District, PAPEA continue to bargain

Strike authorized without deal by Monday

PORT ANGELES — Bargaining teams for the Port Angeles School District and the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association remained at odds in contract talks after their fifth mediated session this week.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, the two sides will resume bargaining today and again Sunday as they face the possibility of a PAPEA strike on Monday — the first day back to classes after spring break.

The Port Angeles School District Board of Directors will hold a special meeting today at 11 a.m. at Lincoln Center, 905 W. Ninth St., to discuss preparations should paraeducators strike on Monday.

The PAPEA is seeking annual salary step increases, recognition for hard-to-fill special education positions, for training, certifications and academic degrees; and for earlier and higher rates of pay for longevity.

The primary roadblock to an agreement has been the paraeducators’ request for a 3.7 percent state-authorized wage adjustment, an increase they have said will cost the district $128,000.

The school district has argued it does not have the resources to meet the paraeducators’ demands.

PAPEA president Rebecca Winters said the union remains somewhat flexible on everything except the inflationary wage adjustment.

“What we are fighting for is just the cost of living,” Winters said. “We would love to be recognized like all the other paraeducators around the Olympic Peninsula [that received wage adjustments].”

The PAPEA has said hourly pay ranging from $21.68 to $28.33 has forced many of its members, almost all of whom work part time, to work two jobs in order to get by and has made hiring and retaining paraeducators difficult.

“The district works on bargaining with all of our bargaining groups, paras included, in a financially sustainable manner,” Superintended Marty Brewer said. “We have to look at our resources from year to year, assess those resources and determine what it is that we have or don’t have to bargain with.

“We want to treat all of our employee groups fairly with a wage that is comparable to our region, and we want to do that in a financially sustainable manner that won’t continue to reduce important programs in our district.”

The 130 PAPEA members have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. They voted in February to authorize a strike.

The Port Angeles Education Association, which represents teachers, voted March 27 to honor the PAPEA picket line.

Like other school districts across the state, Port Angeles has had to make hard and unpopular decisions due to revenue shortfalls. Last year it cut $5 million — or about 10 percent — from its $50 million budget to close a funding gap. It accomplished that by increasing class sizes, not filling some positions left open by retirement and eliminating some programs.

A decline of 41 full-time-equivalent students from last year has meant $600,000 in lost revenue. State underfunding of education, specifically special education, has hit the district particularly hard. State funding has also not kept pace with inflation that impacts areas over which the district has no control, such fuel, supplies and food.

Paraeducators have been reaching out to the community through social media and in-person events to get their message across, hosting a forum on March 21 and rallying support at two recent school board meetings. They plan to distribute flyers on Saturday to neighborhoods around the city and will make picket signs and begin organizing for a strike on Sunday.

Winters said she hopes an agreement can be reached to avoid the disruption a strike would cause.

“We are absolutely wanting to get back to work,” she said. “Many of us are also parents of students and we want them in school.”

Failing to come to an agreement in a timely manner could impact two district activities: preparing next year’s budget and making preparations for placing a construction bond and a replacement Educational Programs and Operation Levy (EP&O) on the November ballot. The school district must submit its proposed budget to the Olympic Educational Service District for review by July 10 and adopt the final version by Aug. 31.

“Contractual commitments helps with planning, but we’ll continue to move forward with the development of the budget and enrollment projections, which really drives the budget,” Brewer said. “We’ll start talking about the bond and levy planning in April, depending on how negotiations go, but that might not happen in April, it just depends.”

The PAPEA said it had asked Brewer to participate in negotiations in the hope that it would speed up the bargaining process. But Brewer said he would continue to rely on Human Resources Director Scott Harker, Business and Operations Director Kira Acker and Dry Creek Principal Julie Bryant to work on behalf of the district.

“I have full confidence in the bargaining team. I have confidence in both sides,” Brewer said. “We’ll end up getting the deal done.”

The district sent a letter to families March 29 outlining its position in the stalemate with the PAPEA.

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsulanews.us.

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