Teachers Gathering

Centralia teachers cheer during a community block party during contract negotiations in July.

Centralia school teachers will be out in force Tuesday morning — the day before the district’s first day of school — but not inside their classrooms.

Members of the Centralia Education Association will be on strike beginning Tuesday, they told The Chronicle Monday. Months of negotiations between the union and representatives for the Centralia School District have yet to result in a contract agreement, and the teachers’ previous contract expired Friday.

A bargaining session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the district office. Teachers will be picketing outside the district office as well as Centralia High School, Fords Prairie Elementary School and Jefferson-Lincoln Elementary School.

Centralia teachers would be the only ones on strike in Lewis County, but would join those in Longview, Battle Ground and other Southwest Washington teachers’ unions either already on strike or potentially headed in that direction.

“This will be negotiation number 14 and I’ve been optimistic 14 times,” said Kerri Kite-Pocklington, co-chair of the CEA. “We were hopeful when we started in the spring that it wouldn’t have to go this long. If you look around the state, multiple districts did settle this weekend, so that’s very encouraging.”

If a tentative agreement is not reached by about 7 p.m. Tuesday, CSD Communications and Public Relations Coordinator Ed Petersen said the district will release information regarding the first day of classes, scheduled for Wednesday.

“I don’t know if I have a feel of how close we are,” Petersen said. “I know that both sides are working as hard as they can to make sure (a strike) doesn’t happen. Whether or not we get there, I couldn’t say one way or the other how it’s going to go tomorrow.”

The Centralia School Board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday to consider a resolution related to imminent strike action similar to one the board failed to pass Sunday on a 2-2 tied vote. The school board will then move into executive session to discuss collective bargaining as allowed through Revised Code of Washington secion 42.30.140.

Board members are scheduled to meet again at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday in an exempt session, which is similar to an executive session, related to collective bargaining under 42.30.140

Board President Amy Buzzard and Lori Fast voted against Resolution No. 2018-25 Sunday, citing their belief that such a resolution was premature and their opposition to a passage stating the district may disrupt access to health insurance for striking teachers among the reasons for their vote.

Board member Jami Lund and Vice President Robert Fuller voted in favor of the resolution. Board member Kim Ashmore did not attend the meeting.

“The message, at least for me, was that the board is paying attention,” Buzzard said. “I think for all of us, we’re stepping in, using our voice and making sure that what is happening is representing us well. We’re paying attention, we do care about our teachers, our community and doing the right things with kids and families. I hope we can just get back to school and come up with a fair agreement not using tactics like the resolution or a strike.”

Resolution 2018-27, an updated version imminent strike action, does not include the Consequences of Unauthorized Absences section that gave Buzzard and Fast pause on Sunday. Along with the subsection related to health insurance, the disputed section also included language requiring employees the take sick leave during a strike to provide a doctor’s note and sign an affidavit certifying the validity of their claim.

The section titled Hiring of Temporary Security and Support Personnel, which carried over to the new resolution, concerned Buzzard on Sunday and was an item she hoped would be addressed in the new draft.

“If they choose to strike and we cannot come up with an agreement, the only way I could vote for that resolution is if all of the inflammatory language is taken (out) and it’s the bare-bones for what’s needed for a strike,” Buzzard said Monday. “I won’t sign off on anything that sounds like we’re protecting ourselves against teachers that go rogue.”

The CSD added a post to the “Negotiations Info” tab on its website Sunday stating the district received an increased allocation of $2.1 million for 2018-19 salaries as a result of the McCleary case in which the state Supreme Court ruled the state legislature was not adequately funding public K-12 education.

The post states that the increased funding is for all staff including bus drivers, food service employees, custodians and others. The latest offer put forward by the district would increase teacher salaries by an average of 11.3 percent this year, with a salary range of $46,293-87,256, and by an additional 1.9 percent for the 2019-20 school year.

Should the strike continue through Tuesday and impact regular school operations, the union and district have agreed to continue running co-curricular activities such as athletics while negotiations continue.

Both sides say they are hopeful that normal operations will resume as soon as possible once a deal is reached.

“Our students will get 180 days of school,” Kite-Pocklington said. “Our teachers are ready for them, their classrooms are ready and open houses have been had. We’ve had a huge amount of support from parents and the community, and I’m hoping that (Tuesday) is the day.”

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