With deal, paraeducators’ strike ends; schools to open Monday

UPDATE (Nov. 17, 2018) — The Peninsula Daily News reports: Schools will reopen Monday after the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association approved a new wage agreement Friday night with the Port Angeles School District, ending a two-day strike.

UPDATE (Nov. 16, 2018) — The Peninsula Daily News reports that Port Angeles paraeducators remain on strike Friday and schools are again closed as contract negotiations continue. The Washington Education Association reports that teachers in the school district will continue to honor the picket lines.

PORT ANGELES (Nov. 15, 2018) — Public schools in Port Angeles are closed today after school district negotiators walked away from a last-minute bargaining session on Wednesday and triggered a strike by the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association. The district’s teachers union said they would honor the picket lines.

The paraeducators voted 87-4 last week to authorize a strike effective today if a tentative contract agreement was not reached by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Although the union reported last-minute progress was being made in Wednesday’s contract talks, the Peninsula Daily News reports that administrators for the Port Angeles School District abruptly walked out of the negotiating session and announced that schools would be closed today.

Dale Folkerts, spokesperson for the Washington Education Association, said school district negotiators left negotiations shortly before a 2 p.m. special School Board meeting and had not returned to the bargaining table as of about 3 p.m.

“Our negotiators are still at the table,” Folkerts told the PDN. “Why they vanished is perplexing to us.”

After announcing today’s school closure, the school district said that negotiations would continue Wednesday night, but the union later posted on its Facebook site: “Sad to say PA Paras are on strike! Thanks to our teachers who are supporting us by not crossing the picket line. Union Strong!”

At Wednesday’s emergency school board meeting, the board took actions to brace for a strike and to threaten legal action against strikers. The PDN reports:

In a special meeting Wednesday, School Board members without discussion unanimously approved resolutions suspending all policies, rules and regulations, limiting access to public school grounds, taking legal steps to terminate a strike and authorizing the superintendent to close schools.

One of the resolutions approved says “an emergency exists requiring the immediate action of the Board to prevent or at least minimize the irreparable injury to our students and the education process and damage to school district property caused by the threatened strike.”

Another resolution authorizes Superintendent Martin Brewer to take legal steps necessary to terminate the strike. The district authorized law firm Perkins Coie LLP to take steps to end the strike.

Attorneys were authorized and directed to sue any individual employee participating in a strike or concerted refusal to perform services.

Paraeducators are among the lowest paid employees in the Port Angeles School District. Base pay for a paraeducator is $15.68 per hour. At negotiations back on Oct. 30, the district reportedly offered a 3.5 percent pay increase, but the union wanted 22 percent. The Port Angeles Education Association recently negotiated a new contract that included average 12 percent wage increases for the district’s teachers.

Stay tuned to The Stand for updates.

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