Teachers strike in southwest Washington delays school year for thousands of students

By: - August 29, 2023 5:53 pm

Camas teachers strike on Monday, delaying the start of the school year. (Camas Education Association)

The start of the school year was delayed on Monday for about 7,000 students in Camas, Washington after 450 teachers in the district went on strike.

This is the first time the teachers’ union has ever gone on strike in the district, which is located along the Columbia River, just east of Vancouver, Washington. The teachers have been bargaining since May and asked for the district to start bargaining in March.

Two neighboring southwest Washington school districts, Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver and Battle Ground Public Schools, may see teachers strikes this week as schools attempt to renew contracts at the start of the school year.

“No teacher wants to go on strike,” said Kate Gooding, a Camas High School English teacher. “All we want to do is be back in our classrooms with a fair contract that is best for our students.”

Camas teachers are striking over which inflation metric the district uses to calculate cost-of-living wage adjustments.

Camas School District currently uses the local consumer price index, which has been in the teachers’ contract for three years. But the district is looking to switch to a different national metric known as the implicit price deflator. The change would result in lower wages this year than if the district sticks with the CPI.

“Last year, CPI (5%) was lower than IPD (5.5%) and CEA didn’t push back. The District doesn’t get to flip flop when it’s in their favor,” a document on the Camas Education Association website said. 

Camas School District said teachers are asking for higher than previously requested salary increases and lower than previously requested class sizes. The district is proposing raising salaries in 2023 by 5.7% and in 2024 by 5.9% using the implicit price deflator with an additional 2%. Salaries would start at $63,278 and cap out at $118,363.

“Our district’s bargaining team is disappointed that CEA is regressing,” a Sunday update on the district’s website said. “Our district has presented its last, best, and final offer…Our district’s proposal would make CEA teachers among the highest-paid educators in the region.”

But teachers say their demands haven’t changed and point to state funding that is already set aside for teacher salaries. They say the district isn’t telling families the full story.

“They are effectively trying to cut our pay during a time of extreme inflation,” Gooding said.

Other demands from teachers with the Camas Education Association include: reducing class sizes; equitable distribution of funding between music, health and physical education and libraries; more special education support; and clear language around start and work times. Camas School District is also looking to take away a few curriculum planning days, which teachers are against.

“Camas is really well-known in our area as being a great school district, and we want to keep it that way,” said Gooding, who has worked for the district for 10 years. “The way the district is currently being run is not how to get there — or how to stay there.”

Strikes loom in other districts

Teachers strikes are expected elsewhere in southwest Washington this week if labor negotiations aren’t successful. This could delay the school year for upwards of 35,000 students.

Evergreen Public Schools educators in Vancouver informed the district on Monday that 1,500 teachers will strike on Wednesday, the first day of school in the district, if bargaining teams fail to reach an agreement. A union official, Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe, told the Standard the district and teachers negotiated throughout the weekend and are negotiating again on Monday.

In Battle Ground, about 500 teachers attended a general membership meeting on Friday where they decided to postpone a strike vote to Tuesday. The first day of school in Battle Ground is scheduled for Wednesday.

In 2018, Evergreen and Battle Ground Public Schools were among 15 districts around the state where teachers went on strike. Eight of those strikes were in southwest Washington. Battle Ground’s lasted for 13 school days, making it the longest.

Many of the issues on the table at Evergreen and Battle Ground are similar to what teachers are pushing for in Camas.

Teachers at Evergreen Public Schools are also calling for their district to continue using the consumer price index, instead of switching to the implicit price deflator. Additionally, teachers want more support for students with special needs, more planning time for educators and more staffing.

Battle Ground teachers are asking for more teachers and classrooms as the district’s population grows. They’re also calling for a salary increase, smaller class sizes, more planning time and more student resources.

Evergreen educators have been negotiating since March and Battle Ground since January.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng joined the Washington State Standard shortly after graduating from Northwestern University in June 2023. Grace, who currently lives in Tacoma, is a local Washingtonian who was born and raised in Snohomish County. She has previous experience covering statehouse politics and policy for the Minnesota Reformer and the USA TODAY Ohio Network, which includes the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron-Beacon Journal.