More than 150 teachers, union and community members stood near the entrance to Aberdeen High School on Monday afternoon as part of a rally to support teachers as contract negotiations continue with the district’s officials.
Along with teachers in the Aberdeen Education Association, the local teacher union, members of nine different teacher unions from Grays Harbor County, Olympia and Kent showed up to support Aberdeen teachers, as well as representatives from labor unions and the Aberdeen Fire and Police departments.
“I’m proud to be a union member, to call you my union brothers and sisters, and proud of the solidarity of this community,” said Michelle Reed, president of the AEA.
There was a sea of red teacher union shirts next to the high school during the rally, and many held homemade signs with phrases like “Keep Private Bargaining Private,”and “No Teacher Left Behind.”
With a new state funding model going into effect in 2019 due to the McCleary Decision, the Aberdeen School District is estimated to receive almost $5 million in additional funding. The AEA wants a significant raise, and union leaders are not satisfied with the district’s previous offer of a 15 percent raise while also setting longer eight-hour workdays.
Reed also read a statement, criticizing the district’s decision to post certain bargaining meeting notes online and reiterating that the AEA refuses to bargain in public.
Monday’s event was going to be a boycott of a town hall meeting planned by the district to discuss the ongoing contract negotiations and the upcoming school year, but the district decided to cancel after learning of the boycott.
“We believe there are citizens and staff who would have benefited from an informal opportunity to talk with us, but we have no desire for confrontations at the front door,” the Aberdeen School Board wrote in a press release.
Reed told The Daily World that the boycott and rally would not have prevented people from participating in the town hall.
“It’s sad they tried to pin that on the teachers,” said Reed. “We have never and would never impede anyone’s progress into a public meeting or anything like that.”
Aberdeen Superintendent Alicia Henderson said the district wanted to host a town hall after hearing comments at school board meetings wishing there were more chances to interact directly with the board.
The district and the AEA were scheduled to have a bargaining meeting on Tuesday — the last one before the school year starts — but communication issues resulted with the AEA leaving without having the meeting.
In typical meetings, bargaining teams for the AEA and the district would meet separately before convening in the district board room. Both groups showed up to the district offices on Tuesday for the meeting set for 10:30 a.m., but neither group contacted the other to begin the joint meeting.
Erik Peterson, the AEA’s lead bargainer, said his group sat in the board room for 35 minutes with no contact from the district’s bargaining team, before deciding to leave.
“When we left, the secretary told us they were ready,” said Peterson. “Too little, too late.”
Peterson said the AEA views the non-contact as being a “boycott of negotiations” by the district in response to the AEA’s rally Monday afternoon.
Henderson, however, said the district was ready to meet, and that they were waiting in a different room than usual in the lower level of the district offices to avoid the bad air quality from smoke in the area.
“We were waiting here until 11, and then got a message that they left, and said no one was here,” said Henderson. “We were downstairs the whole time.”
Henderson added that the district has a new contract proposal, and hopes to get a final contract settled soon.
“We really want to meet with them and settle the contract,” said Henderson. “We have a new proposal, and it’s good.”
The next bargaining sessions for the AEA and the district are set for Sept. 5 and 12.