October 19, 1998
District, union talks remain stalled
by Lisa Allen
Valley View Editor
CARNATION--Talks between both the Riverview teachers and classified employees unions and the school district remain at an impasse, according to union officials.
Contract discussions began during the summer, with no progress reported. The contracts for both unions expired Aug. 31.
The classified employees union represents 154 bus drivers, mechanics, aids, custodians, clerical staff and food workers.
Donna Lease, President of Riverview PSE, an affiliate of Public Schools Employees of Washington, said salaries for those workers are the main issue.
The original proposal from the union was for a 10 percent increase in salaries in the first year of a new agreement, said PSE Field Representative Pauline Steiner.
That proposal was rejected by the District last summer. A mediator was then called in to help with negotiations.
Riverview School District Superintendent Dr. Jack Ernst said there had recently been an offer of a tentative settlement with the employees union.
But Lease said the offer was a one percent raise this year and one percent next year.
"At the last mediation hearing we took the tentative agreement to the PSE membership and they overwhelmingly rejected it," said Lease. "One of the employees did some calculating and figured it wouldn't even cover the costs of the increase of her health insurance."
Lease said their next move will be to garner feedback from all the employees and find out what the members are feeling.
"We want a fair and reasonable contract," she said. "It looks like we may have a long way to go toward reaching an agreement."
And, although teachers say they are negotiating for contract language rather than salaries, their issues would also have a financial impact on the District.
We have three issues regarding language to deal with," said Cedarcrest Spanish teacher Adrian Lawrence, president of the teachers union.
Among the issues, he said, are class size, which includes "weighting," a term that takes into account the composition of each class.
"We have a good segment of the population that is defined as having special needs," he said. "Those include students with learning or behavioral disorders or those who need an enriched curriculum. These students create a greater demand on teacher time. It can be more important than actual class size."
Lawrence said, though, that there are no actual percentages available as to the increase in the number of special needs children, but that there is a feeling among the teachers that they have been increasing.
Lawrence said a second issue relates to teacher and student rights and responsibility language.
"We want disciplinary procedures spelled out in the contract," he said. "We want students and teachers to know what to expect if certain things happen."
He added the teachers also want the District to hire a PE specialist for two of the elementary schools to give the teachers time to do lesson plans.
But Ernst said the District needs to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, and that the requests in the contract will cost more money.
"We all want small class sizes," he said. "That is in everyone's interest. And the board has been making a concerted effort to have class sizes as low as possible, but if you reduce class size even one student, for 3,000 students that would require four more teachers at a yearly cost of over $200,000."
Ernst also said he has not seen any evidence on the increase in special ed students.
Regarding the issue of the PE specialist, Ernst said the School Board is interested in "providing the best possible opportunities for the children. We want to know that the District will stay focused on basic skill areas."
He said the teachers have indicated they "need time to do extra planning but what assurance do we have that basic skills will be improved by this? We want accountability to make sure learning is improved. Citizens tax themselves heavily to support the schools and they expect the Board to be fiscally responsible. That makes good sense."
He said elementary PE is currently taught by the regular teachers.
Speaking of the disciplinary issue, he said state law requires that students be expelled for such things as bringing a knife or gun to school.
"And the teachers have an option to exclude a student for two days if they determine that it is appropriate. We think that is good enough," he said.
But he noted the District and union are committed to mediation.
"We all want good things for the kids," he said.