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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mead schools, teachers union reach tentative contract; legislator calls for state intervention in strikes

Mead High School is seen as school ends on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. A threat was posted on social media against the school Tuesday, and the Spokane Sheriff’s Office has arrested a juvenile suspect. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Mead School District officials and the district’s teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement, with union members scheduled to vote on it Monday evening.

Toby Doolittle, president of the Mead Education Association, said details of the tentative contract won’t be released until the meeting, but said union leaders typically don’t bring their members a contract unless they think it is fair and should be ratified.

“It was an extremely complicated process,” Doolittle said. “We worked through a lot of different scenarios and appreciate the district working with us.”

The agreement comes as many school districts and their unions remain in contract talks for the upcoming school year, either for new contracts or for salary adjustments as a result of increases in state support of public schools approved by the Legislature in 2018 and 2017. The Mead deal would be the first to affect one of 19 school districts in Spokane County.

With Longview teachers on strike and several other districts voting to authorize strikes if contract agreements aren’t reached, Sen. John Braun – the Senate Republicans’ top budget writer and author of many changes to state law to satisfy a Supreme Court mandate for increased support for education – is calling for Gov. Jay Inslee and other state officials to discourage teacher strikes and intervene if schools don’t open on time.

“As statewide elected officials, you share a unique position and responsibility to act, including seeking an injunction to keep our public schools open,” Braun, of Centralia, wrote in a letter to Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykal. “In Washington, state and local public employees, including those working in the public school system, do not have a legally protected right to strike.”

A spokeswoman for Inslee said he believes everyone is interested in getting agreements as quickly as possible but has not supported court action in the past.

“In previous years we’ve not intervened … in the local bargaining process,” Jaime Smith said.

A spokeswoman for Ferguson said the office was still preparing a response to Braun. In the past, Ferguson has declined to intervene, saying his office represents the state, not school districts. A 2006 opinion from his predecessor, Republican Rob McKenna, said state law has no specific penalties for a teacher strike, and the Legislature might run up against free speech guarantees if it tried to enact some.

In the past, courts have ordered teachers back to work if a district sought an injunction, and penalties can be opposed if the injunction isn’t followed.

Nathan Olson, a spokesman for Reykal’s office, said the vast majority of districts are still negotiating contracts.

“We’re focused right now on making sure that all the parties are following our guidance and all the contracts get approved and signed before the start of school,” Olson said. “There’s still some time left.”

Katy Henry, the president of the Spokane Education Association, referred questions about Braun’s letter to the Washington Education Association because she was in the middle of contract negotiations with Spokane Public Schools officials.

Rich Wood, of the WEA, said unions were trying to negotiate competitive professional salaries, noting that Braun’s letter spells out the Legislature has added billions of state dollars to public schools in recent years, which includes more money for salaries.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a response from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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