating new contracts and preparing to strike Sept. 4 if they cannot reach agreement with their districts. Their old contracts were set to expire at midnight Friday.

Negotiations were held Friday in two districts with bargaining sessions anticipated in the three districts in the course of the three-day weekend.

Elsewhere in Snohomish County, negotiations are complete and districts are gearing up for the new school year to get under way on time.

Monroe teachers, who on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to strike, engaged in hours of negotiations with district officials Friday.

“We hope the district is ready to provide the compensation funded by the state that our members deserve,” Shaerie Bruton, president of the Monroe Education Association, said in a prepared statement. “It is critical that Monroe is able to attract and retain the great educators we have today for the sake of our current students and future generations.”

Also Friday, school officials issued a statement that the district is “committed to providing fair and competitive pay for all of our staff.”

“The topics of school funding and contract negotiations are complex issues, and it is our goal to uphold our commitment to bargain with MEA in an honest and fair manner while adhering to … the negotiation process,” it read.

Representatives of the Stanwood-Camano School District and the teachers union there were to gather at 5 p.m. Friday for bargaining. Both sides had committed to additional rounds of talks as needed throughout the weekend.

“Everyone wants school to start on time,” said Maurene Stanton, the district’s executive director of human resources. “We are going to do everything we can to make that happen.”

The Stanwood-Camano Education Association voted Aug. 23 to authorize a strike.

“We, SCEA, will continue to negotiate to be sure that our tremendous educators receive the compensation that they deserve,” spokeswoman Jeanne Kelly wrote in an email.

In Arlington, the next round of bargaining is set for Sunday.

“We have been very patient. We want to give this process every opportunity to come to an agreement,” said Jason Klein, president of the Arlington Education Association.

The Arlington School District provided families and staff a written update on the situation Friday. In it, officials said they were hopeful an agreement could be reached to ensure classes start on time Sept. 5.

“We understand that the current situation may cause uncertainty for families and staff, and we want to assure you that every effort is being made to come to an agreement,” it read.

It has been a tumultuous season for contract talks in Washington with strike votes, and in recent days, walkouts in several districts in southwest Washington.

In nearly every instance, the two sides are at odds on how to deal with the outfall of the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary.

As a result of the decision, the state is boosting the level of funding to school districts to cover the cost of basic education, including teacher salaries. It’s not an equal increase across the board as lawmakers also agreed to add a new factor in how salaries are calculated, called regionalization. Some districts get more money per student based on where they are located.

Further complicating talks is the decision by lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce the amount of money that districts can collect from local property tax levies starting in 2019, and to require districts to project their budgets for several years into the future.

Teacher unions, which underwrote a large part of the lawsuit’s cost, want a lion’s share of the new dollars put into salaries. Districts are concerned doing so is not sustainable and could mean cutting programs or laying off teachers a couple of years down the road.

Even with those strains, teachers are reaching agreements containing pay hikes of double-digit percentages.

“We’re struggling with compensation and class sizes. We know and understand that what we agree on needs to be sustainable,” Klein said. “We don’t want to put the district in the position of laying off teachers.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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