Vancouver paraeducators union votes to approve strike

The strike could begin as soon as Friday if negotiators can’t reach a new tentative deal in the next two days

VANCOUVER — Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) is facing another strike, potentially as soon as Friday.

The Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals (VAESP) met Tuesday and voted overwhelmingly to strike starting Friday, if a deal isn’t reached. VAESP says nearly 500 of their members voted 93 percent in favor of a strike.

VAESP represents nearly 700 paraeducators, secretaries, clerks, and other certified staff. It’s unclear how a strike would impact the district’s ability to hold classes. A certificated teacher strike in August delayed the start of school by a week, but much of that time is being made up through altered class and holiday schedules.

The district and VAESP had a tentative deal in place on Dec. 21, but VAESP says the district dragged its feet on getting the proper documents to them in time for a membership vote on Jan. 15, and then changed language in the offer.

“Over the course of the five days prior to our January 15 meeting, VAESP tried to work with the district so documents could be shared with our … membership,” the union said on their website. “The district added language to the contract which hadn’t appeared in any proposal or the agreed upon Tentative Agreement. The salary schedule we presented was also turned down by the district even though it followed the parameters of the bargained language.”

At that Jan. 15 meeting, VAESP reportedly told its membership the district had walked away from the deal. VPS quickly responded, saying that wasn’t the case. The district has since said it is moving ahead with plans to file an unfair labor practices claim against VAESP. Meanwhile both sides have said they will meet throughout today and tomorrow in hopes of reaching an agreement.

“The district is asserting a mediator’s opinion, which is not appropriate,” said Andrea Adams, president of the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals in a news release. “We never agreed to the COLA being a part of the total salary improvement because that was already on the salary schedule.”

The district says that statement is untrue, and that their offer was always the same.

“In the tentative agreement, VPS agreed to provide VAESP members $2 million in total salary improvements plus $400,000 of mandatory benefit contributions in 2018-19 and $500,000 in total salary improvements plus $100,000 of mandatory benefit contributions in 2019-20,” the district said in a statement. “The total overall cost increase to the district would be $3 million per year by 2019-20.”

The district says VAESP rejected a new offer on Tuesday that would have added a third year to the deal, including additional funding promises contingent on whether the state comes through with more money. According to the district, the latest offer would represent a 15.5 percent total salary improvement over three years, “contingent on changes to state law that would improve funding for school districts.”

Blaming McCleary

Both sides are pointing fingers of blame at the legislature’s McCleary school funding fix, which gave districts over $1 billion in one-time funding to raise salaries for teachers and other certified staff.

A release by the district called that fix “complex and inequitable.” VAESP members claim the district is holding on to some of the McCleary money in order to pad their emergency fund. The district hasn’t responded directly to that claim, but denied similar allegations during teacher contract disputes last year.

All of this comes as VPS prepares to make cuts to cover what they say will be an estimated $11.44 million budget shortfall this year.

“The challenges in front of VPS are not unique or unexpected,” said Superintendent Steve Webb in a release. “Districts across Clark County and Washington state face the same predicament. This is a direct result of flawed legislation passed in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state must provide full funding for K-12 education.”

In his budget proposal, Webb said they anticipate making the following cuts:

  • Five district-level administrative positions
  • Fifteen teacher-on-special-assignment positions providing instruction and classroom support for curriculum and instructional technology
  • Five percent cut to central office and support service hourly staff positions, and materials, supplies and operating costs in 2019-20

The district says teacher-on-special-assignment positions will be offered the opportunity to return to the classroom.

Those reductions are expected to save the district an estimated $3.9 million. The district has already committed to $1.5 million in spending reductions this year, as well as $2.25 million out of the general fund budget. That leaves another $3.79 million in further spending cuts yet to be determined.

“These valued employees provide essential leadership that supports teaching and learning for our students and their families, which makes these decisions extremely difficult,” said Webb. “For the affected team members, this news is devastating. I know they are passionate about pursuing our district’s vision for equity and excellence, and we are committed to supporting them during this transition.”

Webb said further budget cut recommendations will be based on enrollment forecasts, current state budget implications, annual teacher vacancy averages and one-year teacher contracts, and will be announced at the district’s Feb. 12 school board meeting.

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