TOUTLE — Toutle teachers went on strike at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and picketing outside school grounds along Spirit Lake Memorial Highway Tuesday morning. The district and teacher’s union resumed talks at 10:30 a.m., and bargaining continued into the evening past TDN press time.
Wednesday classes for the first day of school already were cancelled Tuesday morning.
The group of roughly 70 parents, teachers and community members outside Toutle Lake High School picketed until 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, about four hours after taking to the shoulders of Spirit Lake Memorial Highway.
Picketing will resume at 8 a.m. Wednesday unless the district and union reach an agreement, said Doreen Grose, a Toutle Lake teacher acting as the Toutle Lake Education Association spokeswoman.
“We’re hoping that the district sees that we have the community behind us,” Grose said as passing cars honked and picketers cheered.
Contract talks have bogged down over teacher pay. The TLEA contends that a 4 percent increase in state funding to account for teacher experience is mandated to go toward salaries; the district is resisting that, said Roy Maier, the Washington Education Association’s Lower Columbia representative.
The district is using the money to sustain last year’s salary increases, which averaged 17 percent, said Monique Dugaw, an Educational Service District 112 employee who is acting spokeswoman for Toutle Lake School District.
The Legislature allocated the additional money to compensate for a change in the state funding formula that no longer directly accounts for teacher experience and education levels, Dugaw said. The change was part of the Legislature’s 2018 “McCleary fix.”
Dugaw also said Toutle Lake “goes above and beyond” the average salary allocation from the state, and offers higher salaries than many neighboring districts.
“Toutle Lake loves its teachers and is committed to paying them a salary competitive with other teacher salaries in the area and as much as the district can sustainably afford,” Dugaw said.
Documents from the district show Toutle Lake’s proposed low base salary is $44,920 and the proposed high base salary is $88,650. In comparison, Castle Rock School District’s low base salary is $43,628 and its high base salary is $82,230. Longview School District’s low base salary is $47,194 and its high base salary is $88,951.
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Monday night, the Toutle Lake School Board voted to close access to school facilities during the strike. However, athletes will be able continue practicing until Friday. The resolution also allows the superintendent to take lawful action to protect students and the district, requires employees to have a doctor’s note to take sick leave, and allows disciplinary action for employees who use sick leave improperly.
Dugaw said while the board authorized the superintendent to go to court to order teachers back into classrooms, the goal is to reach an agreement before moving in that direction.
“At this point were taking it day by day and we’re working toward a goal of resolution,” Dugaw said.
Grose declined to speculate, saying she hopes the strike is resolved as quickly as possible.
There is regularly scheduled school board meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
Brenna Casi, a Toutle Lake alumna and substitute teacher’s aide with two children in the district, said she joined pickets Tuesday to do her duty as a parent.
“They worked hard and the state gave them this money and they deserve to get it,” Casi said.
Casi is also currently studying to become a teacher, and said she wanted to support the people who are the future of the community.
“We’re a small town, but we are mighty,” she said.
Toutle teachers planned to hold a “Meet the Teacher” event from 5 to 6:30 p.m Tuesday at Harry Gardner Park, Grose said.
“The superintendent told the negotiating team we would never get community support, but here we are,” Grose said.