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R.A. Long STOCK

R.A. Long High School

Longview teachers will go on strike Thursday morning after decisively rejecting the district’s offer for a 6.9 percent average pay raise.

About 93 percent of union members present voted to strike during a Wednesday evening meeting at which union leaders reviewed the district’s offer.

About 345 of the 430 union members attended, according to union officials.

“We are going in with the idea that they were done negotiating and didn’t meet us at what our membership wanted,” said Jerry Forsman, treasurer and bargaining support team member for the Longview Education Association.

The district Tuesday bumped its pay raise offer for faculty to an average 6.9 percent, up from 4 percent earlier, according to the district and union negotiators.

The raises range between 6.15 percent and 8.82 percent depending on a teacher’s experience and education level, said school district spokesman Rick Parrish.

The union had recently reduced its salary request to 11 percent, down from 12 percent.

“The district is disappointed the offer was not accepted. The offer would have continued to make our teachers the highest paid in Cowlitz County,” Parrish said Wednesday night.

The offer ”shows how much the district appreciates and values our educators” he added.

He said negotiations will resume on Monday “and we look forward to a positive resolution.”

The average teacher in Longview makes $65,400, which is roughly the salary of a teacher with a master’s degree and 12 years of service. A 6.9 percent raise would boost this number to nearly $70,000.

That would be about $2,500 less than a pay hike at 11 percent.

Negotiations ended in the late afternoon Tuesday when the union decided to take the district’s offer to its membership. The union bargaining team said it believed 6.9 percent is the final number the district would offer, said Dena Enyeart, lead bargainer for the union.

Teachers received an 8 percent average increase in base pay last year. Combined with the district’s Tuesday offer, teachers would get a base pay increase a 14 percent to 16.8 percent salary increase over two years, Parrish noted.

The LEA’s stated goal is to make its members the highest paid teachers in the county.

The strike vote came about a week after the district projected it will start running budget deficits during the three years from 2019-2022.

LEA officials said it was apparent that the union members were not happy with the district’s latest offer from the start of Wednesday’s meeting.

“It was obvious within the first few minutes that it was going to a strike vote,” Enyeart said.

“We don’t want to strike, but we want to be fairly compensated,” she said.

The last time Longview teachers struck was 1984, according to LEA president Ray Clift.

The strike is scheduled to begin on an in-service day. Classes are not set to start until Aug. 29. Although teachers will not show up to work, the union will permit coaches to continue working with their athletes.

“I hope they recognize our first decision was to try to keep this away from our students as much as we possibly can, hence the reason that we started on this in-service day,” Clift said. “We want the district to know. We hope it doesn’t lean over into the school year, but that will be the district’s choice.”

Parrish confirmed that the district plans to continue fall sports programs “in support of our students.”

Teachers and union officials hope that the community will support their decision to strike.

“Parents are very supportive of schools and teachers, but it’s going to be a hardship for them, so we want to get this resolved quickly,” said Regan Huffman, band director for Mark Morris High School and Cascade Middle School, prior to the meeting.

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