A sea of red shirts formed Tuesday afternoon outside the Clarkston School District Office as the first of what could be many rounds of contract negotiations began.
Proudly holding signs reading “#BeValued,” teachers, classroom aides and other staff members showed support for their bargaining team, which was ready to talk to district officials about 2018-19 contracts.
The main topic on many people’s minds was salary. Following the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, the Legislature added almost $1 billion to the state’s education budget for school-employee salaries. The challenge, though, is that the state eliminated its previous salary schedule for school employees, which essentially puts the two bargaining groups in uncharted territory.
Stephen Stroschein, a Title I teacher with the Clarkston School District, said this will be the first time in his 28-year teaching career that a salary schedule has not been in place prior to negotiations. Stroschein is one of five Clarkston Education Association members on the bargaining team this year.
“The state has given a beginner teacher starting pay and a senior teacher end pay,” he explained. “It’s up to each district to decide the different categories in there, and that’s what we’ll be negotiating. … It’s all new to all of us, so there are going to be some real wrinkles to iron out and figure out.”
Stroschein, who will be the Clarkston Education Association’s 2018-19 president, said other negotiation topics include maternity leave and student discipline.
The gathering outside of the district office was meant to “show support for teachers in the Clarkston School District,” he said.
Tuesday marked the beginning of negotiations at both the Clarkston and Lewiston school districts. The process at each varies greatly. Under Idaho law, school districts are required to conduct negotiations in open public meetings, while in Washington, those talks take place behind closed doors.
As Clarkston High School teacher Dave Weakland stood on the corner of Chestnut and Washington streets, he said the group would not back down until its members are compensated fairly.
“We are going to walk in there and they are going to completely, totally not be anywhere close to the number that we deserve,” he said.
Weakland, who has been a negotiator on behalf of the union in the past, said he hopes things go smoothly despite the changes.
Kathleen Hanthorn, a behavior education and social skills training teacher, said the main reason she came to support the bargaining team was to seek more equity for kids and to advocate for smaller class sizes. Although, a bump in pay also would be nice, Hanthorn said.
“I would like to be paid for my work and what I do, so my children don’t have to pay my master’s degree loans off, because at this rate, that’s what it looks like,” she said. “But more than that, I want to make sure kids have the opportunity, like I did, to get out of poverty and to be successful in the community.”
Hanthorn has come out to support the bargaining team in the past. She’s been with the district for almost 14 years.
Fifth-grade teacher Christy Simons – current president of the Clarkston Education Association – thanked all of those who showed support prior to the negotiation meeting set for 3:45 p.m.
“We want the district to know the bargaining team is bargaining with 175 people, and not just five,” she said, referring to the union’s negotiation team.
Simons wanted the same message the district passes on to its employees to be returned, she said.
“A message that our superintendent gives to us all the time is to ‘be valued,’ and we need to be valued,” Simons said.
As she spoke to the crowd, she told those in attendance the district has the money “to show us how much they value us now,” calling for the district to “step up” and do so.
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