Evergreen, Battle Ground teachers could strike Wednesday, joining Camas teachers

VANCOUVER Wash. (KPTV) – The Camas Education Association might soon be joined by two other Southern Washington school district unions in striking on the first day of school.The Battle Ground and Evergreen educator unions have said they will strike Wednesday if their own demands are not met by their respective school districts.If they do strike, a collective 42,000 students will be out of school until agreements are reached.In Camas, the union of 450 educators took to the sidewalks Monday, raising signs and raising awareness about the demands they hope will soon be successful.Teachers we spoke with said they are not only asking for more preparation time and resources for overrun Special Education classrooms, but equal distribution of P.E., library and music resources across schools, along with smaller class sizes. They are also asking for the district to stick to the raises they had originally offered in the renewed contracts, which teachers said was cut down to a smaller number.See Also: Camas teachers declare strike for Monday“It’s really frustrating because we honestly thought this was going to be an amicable, easy bargain,” said Mark Gardener, an English teacher at Hayes Freedom High School. “Because we weren’t bringing money to the table, we weren’t asking for more money. The bottom line is, the district can afford what it is they already committed to.”Among the supporters at the Camas picket line was Kim Bettger, the Battle Ground Education Association President, who says her own district has been in negotiations since January over disagreements on class sizes and support for multi-lingual students.“We have grown just immensely, even during COVID,” she said. “We need more schools, we need more classrooms, and obviously we need more teachers.”She said that Battle Ground used to be much smaller, but is now one of the top 25 largest school districts in Washington, out of 396 school districts.The Evergreen School District is the largest of the three, boasting nearly 23,000 students on its own.It’s a size that impacts Special Education classrooms even more, according to English and Leadership teacher Jennifer Cunningham from Henrietta Lacks High School. She said she herself had been a Special Education teacher before she became burned out and overworked.“Especially our Special Ed students are increasingly not getting the services and support they need, and what that means is behaviors are amping up,” she said. “Kids and teachers are being hurt physically and emotionally.”Both the Evergreen and Battle Ground unions will reach a decision late Tuesday about whether to strike, and teachers from both unions said they hope parents can understand the need for their actions.“I want their kids to come to school and be happy, healthy and learn, and that’s why we’re doing this, for their kids and their families,” Cunningham said.Camas teachers said this is not the scenario they wanted to see, but they will remain on the picket line for as long as it takes.“We would rather be with kids,” Gardener said. “It’s super easy to take a strike and turn it into ‘those greedy teachers’, but the reality is, we came to the table trying to reduce class sizes, providing access to music and P.E., and those are our priorities. They district then made it about money by offering a pay cut.”Camas School District representatives said in a statement that the proposal they offered included lower class sizes and higher salaries than previously requested.“Our district has presented its last, best, and final offer,” they said. “In it, we offered to raise salaries in 2023 by 5.7% and in 2024 by 5.9%. Our district’s proposal would make CEA teachers among the highest-paid educators in the region. Our highest-paid teachers would earn over $118,363 in 2023-24 and $124,991 in 2024-25. Conversely, CEA’s request puts the highest-paid salaries from $121,653 for 2023-24 up to $129,746 for 2024-25. CEA’s request in its third year of the contract would put the highest-paid teachers at $135,886.”They added that they were ‘incredibly disappointed’ by the outcome of the negotiations.Craig Birnbach, the Executive Director of Communications at Evergreen Public Schools, also provided a statement on the potential for a strike in his district.“The district bargaining team will continue to negotiate with the union to try to reach a deal that is fair to both sides and that is affordable and sustainable,” the statement read. “It is the goal of the district and the Board of Directors to reach a resolution with EEA before school is scheduled to begin on August 30.”See Also: Evergreen teachers vote to authorize strikeThe Battle Ground School District also provided a statement, which you can read in full below:“Battle Ground Public Schools and Battle Ground Education Association bargaining teams met on Saturday and Sunday. Our latest proposal now includes a 16.75% increase in total compensation above current levels over the next three years. This would place BGPS second in Clark County for entry-level teacher pay. The new proposal also includes decreases in class size and employee caseloads.The next bargaining session is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 28. We remain hopeful that we will soon reach an agreement with BGEA. Our board of directors and leadership team are committed to bargaining in good faith to provide staff with wages and working conditions that are comparable to surrounding districts and within the capacity of the district’s budget.We also continue to prepare for the start of the school year and look forward to Wednesday, Aug. 30, being the first day of classes for students in first through 12th grades.”Copyright 2023 KPTV-KPDX. All rights reserved.

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