Willapa Valley teachers on strike

After months of contract negotiations that go back to last summer and the involvement of a state mediator, teachers in the Willapa Valley School District have gone on strike over wages, special education support and “safe classrooms for students and teachers,” according to an online post from Willapa Valley Education Association spokesman Dale Folkerts.

“The move follows months of negotiations during which school district leaders have failed to adequately address teachers’ concerns over student safety, support for students, and competitive pay,” read Folkerts’ statement.

The district’s teachers received a 23.7 percent raise (on average) at the beginning of the school year when every district in the state received extra money as a result of a lawsuit over state school funding. The current negotiations are tied to a new contract for the 2019-2020 school year.

On Tuesday, Willapa Valley Superintendent Nancy Morris also released a statement. “In June, the Willapa Valley School District began negotiations with the Willapa Valley Education Association and held a total of four sessions from June to September. The process then moved into mediation, and after the fourth day of mediation meetings, the WVEA authorized a strike. Dec. 3 is the first day of the strike and both bargaining teams continue with mediation today. School was canceled today for students in the Willapa Valley School District.”

The school board scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3 “to discuss the teachers strike.”

“The district recognizes that this is a complex situation, much like a puzzle,” read Morris’ statement. “Due to the change in state funding in recent years, the puzzle pieces have changed and further complicated the situation. Every district has unique challenges to face, and we are no different.”

Folkerts said the strike will not prevent after-school sports, and that teachers “will pull down their picket line so that students can continue to get food service at school during the lunch hour.”

“We understand that this affects everyone in our small community,” continued Morris. “The Willapa Valley School District recognizes that our teachers are the front line of carrying out our district mission and we know that we all, on both sides of the bargaining table, share the same calling to serve kids. We are confident that both sides will continue to bargain in good faith. Through the bargaining process, we are confident we will come to an agreement.”

Folkerts’ statement listed the following issues as the main factors in the decision to strike:

“Safe classrooms for students and teachers: A comprehensive student behavior program will improve classroom safety and foster a climate of success for our Willapa students.

“Special Education Support: Our students with the highest needs deserve better support from our public schools. The district has been unwilling to provide the necessary support for our special education students.

“Attract and retain the best teachers: Willapa Valley students deserve the best. Our students will have to compete with other students across the state for jobs, higher education and scholarships. Increased wages and great working conditions help attract, recruit and retain the best educators for Willapa Valley students.”

Folkerts’ statement said, “Teachers in the valley remain some of the lowest paid in the region and across the state.”

The union Monday proposed a two-year contract with teachers salaries to increase by the state-funded IPD — Implicit Price Deflator — of 2%, plus 4.25%, in the first year of the contract. In the second year of the contract, it would be the IPD plus 3.5%. The district’s counter was a three-year contract with a salary increase of 2% for 2019-20, and the IPD in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Morris said, “Parents will be notified as soon as there is an agreement and school is set to resume,” and information on the progress of the negotiations can be found on the home page of the district website, www.willapavalley.org.