The Longview School Board Monday night approved contracts providing 9 percent pay raises for teachers and 6.75 pay raises for secretaries, ending more than two weeks of contentious contract negotiations and a strike.
The district will now focus on rebuilding relationships with its staff, said Superintendent Dan Zorn.
“There’s a lot of work to be done from here on forward in terms of healing,” Zorn said, later adding, “I know there is trust that’s been lost, there is unity that’s been lost.”
In addition, he said, some budget cuts will be needed to later to sustain the extra pay
The strike delayed the start of school by eight days. Classes are set to resume Tuesday.
The board on is expected to adopt calendar changes to make up the eight days of class lost to the strike at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Zorn said the district is working with the teachers’ for places to add school days. The goal is to keep the last day of school and graduation as close to their original dates as possible, Zorn said.
With the raise, teacher salaries in Longview would range from $46,974 to $88,537, depending on experience and education. This makes Longview teachers the highest paid in Cowlitz County. The average teacher would make just short of $71,300.
The faculty had demanded an 11 percent pay boost, while the district early in the process said it could not exceed 6.9 percent due to concerns with budget sustainability.
The new contract suspends tuition reimbursement opportunities for teachers and delayed class size changes from 2018-19 to 2019-20.
This is where the “district got some money back” to boost raises, said Ray Clift, teachers’ union president.
Following Monday’s board meeting, Zorn said budget reductions will need to be made in the next two years to support the new employment contracts. He said cuts will be made as far away from students as possible.
Zorn and the board will also advocate for ways to increased school funding.
“We will be working hard with our legislators to see if there aren’t some revenue opportunities to help us,” Zorn said.
The key part of the settlement for the district was including the raises in a two-year contract, Zorn said, partly because it creates second-year certainty for the budget.
Previously held contracts were set to end in August 2019, but the new contracts cover a two-year term ending in August 2020.
The 2019-20 school year marks the second year of the contract. Teachers will receive about a 3 percent raise that year, depending on inflation. Secretaries will earn about 3.25 percent more in 2019-20, also depending on inflation.
“With a two-year agreement, that means we won’t be negotiating next year, so we can just settle into this agreement,” Zorn said, noting that the time can be used to help heal relationships between the district and its staff.
“The strike is over and now the hard work is beginning: repairing and rebuilding relationships with staff, students, parents and community members,” Brenda Winters, library specialist at Kessler Elementary School, said at the school board meeting Monday night.
Zorn said his strategy for helping the district heal is to keep an open door for those hoping to share their questions, concerns or criticisms, as well as becoming a greater presence within the schools. His focus is on rebuilding trust with staff members and the community.
“For me, the best way to do that is to spend a lot to time listening,” Zorn said.
Longview school staff and community members shared their concerns at the board meeting Monday.
“You can’t expect to retain great educators when you treat them how this district has, no matter how much you pay them,” said Chris Coffee, and English teacher at Mark Morris High School.
“I really appreciate that you’ve finally got a contract with the teachers, but I don’t think it was handled well on the board’s part,” said Dianna Adsero, whose grandchildren attend school in Longview.
The tentative agreements were reached around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, less than two days after a judge had issued an injunction declaring the strike illegal. Teachers and secretaries decisively approved their respective agreements at general union meetings Sunday night.
“It’s end of the chapter but it’s not the end of the book,” said Mint Valley music teacher Eric Askeland, alluding to the upcoming healing process after the union’s ratification vote Sunday.
Classified staff represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 925 will vote Tuesday and Wednesday to accept their agreement. SEIU’s ratification vote was scheduled later than the other two unions due to requirements in the organization’s bylaws.
The details of this agreement will not be released until the board accepts it, said Rick Parrish, district spokesperson.
“The contract isn’t complete until both sides ratify, so we want to respect the process to its full and complete end, which means waiting until both sides have ratified,” Parrish said.
The board will vote on whether or not to ratify the agreement with its classified staff at the special meeting on Thursday.