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Longview School District

Editor's Note: Due to incorrect information received from a Washington teachers’ union representative, Friday’s strike story contained incorrect Woodland teacher salaries.

The salaries range $46,600 to $87,832 for 2018-19. This would make them slightly below those of Longview teachers pay scales under the school district’s offer of an 8.2 percent raise. Under the proposal, Longview teachers would be the highest paid in the county, with a range from $46,629 to $87,887. This story has been changed to reflect the correction.

Longview students will miss their seventh day of school Friday after another long day of bargaining failed to end the teacher strike despite a school district proposal to boost its pay raise offer to 8.2 percent.

The offer still is short of the faculty’s demand for an 11 percent pay hike, but it would bring the average teacher pay in the district to about $70,700. An 11 percent hike would boost average pay to $72,600.

Longview School District spokesman Rick Parrish said the new offer would make the Longview teachers the highest paid in Cowlitz County, with a salary range of $46,629 to $87,887. These salary ranges are nearly identical to the newly approved Woodland salary schedule, which has a range of $46,600 to $87,832. 

The district is heading to court Friday morning in an attempt to obtain an injunction to end the strike.

The district’s new offer is included in a two-year deal, Parrish said.

“It would create more cost certainty, understanding where our costs would be and help in the long-term budget management, which is important when you’re in a situation like ours where you get a one-time McCleary revenue increase, followed by a $2 million decrease,” Parrish said. “It helps to be able to know what your expenses will be as best as possible.”

Dena Enyeart, lead bargainer for the teachers’ union, said she is not sure the union members would accept a two-year deal.

“We would feel better with a one-year deal just to see how the district does getting its finances in order — and not to signing away our chance to bargain our contract (next August),” Enyeart said.

The new offer came after Superintendent Dan Zorn and a school board members met with union negotiators Wednesday. Though Zorn and the board member did not engage in bargaining, they did hear the union’s criticism of the district’s budget, said Ray Clift, president of the teachers’ union.The teachers’ union has been poring over the district’s budget to find a way to accommodate their request.

“We notice things, and then we have to ask them to explain what we noticed. And that’s really the way the conversation has been the past few weeks,” said Dane Wirtz, co-lead bargainer for the teachers’ union, the Longview Education Association.

One of the primary concerns of the teachers’ union is a disparity between staff size and student population. Student enrollment has decreased from 6,561 students in 2016-17 to 6,502 this year, but the district has hired 48 new staff members since then, said Lorrell Noahr, funding lobbyist for the Washington Education Association, in a presentation to union members Tuesday. The additions came as four administrators, eight teachers and 36 support staff over the last two years.

“Usually what happens, in our opinion, is if enrollment is going down, you wouldn’t expect to see staffing levels go up,” Wirtz said. “It’s odd that in the last two years (the district has) been doing the opposite of the normal pattern.”

Zorn said these additions were made primarily for special education, services for high-poverty schools, literacy and career technical education programming and social-emotional supports, such as counselors and behavior specialists. Zorn said these “purposeful” additions paid off in increased graduation rates in the last year.

“The result is, at the high school level, we have a record-high graduation rate. Our preliminary graduation rates show 87 percent,” Zorn said.

The management decisions the district has made in the last two years, including these staffing additions, will require the district to “rightsize their business” in the future, Wirtz said.

“They’ve created a situation that they claim is limiting what they can do … they will have to make business changes no matter what happens,” Wirtz said.

The district’s four-year budget projection predicts the district will overspend its revenues by about a $585,000 this year, and will be running deficits every year after, as well. These projections considered the district’s previous salary offer of 6.9 percent. (The district projected about $120,000 more in revenue this year, but this figured changed when the board added the 6.9 percent offer to the budget).

“We are adding to that deficit with this latest offer,” Zorn said. “We know we have to decrease our expenditures over the next two years, and we know there will be expenditure decreases to pay for the raises we have on the table.”

The union proposed a staffing freeze to correct what it considers overstaffing, Wirtz said. The union hopes the district could cut costs through regular attrition.

“It’s a way we see they can make all parties happy, and they can keep their programs and structures in place,” Wirtz said.

Mediated negotiations ended around 5 p.m. Wednesday and are slated to begin again Friday morning.

Teachers were expecting a 4 percent raise this school year, as per the terms of their current bargaining contract. Although the contract is in place until August 2019, it was reopened this May following a state funding boost caused by the 2012 McCleary decision, in which the state Supreme Court ordered legislators to provide more money to districts statewide to fulfill its “paramount duty” to fund basic education.

“The government gave $6 million to the Longview School District, and that money was earmarked to go to compensation and salaries. The Legislation has been talking about it for months ... but the district chose to spend it a different way,” Wirtz said.

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