Paraeducators picket on first day of strike

Teams return to bargaining table Tuesday

Port Angeles High School English teacher Mark Valentine is among picketers on Lauridsen Boulevard on Monday. Port Angeles School District schools were closed as 130 members of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association went on strike. They have been working without a contract since August. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula News)

Port Angeles High School English teacher Mark Valentine is among picketers on Lauridsen Boulevard on Monday. Port Angeles School District schools were closed as 130 members of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association went on strike. They have been working without a contract since August. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula News)

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District and the union representing paraeducators failed to come to a contract agreement after a second straight day of bargaining Monday, closing schools again Tuesday.

The parties will continue to bargain today and the school district plans to notify families about the schools’ status for each day this week by 5 p.m.

In an update sent to families Monday afternoon, the school district said while progress had been made on contract language, the primary issue of salary increases had not been resolved.

The Port Angeles Paraeducators Association is demanding a 3.7 percent wage increase it says would cost the district $128,000 — an amount equal to about 1 percent of the school district’s budget this year.

Superintendent Marty Brewer said the district is being strategic in its bargaining agreements to make sure it will not negatively impact student services and programs now and into the future. For example, a drop in enrollment of 41 students this year will result in $640,000 less in state funding for next year.

“We have to be able to sustain these contracts with existing resources because the state’s not going to fund it,” Brewer said. “So when you agree to a three-year contract that embeds, let’s say $150,000 new dollars annually for three years, you’re talking $450,000 to sustain that decision for your next bargaining. It doesn’t regress, it builds off of that.”

The PAPEA argues the current pay is not sustainable. The union contract that expired Aug. 31 paid hourly wages ranging from $21.68 to $28.33. The PAPEA said almost all of the paraeducators in the district work part-time and take on second jobs because they cannot make ends meet on their district salary alone.

The 130 members of the PAPEA walked off the job after a six-hour bargaining session on Sunday ended without a resolution on a new contract. The 222 members of the Port Angeles Education Association voted overwhelmingly last month to honor the picket line.

Paraeducators and teachers formed picket lines outside schools around the district Monday on what was supposed to be the first day back from spring break.

Many paraeducators said the district needs to rethink how it approaches compensation or it could anticipate walkouts every time it sits down with a bargaining unit.

“The way we work with the budget is going to have to change,” said Jennifer Frazier, a full-time math paraeducator at Jefferson Elementary School.

Frazier said she was especially disappointed with the school board, which has a hand in developing the annual budget and final say in approving it, but demonstrated what she said was very little interest in the paraeducators’ cause.

“They’d rather pay for an arbitrator or a lawyer rather than see that money go to the paras,” Frazier said. “He [Brewer] got $15,000 for passing the levy and a $6,000 car allowance. They approved that.”

John Hamilton, the PAEA representative at the high school, echoed Frazier, saying more attention needs to focus on the board and its role in budgeting priorities.

“They have the ability to settle this,” Hamilton said. “They’re not asking the questions they need to.”

The district and union have been bargaining since September and in February agreed to work with a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission. Paraeducators last walked off the job in November 2018.

The president of the Washington Education Association, the largest representative of school employees in the state, came to Port Angeles on Monday to support the striking paraeducators.

Larry Delaney said Port Angeles is a bit of an outlier in that most other bargaining units had come to agreements with districts by now.

Although not all paraeducators received the wage increase they sought, he said, “Fewer have to fight so hard for it.”

Suzi Boubion is a parent who would like to see the strike settled with paraeducators receiving better pay.

Boubion makes the daily drive from her home located between lakes Crescent and Sutherland to Roosevelt Elementary School, where her son Oliver, 8, is a student. Oliver, who has epilepsy, works one-on-one with a paraeducator who helps him with learning, as well as eating and using the bathroom.

“I want to support people that allow him to go to school,” Boubion said. “I watch them and they work hard. They are amazing.”

Updates from the district about the strike and information about meals, extracurricular activities and childcare can be found www.portangelesschools.org/labor.

________

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

Jennifer Frazier, a math paraeducator at Jefferson Elementary School, is among the 130 members of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association picketing for a better contract with the district. Schools were closed Monday due to the strike. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula News)

Jennifer Frazier, a math paraeducator at Jefferson Elementary School, is among the 130 members of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association picketing for a better contract with the district. Schools were closed Monday due to the strike. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula News)

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