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Wednesday, July 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
4 school districts in talks with teachers on contracts
By Jennifer Lloyd
As students enjoy summer vacation, four area school districts and teachers unions are working to negotiate contracts to ensure the upcoming school year begins as scheduled.
The Mukilteo, Edmonds, Snohomish and Sultan districts are still in talks with teachers. Contracts in each will expire Aug. 31. Some of the districts have tentative agreements, but teachers and district officials in Mukilteo and Sultan are still haggling.
They hope to have contracts in place before the first day of school and avoid potential teachers strikes like the one that stalled the start of school in Marysville last fall.
Mukilteo teachers and district officials have come to an agreement on some special-education concerns, but teachers' pay remains a sticking point.
"Salary is really the only thing that's holding us up right now," said Shirley Andrews, the president of the Mukilteo Education Association, which has about 850 members.
The two sides have a tentative accord to reduce the caseloads and increase staffing of specialists such as speech-language pathologists, high-school counselors, and occupational and physical therapists, she said.
Andrews describes the union's relationship with the district as "not antagonistic" and believes the two groups will reach an agreement next month.
"We're not having a strike; we're not in that kind of posture," said Fred Poss, the deputy superintendent of the 14,000-student Mukilteo district.
"We're all trying to do the best we can do, but the state doesn't give us any more money. And the problem really is the shrinking of state funding with increased expenses for school districts."
Officials from the Edmonds School District Snohomish County's largest, with more than 20,000 students and the Edmonds Education Association (EEA) have a tentative agreement for next year.
"They have reached a verbal understanding which they will then hammer out into specifics," district spokeswoman Debbie Jakala said. "That will then go before the EEA membership sometime in August."
Bargaining began in January to raise teachers' salaries closer to the midpoint of salaries in nearby districts.
The 9,000-student Snohomish School District and the Snohomish Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a three-year contract June 17, the eve of the last day of school.
"We wouldn't have reached a tentative agreement if we didn't think it was something our members would be happy to ratify," said Kit Raney, the president of the Snohomish Education Association, which has more than 480 members.
Union members are expected to vote on the contract Aug. 30. If it's approved, the School Board will vote within the week.
"The Marysville strike was a very sad situation for everyone," Raney said. "Our members also didn't want the stress of worrying about a situation like that happening here."
The teachers in the Snohomish School District went on strike in 2002 for 21 days.
"I think in part because we had gone through a strike in 2002, both sides wanted to reach an agreement early," said district spokeswoman J.Marie Merrifield.
Each district hopes to have negotiations concluded before the start of school.
"We bargained very hard before school was out," said Andrews of negotiations in Mukilteo. "We tried to come up with something, but it just seems like it's very hard to come to the final agreement until we know we have to, until it's time to go back to school."
Jennifer Lloyd: 425-745-7809 or email@example.com
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