Contract negotiations are set to continue Friday between teachers and the school district in Battle Ground, Washington.
“We are stalled at this point in time,” said Battle Ground Superintendent Mark Hottowe.
The two-year contract teachers are proposing would cost $6 million, compared to the $2 million the district has offered.
Teachers have been working under an expired contract since the beginning of the school year. But talks between the teachers and district began back in May.
“The cuts to get to $6 million would be heinous,” Hottowe said. “Honestly, if we had $6 million I would give the money tomorrow to the teachers. It’s not as if I don’t want them to enjoy the benefits of an enhanced contract."
Rather, Hottowe said the school district is struggling to meet all of the needs in the district while still being able to satisfy teacher needs.
A mediator will be present Friday as the district and the teacher’s union try to reach an agreement with the hope of avoiding a strike.
With 13,000 kids, the Battle Ground School District is the third largest in southwest Washington. The union represents about 850 teachers.
Linda Peterson, president of the Battle Ground Teachers Association, said the union is asking for a reduction in class sizes, more pay and one full-time counselor at each elementary school.
In the past, she's said the district received $11.1 million additional dollars from the state, "which is why we said that we could ask for a better contract."
In November, Battle Ground teachers voted to strike, but were 16 votes short of the 65 percent threshold. Peterson said there could be another vote in the coming months.
Hottowe called a possible strike "devastating."
When it comes to teacher pay in Washington state, the system is unfair, Hottowe said. Districts right next to one another offer different salaries.
Teachers in Battle Ground generally make less money than those in the nearby Vancouver and Evergreen school districts, he said.
Part of that is because in the past, voters in Battle Ground haven’t passed every levy, which Hottowe said could cost the district up to 30 percent of total revenues.
“It takes many years, if not a decade or more, to make up for those loses,” he said. “Vancouver and Evergreen — to my knowledge — have never failed a levy. So there’s a consistency of revenues that they have that we have not enjoyed.”
Compared to other districts in southwest Washington, Hottowe said Battle Ground schools have a greater concentration of staff. Registered nurses, librarians and psychologists work with kids to provide more support to teachers, he said.
“When teachers have issues with challenged students, there are resources available for them to refer those students to,” Hottowe said. “But it comes with a price tag: $17 million.”
In Battle Ground, roughly 30 percent of the certificated staff isn’t funded by the state, Hottowe said, meaning the district needs to come up with the money through levies.
“What I’m saying is that there are costs that other district do not have,” Hottowe said.
Peterson said tensions between the union and the district increased last week when Hottowe told her the district office would be posting two new positions: one in human resources and another to help in special education.
Hottowe said he’s adding a position so the district’s special education team can be more proactive instead of reactive. He said the human resources position existed under his predecessor and is not a new position.
“When the district decides something is critical to the district, they find the money,” Peterson said. “Why are we not critical to the district?”