Possible strike looms in Edmonds School District

Union says its demands are about students, not money
By Brian Soergel | Aug 10, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel There were plenty of signs at the Edmonds Education Association rally.

There was talk of the “s” word at a packed rally Tuesday as Edmonds Education Association members expressed their frustration at the lack of movement in talks with the Edmonds School District.

The current three-year collective bargaining agreement between the district and association expires Aug. 31. The association has a general membership meeting Aug. 29, when members will decide on a strike if demands aren’t met.

The last strike came 30 years ago.

At the rally at the district office in Lynnwood before a scheduled school board meeting, educators, students, family members and community members gathered with signs raised to listen to association President Andi Nofziger-Meadows lay out their demands.

She, and others, made it clear that a new contract isn’t about teacher salaries – it’s about students. Nofziger-Meadows cited four factors, beginning with an unsustainable increase in the number of students in classrooms and an increase in federal, state and district mandates that she said don’t necessarily add value to the classroom but take up teachers’ valuable time.

She also singled out a shift in district priorities.

“Instead of putting money into our classrooms and our students, which should be our North Star, there’s more money going into the Edmonds Services Center for administrators. The money is not being prioritized.”

Finally, Nofziger-Meadows pointed to a change in school district leadership over the last five years.

“We know that if we back down, we won’t get what our educators and, more importantly, our students need,” she told supporters, to loud cheers.

Before Nofziger-Meadows spoke, teachers and others waved signs to those passing by on 68th Street West. One of those teachers was David Quinn from Edmonds-Woodway High School.

“We’ll be the first education union to go on strike and not have it be about wages or benefits,” he said. “It’s not about the money. The state’s taken over the salary schedule, so there would be no point in bargaining that. And the state’s taking over health benefits on behalf of all teachers. So that’s becoming statewide as well.

“This bargaining is about our students. It’s about making sure class sizes are at the level that we can actually work with the students who need help reading, who are first-language speakers who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds where they might have families who don’t know how best to support them educationally.

“This bargaining is about supporting students. Period. You won’t find a single person here saying otherwise.”

Deborah Kilgore, who is leading the race for the open District 4 director position in the Edmonds School District, spoke to the Beacon at the rally.

“I am here to support our teachers, partly as a candidate for school director, but mostly because I'm a parent with three children in Edmonds schools,” she said. “I have been so grateful for my kids' teachers over the years, so when they ask for my support, I'm going to be there.

“I've seen for myself over the years how evaluation and assessment requirements have increased, class sizes have increased, the need for learning assistance has increased, but resources have not grown at the same pace. We can't keep expecting our teachers to work under these conditions. I'm afraid we're going to lose them, and that would be devastating for our kids and our district.

“Whether we're teachers, staff, parents, electeds or administrators, we all have the same goal – to provide an excellent education to each and every child in our district – and I desperately hope we find a way to keep on doing that together.”

Nofziger-Meadows said she hopes the next round of bargaining talks, Aug. 14 and Aug. 15, will be fruitful.

“The school board has the power to change the direction of this bargaining, and they have the power to settle,” she said. “We want a contract when we bargain on Monday and Tuesday. My hope is that I can send out an email on one of those days and say, ‘We accept.’ We will not settle for a contract that is short of what we need. If we don’t settle, we’ll be back in touch with next steps.”

Debbie Joyce Jakala, school district spokeswoman, declined to comment on contract negotiations.

Association members weren’t so quiet.

“The Edmonds School District has rejected reasonable proposals put forth by the Edmonds Education Association focused on reducing class size, caseload relief for teachers with classrooms highly impacted by students with special needs, and teacher planning time,” EEA member Cathy Moore wrote in an email to the Beacon.

“Without a change in direction from the district bargaining team, it is anticipated that a tentative agreement will not be reached by Aug. 29 for association members to ratify.”

Complicating matters is the recent two-year, $43.7 billion state operating budget approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Inslee, which Quinn alluded to.

It allocates $7.3 billion over four years for public-school spending by raising state property taxes, $1.8 billion to be spent in the 2017-19 budget cycle. The budget also creates new rules to cap the amount of money districts take in from local levies.

The budget is being analyzed by the state Supreme Court to determine if it satisfies the 2012 McCleary school-funding case, which determined the state was not fulfilling its constitutional requirement to fund basic education for all students, including compensation for basic-education teachers.

It required the state to comply by Sept. 1, 2018.

School starts Sept. 6.

For more pictures, see a previous story posted by the Beacon.

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