Teachers in Kelso, Washington, continued their strike for a fourth day Monday. Outside Kelso High School, more than 150 teachers marched under a grey sky Monday. Their red T-shirts said, “We are Kelso.”
Martin Krusniak teaches orchestra and band. Behind him, the parking lot at Kelso High sat empty. And the windows, dark.
“We’d rather be back in the classroom,” he said.
The union and the school district spent the day negotiating. The two sides are said to be very close to an agreement, with one final compensation issue still unresolved.
Union leaders said they’re looking for pay increases over the next three years to cover a slightly longer instructional day. But they say the district is only willing to do that for two years.
Krusniak said it all comes down to money. Teachers haven’t had a raise in six years.
“The teachers feel that there is money available and what we’re asking for is fair and just,” he said.
The teachers have been working without a contract since the end of June.
According to the Kelso School District’s website, the current offer gives teachers a raise between nine and 18 percent over the next three years.
Casey Gleysteen, a spokeswoman with the Kelso Public School District, said the union rejected the offer even though it would’ve made them the highest paid teachers in Cowlitz County.
“The teacher’s union moved their target and we are both still at negotiations at the bargaining table,” she said.
The district and union have resolved 30 out of 31 issues, Gleysteen said. But they’re still negotiating teacher pay.
“I can say that there’s been some new ideas at the bargaining table today,” she said. “I don’t have any specific information on those, but there have been some different and new conversations today.”
Last week, the Kelso School District filed a lawsuit against the teachers’ union.
On Friday, a Cowlitz County judge issued an injunction ordering the teachers back to work. But on Sunday night, the union voted to defy that court order and instead continue the strike.
Back on the picket line, teacher Sandy De Bruler said the feeling is “surreal.”
“Who would ever think that Kelso teachers would do something like this?” she said. “But we just feel so supported by the community and we just feel like this is such a just cause.”
Short of an agreement, De Bruler said the district and teachers are due back in court Wednesday morning.
“The district is taking us back because we didn’t follow the order,” she said.
As for parents in Kelso, some picketed with teachers Monday.
“My children have been out here all four days and today happened to by my day off of work so I came out and brought my babies too,” said Carrie Torres, who has three daughters in the school district.
Torres grew up in Kelso and said that her kids have some of the same teachers that she did.
“I think they deserve what they’re asking for,” Torres said. “I think that they’re asking for less than they should be asking for.”
On the other side of town, Tasha Settle echoed a similar sentiment. Her daughter attends Beacon Hill Elementary School.
“Of course we would rather have our kids being in school right now, and our teachers – I’m pretty sure – are feeling the same way,” Settle said. “They want to get this resolved as quickly as possible.”
District officials say school remains canceled until further notice. Students will make up the missed days later in the year.
OPB’s education reporter Rob Manning contributed to this report.