December 7, 1998
DUVALL--About 150 Cedarcrest High School students walked out of class last Thursday in support of teachers who have been working without a contract for the last three months. The teachers voted last week to strike Jan. 7 if an agreement is not reached between their union and the Riverview School District.
The students left their first period classes for about 20 minutes, said Cedarcrest Principal Clarence Lavarias.
Lavarias said the students will be disciplined, but mostly they have been encouraged to show their support in positive ways.
"We understand their intention," said Lavarias, "But walking out is not acceptable." He said the faculty discussed their options and decided to speak to their students regarding optional manners of support.
"The students have been brainstorming, and have drafted a petition and written letters to the school board," he said. "It has been a good learning experience for them and they have been very receptive."
Union President Adrian Lawrence said the teachers want at least a tentative settlement by Jan. 7.
"We still have differences with the district with contract language concerning special needs students and class size," said Lawrence, a Spanish teacher at Cedarcrest High School. "Essentially teachers want to make sure all students receive a good education and want the resources to be there."
Lawrence said negotiations have been ongoing since April and that progress has been very slow.
"We are getting closer but are still apart on certain issues," Lawrence said. "This is a way of saying that things have to be fixed and it is time to resolve this." He noted that salary issues were agreed to early on, that amounted to an additional day of work for the teachers for planning time.
"We are not looking at reducing class size," Lawrence said. "But we want to ensure that class sizes don't get larger as growth happens. The district says they can't afford it, but when we do the numbers it seems affordable."
Board President Sue Lorack said she is hoping to continue to negotiate through the mediator. "We are sorry they voted to strike and are working in good faith and the interests of the students and hope there is a resolution as soon as possible," she said.
Lorack said the number of special education students is one of the issues and there is new "trigger language" regarding class size. "That is new territory for us and we don't agree on numbers at this time," she said. "But the district has offered what amounts to a substantial increase already, with contract enhancements, extra day of pay, stipends, staff development pay, and mentoring pay that come out of local levy funds."
Superintendent Dr. Jack Ernst noted the district is on a fixed income. "All this is coming out of a state lidded levy," he said. "The board is ultimately responsible to the taxpayers and needs to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars."
Ernst said the board believes all of the needs submitted by the teachers have been addressed by the district. "I believe we have a highly professional teaching staff who care about the students," he said. "The board is committed to delivering quality education."
Other district employees are also continuing to work without a contract. The Public School Employees, including bus drivers, food workers, secretaries, aides, and maintenance workers, are requesting pay increases. They have also been working with a mediator, with little progress reported.