Start of school delayed another day by Ferndale teachers' strike

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 8, 2010 

Ferndale teachers strike

Jill Morris, a fifth-grade teacher at Skyline Elementary School, walks a picket line in the fog in front of the school Wednesday morning, Sept. 8, 2010, with her two children Eden Morris, 5 and Preston Morris, 7. The Ferndale Education Association voted to strike on the first day of school after contracts negotiations with the school district failed. Walking behind are third-grade teacher Kathy Galbraith, left, and special education teacher Cindy Lower.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

FERNDALE - Teachers in the Ferndale School District are still on strike, however district and Ferndale Education Association negotiators will meet again Thursday to try to reach an agreement on the teacher's contract.

There will be no school Thursday, Sept. 9, and the status of classes on Friday is unknown. The district will announce Friday's school status Thursday afternoon.

The FEA voted to go on strike Tuesday after union and district officials failed to reach an agreement on a new contract for teachers. The previous contract expired Aug. 31, and negotiations started in April. The contract under negotiation would be through the 2012-13 school year.

Teachers spent Wednesday picketing outside of Ferndale schools, waving signs that said "Fair Contract Now!" and "Support Quality Schools." During the morning, teachers were marching along Thornton, Church and Vista roads, waving at passing cars and cheering when they got a honk of support.

"All of us want what's best for kids, best for the community and best for education," said Jay Sozanski, a Vista Middle School teacher, adding that teachers have the best idea of what kids need because "we're the one with kids every day."

There were no negotiations Wednesday. A mediation session is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Contract negotiations are not open to the public, however the final approved contract is available for public viewing.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

The Ferndale School District released a summary of the remaining sticking points Wednesday afternoon.

Elementary preparation time: Currently, elementary teachers have 225 minutes each week for planning time before and after school, with an additional 120 minutes each week during the school day for planning. The time during the school day is while students are in music and P.E. classes.

The FEA wants an additional 30 minutes of planning time per week, with students spending that time with another certificated teacher.

The district has offered to fulfill that request but wants 30 days to hire staff and create schedules. District officials expect it will take between three and five additional teachers to offer 30 extra minutes of planning time to elementary classroom teachers. For the 2010-11 school year, a teacher's salary and benefits costs the district about $87,000.

Early release time: There were no early release days for teacher planning and collaboration during the 2009-10 school year. The FEA's proposal calls for 10 early release days during the 2010-11 school year, with five of them devoted to individual planning time, three of them for teacher collaboration and two for district and school improvement planning.

For the next two school years, the FEA proposal calls for weekly early release days, with students leaving school 90 minutes early rather than three hours early. Half of those roughly 30 early release days would be for individual planning time, with the other half split between teacher collaboration and improvement work.

The district's proposal includes 10 early release days for the 2010-11 school year, with half of the afternoon spent on district and school improvement planning and the other half spent on teacher collaboration. For the other two years of the contract, the district's proposal calls for at least 10 early release days, with a community survey conducted in April to see how many early release days families can handle in a school year.

Compensation: Currently, teachers' salaries are based on the state pay schedule, plus an additional 15 percent. The FEA proposal asks for the pay to be 16 percent above the state salary schedule for the 2010-11 school year, 17 percent for the second year of the contract, and 19.65 percent for the 2012-13 school year.

The district is offering 15.65 percent above the state salary schedule for the first year, 16.15 percent for the second year and 19.65 percent for the third.

To give each teacher a 1 percent raise would cost the district about $118,000, according to Mark Deebach, executive director of business and support services. That cost could increase due to some of the district's other four unions having clauses about getting raises if another group does.

Health care plan selection: Currently, district staff are given about eight options for health insurance, with two of them being Washington Education Association health care plans. The FEA wants to be able to vote on which plans are offered to staff. The district wants to keep the options the way they are.

Replacement Learning Improvement Day: During the 2009-10 school year, the district paid teachers for two out of three Learning Improvement Days, which are teacher work days without students. The state paid for the third day during the 2009-10 school year, but that was eliminated from the 2011-13 biennium budget.

The district's proposal is to continue paying for the three days, and if the state starts paying for them again, teachers would have additional Learning Improvement Days.

The FEA's proposal is to keep the number of such days at three and if the state starts paying for them, then that pay would be added to teacher salaries.

Grievance procedure: The FEA proposal asks to let the union file a grievance if a contract is violated, even if the people involved don't want to file anything. The district has been advised by lawyers to not agree to the FEA request.

VIEWS ON DISPUTE

Tracie Morris, the FEA president, said she couldn't speak about specific items being discussed because she's not part of the bargaining team. However, she was pleased with the amount of support she and other teachers got while picketing Wednesday.

"It seems like the community is supportive," she said. "They're honking, there are kids out here and parents out here."

Bargaining team members did not return a message Wednesday.

Parents and students appeared split on supporting the strike, according to comments on social media outlets. Some people have urged the FEA and teachers to continue standing strong against the district's proposals and fight for what's fair. Others voiced frustrations about how the strike is keeping students out of school and that teachers have as much time in the day as any other working person.

"I'm very opposed," said district parent Jeffrey Marks. "I have a problem with the fact that the Ferndale Education Association says they're doing this for the best education possible for our students. Wouldn't the best education possible for our students be in the classroom teaching them? I'm having a hard time with that."

The Ferndale School Board gave Superintendent Linda Quinn authorization to file for an injunction against the strike. However she said she would rather the district and union settle the disagreement than have a court-ordered mandate for teachers to return to work.

"I'm reluctant to have kids in classrooms with people who don't want to be there," she said.

District officials estimate their proposed three-year contract will cost the district between $2.5 million and $3 million more than the current contract. Quinn said she doesn't think dipping into savings to pay for everything requested is fiscally responsible given the current economic climate, and doing so increases the likelihood of more staff reductions for the 2011-12 school year.

Ferndale School District employees who are not part of the FEA but have jobs related to students being in school, including bus drivers and food service workers, are not working during the strike. Year-round employees, including maintenance and some secretaries, are working through the strike.

Coaches operate under a different contract; all athletics are going forward as scheduled, but there are no activity buses operating

Any school days missed during the strike will be made up either during the school year or by adding days at the end.

This is the first teacher strike in Whatcom County since 1989, when teachers in the Bellingham School District went on strike.


THE ISSUES

To view the Ferndale School District's summary of remaining negotiation issues, go to ferndale.wednet.edu and click on the "FEA Negotiations Update" link.

BOYS & GIRLS CLUB OPEN EXTRA HOURS

The Ferndale Boys & Girls Club is offering special hours during the strike for club members.

Students can be at the club from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. for $20. From 3:30 until 7 p.m., the cost is free as it is part of the regular $30/year membership.

For more information, call 360-384-0753.

YMCA FUNDAYS

The Whatcom Family YMCA is offering Y's Kids Fundays during the teacher strike.

Hours are 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 5904 Vista Drive, Ferndale. Cost ranges from $36 to $40.

Kids need to bring a lunch, swimsuit and towel.

For more information, or to register, call 360-733-8630.

Reach KIRA M. COX at kira.cox@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2266. Visit her School Days blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/schools or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamSchools.

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