Hoquiam School District negotiations underway

Union, Superintendent enter talks confident an acceptable agreement can be reached

Hoquiam School Superintendent Mike Villarreal and Hoquiam Teachers Association president Laurie Gordon know negotiations for a new teachers contract will at times be difficult, but both say they are entering talks with the goal of doing what’s best for the district in the end.

“We realize we all live here and are part of this community,” said Villarreal. “Negotiations require a lot of give and take on both sides.”

Villarreal and Gordon first met in May, but at that time there wasn’t much in the way of financial information available from the state to really get negotiations rolling. Villarreal said he wanted to have the state’s teacher salary model in hand before talks began in earnest.

The second meeting was Aug. 17. At that meeting, Villarreal shared the financial information provided by the state and his early vision of a budget.

“It was a good starting point,” said Gordon. The initial proposal from the district was presented and now the union has had time to explore it before the second day of talks on Friday.

Neither side would discuss the financial details of the proposal.

Gordon, who has been the association’s president for about six years, noted the recent McCleary school funding decision by the State Supreme Court, which forced the state to make bigger strides to fully fund education, has given teachers the opportunity to make advances when it comes to compensation.

“We recognize the opportunity to make up some ground,” she said. She recognizes she is responsible for 110 teachers in the district who are “hopeful that I can negotiate a good contract for them. They want me to have their back.”

Villarreal said, while negotiations are closed to the public, there are no secrets between the district and the teachers association. He said he takes the numbers the state has given him to work with, formulates what he thinks is a fair and equitable package for the teachers — all while keeping in mind the many other obligations that need to be addressed to keep the district running. He said he supplies the union with all the facts and figures behind his proposal and asks for the union’s input on how it could be done better.

“I want to be open and transparent with the teachers association,” he said. “I don’t want any perception that I am trying to pull a fast one on anybody.”

Both know negotiations may become heated and “uncomfortable” at times. At the same time, both know the residents of the district have been generous when it comes to approving property tax increases to fund the school through levies to help with running the school district, which Villarreal said costs between $80,000 and $100,000 a day. And the community has been generous in other ways as well, another motivating factor behind good-faith negotiations.

“This Friday we have our back-to-school day. Local businesses, churches and organizations came up with $14,000 this summer for back to school supplies,” he said.

Both Villarreal and Gordon are optimistic an agreement can be reached, and Gordon said with no hesitation school will open Aug. 29 as scheduled.