The people in this dispute are neighbors, friends and family.
At a Montesano School District Board meeting last Thursday, Sept. 27, about 100 educators and their family members showed up in force and many expressed frustrations. The School Board listened and shared its feelings.
Emotions ran deep on both sides.
Both sides acknowledge that there are few good options other than working out differences through mediation — which begins Wednesday, Oct. 3 — between the district and the Montesano Education Association.
The teachers union is working without a contract. During a recent meeting, its members unanimously authorized a strike.
“We do not want to go down that road. We are confident that the district will work with the mediator and us to come to a solution,” Tina Niels, co-president of the MEA, said.
After the educators had their say, board members made comments of their own.
“I’m sorry there’s not enough money in this world to pay you what you’re worth. But we only have this pot that we’ve got to provide services for all of our students and every piece of the puzzle has to come out of that pot,” Board Member Tiffany Schweppe said. “So what we’re trying to do is make sure that that pot is fair and equitable and sustainable for everybody. Our goal is the same at the end of this. I have four kids in this school district. My goal is that we have great teachers and we have small class sizes and we have buildings that don’t fall down and we can keep the lights on. Let’s let the process work. When it’s all done, it’s going to be OK. We’re going to come to agreement. Let’s just get to that point.”
There is added stress to negotiations because of the McCleary decision by the State Supreme Court. In its decision, the court directed the Legislature to revamp how education is funded across the state. This is the first year major aspects of funding have affected districts. Every district found itself renegotiating contracts. The educators in the Hoquiam School District also are working without a contract as of Monday, Oct. 1.
During bargaining, an agreement was made between negotiators for the School Board and the union. However, the union members voted it down.
Teachers today know what peers in neighboring districts are being paid, and they ask, why not here?
“Those other districts, 10 miles away, are saying we value you more. … ‘We value you more,’ ” Simpson Elementary fifth-grade teacher Emily Egger said to a roar of applause during an empassioned plea that showed how she and all educators care for the students. “And I tell you that not only are they going to hear that from those other districts, but they’re going to leave. And I’m not talking 10 years down the line or five years down the line. I’m talking next school year.”
The district recently posted a message on its website.
It reads, in part, “After agreeing to this proposal, the union has now withdrawn that agreement.” This comment struck a chord with the MEA’s Niels.
“The offer presented to the members was voted down. Let me repeat that. It was voted down, not withdrawn,” Niels said. “Therefore, that statement on the district website is false. And trust in what the district says flew out the window, with the click of a finger.”
Superintendent Dan Winter also took issue with some of what was said by educators.
“It’s been said several times that we don’t care about teachers. That’s an example right there, the class size numbers. … I challenge you to find those at other districts in the county,” he said of the district’s average numbers of students per class. “Those of you that have had health issues, or your family has had health issues, we have bent over backward to make it work for you. That, to me, says that we care.”
Board Member Doug Streeter, during his comment period, was greeted by loud applause from educators for what he had to say:
“Bargaining is a process. One side brings a proposal, the other side looks at it and says, ‘Well, here, here’s my counter.’ There’s a process. You guys came with a proposal; the district said, ‘OK, let’s do that.’ And you guys voted it down. And that’s your right. The next step in the process is mediation. That’s where we are. This is going to get worked out. I respect the fact that you guys took a strike vote. That’s your right. But let’s let mediation work. Let’s stop the banter back and forth on Facebook and social media. We all hate it when our kids do it. It really looks bad when we do it. Let’s let the process work.”
Like many other families and friends, this one had to share its feelings. Members had to show emotions; people had to see that they were being heard, on both sides.
And that brings us to where we are today. Mediation begins Wednesday. And both sides have called for the chance to let mediation work.
“Let’s go to mediation and find a solution so that we can go back to focusing on our important work of teaching the next generation of Bulldogs,” Justin Reins, co-president of the MEA, said.