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Toutle strikes

Picketers outside of Toutle High School chant "who's got the power? We've got the power!" while they wait for the district and the union to come to a contract agreement. 

Toutle Lake school teachers and the district reached a tentative agreement Thursday night, which would bring the three-day walkout to an end if the 38-member faculty ratifies the deal Friday afternoon.

“Both sides are thrilled to have an agreement and reunify around our common goal, which is to support student learning,” said Monique Dugaw, spokeswoman for the district.

Teachers will return to work on Tuesday, and the first day of classes for students will be on Wednesday.

A union ratification vote is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, said Doreen Grose, speaking for the Toutle Lake Education Association. She predicted easy passage

“We’re happy to get this behind us and we’re happy with the settlement we got and we’re excited to be back in the classroom with our kids,” Grose said.

The deal will raise base salaries 4.5%, 3% and 2.5% over the three-year contract.

Negotiators announced the agreement at about 8:30 p.m. after a third consecutive day of lengthy talks.

Dugaw said the district believes the deal is financially sustainable. Kelso and Longview school districts faced budget cuts this year after agreeing to sharp salary increases in recent years. Toutle officials hope to avoid that problem, Dugaw said.

“The district wants to pay its teachers everything it can sustainably afford. That was the difficulty” in negotiations, Dugaw said.

The two sides had disagreed over pay and whether a 4% special boost in state funding should go toward teacher salaries. Grose said the district will apply the state money to teacher salaries, but it will be spread out over three years instead of a single year.

Tensions were rising as the strike completed its third day Thursday. Some union supporters accused the district of refusing to bargain, even though mediation continued.

“We were getting very frustrated,” Grose said. “We had huge community support. … The vibe was great. I can’t say thanks enough to the community for the support they have given us.”

The strike ended up canceling three days of classes that must be made up. But makeup dates have not been determined.

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Contact City Editor Andre Stepankowsky at 360-577-2520.

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