Superior Court Judge Scott Collier cited precedent in his decision, and agreed the ongoing strike is harming some Battle Ground students
VANCOUVER — Teachers in the Battle Ground School District will meet this evening to vote on whether or not to defy a court ruling.
This morning a group of teachers filed into the courtroom of Clark County Superior Court Judge Scott Collier, delivering statements from nearly 500 Battle Ground parents stating that the ongoing teacher strike was not causing their children irreparable harm.
“I felt that there was a moment where (the judge) was sympathetic in that there was no evidence of harm done, or irreparable harm,” said Irene Soohoo, a humanities teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle School, after the ruling. “I mean, to say that we’re providing childcare? I mean, well, what does that say? We’re providing childcare? We’re babysitters? And that that’s an inconvenience to parents. Really? I mean, we provide way more than that.”
Collier was clear that his ruling did not have any bearing on the negotiations, which are continuing today and throughout the weekend, but were based on precedent in Washington State that public employee strikes are not protected by the law.
“Taking teachers to court is not a solution. It is a bully tactic and a distraction,” said Battle Ground Education Association Vice President Marina Heinz before the hearing began. “The only place for a fair settlement to be reached with competitive pay to be negotiated is at the bargaining table.”
The judge did order both sides to return to negotiations as soon as possible. Battle Ground Superintendent Mark Ross said he was meeting with his principals, then heading back to continue the bargaining process.
“We just want to get our kids back to school,” Ross said multiple times. “We’ll have to talk to the board about how that will work on Monday but our primary concern is getting our kids back in class.”
Judge Collier asked both sides to return for a check in next Friday morning if a deal hadn’t been reached. Heinz said she remains hopeful that they can close the $4.3 million gap this weekend.
“We want to keep the best educators here in Battle Ground. We want to be here. This is our home,” she said. “We’re dedicated to our families — they will always be ours, the kids will be ours. We’re ready to have this settled.”
At 71-years old, Irene Soohoo says she has been teaching for 45 years, 25 of those in the Battle Ground school district.
“We’ve been really disrespected for years,” she says. “We’ve taken pay cuts, furlough days, we’ve listened to the argument that we’re going to cut staff and so keep staff and take a pay cut and we’ve done that for year after year — I mean, decades. And what has it gotten us?”
As for whether she’ll be back in class on Monday without a deal over the weekend: “Probably not,” says Soohoo. “But I can’t speak for the others.”
Heinz wouldn’t comment about whether she’ll be in class Monday.
“Battle Ground teachers are united,” she said, “and they will not be divided by the distraction that the district has put on them today.”
Failure to return to class could result in teachers being found in contempt of court, punishable by a possible $1,000 fine.
Earlier this week the district asked for the state’s Public Employee Relations Council to appoint a fact finder. The union on Wednesday asked that the meeting with that fact finder be delayed until Monday. Ross said he’s hopeful, even if a deal isn’t reached this weekend, that meeting on Monday will help to move things along.
“I’d like the fact checking to help us make progress,” says Ross. “I think not having some agreement on the numbers slows down the process, so my hope is with the fact checking we can come to some understanding of the numbers and move forward with the process.”
At last check the district and union were about $4.3 million apart — down from a nearly $9 million gap last week.