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Teachers in the Ridgefield School District go on strike

The news comes after a packed week of bargaining leading up to the union's self-imposed deadline to strike.

RIDGEFIELD, Wash. — Ridgefield teachers went on strike Friday after negotiators failed to reach an agreement with the Ridgefield School District on a new contract at a bargaining session Thursday night.

“We're not doing this for just more money, we're not doing this because we're greedy, we're not doing this because we're lazy, we are doing this because we want to make a difference for our kids," said Joe Thayer a teacher with the Ridgefield School District. "I don't think what we're asking for is too much. I think that those issues are things that every parent and every family and every teacher could get behind. And I wish the all district leader ship was behind those also.”

The Ridgefield Education Association (REA) said in a statement released just before 9 p.m. Thursday that teachers would begin striking in the morning and continue until a tentative agreement is reached with the district.

“None of us want to be on strike, but ignoring our dysfunctional intervention program, unsafe staffing levels and the need for more counselors when the district has the money to do something about it is unacceptable,” said REA co-president Elizabeth Stamp. “We are united with the Ridgefield community demanding what our students deserve and we’re calling on the district to do the right thing.”

The union said teachers and other staff planned to stage pickets outside multiple district schools, and dozens of people in red REA shirts and bearing REA signs could be seen marching outside the View Ridge Middle School and Sunset Ridge Intermediate School campus on Friday morning.

The Ridgefield School District said in a statement that all schools will be closed until the strike is resolved, though middle and high school athletics will continue as scheduled. Coaches operate under a separate contract.

The district underlined that canceled school days will be made up later, though the exact calendar remains to be seen.

"School will resume after the strike is resolved, and students will receive 180 days of instruction regardless of any delays to the school year," administrators said. "As the result of a strike make-up days would be negotiated as part of any settlement."

The Thursday evening bargaining session was the fourth held this week. The union represents about 200 teachers and other staff in the district.

RELATED: Ridgefield teachers agree to final bargaining session before Friday deadline

The union's previous contract expired Aug. 31, just before the start of the 2022-23 school year. One day earlier, the union's membership voted to reject the district's then-current proposal for a new three-year contract, and subsequently voted to authorize a strike.

The vote didn't automatically trigger a strike, but it gave the union's leaders the ability to call one, and the union announced Wednesday that its executive board had voted to begin a strike if no deal was reached by Friday.

Around the middle of the week, the district added a strike FAQ for parents on its bargaining webpage. It also posted two new contract proposals to the page over the course of the week, highlighting salary concessions in each one.

The district's Aug. 29 proposal — the one the union rejected ahead of the strike authorization vote — offered a 5.5% base pay raise in year one, 3% in year two and 2.1% in year three. It also offered to raise the TRI rate — a stipend for time worked outside the classroom — from 6.3% to 8.3% over the three years.

The district's next proposal, posted Sept. 6, left the 5.5% raise in place for year one but increased the raises to 4.5% for year two and 3% for year three, and moved the entire 2% TRI hike into year one.

RELATED: Ridgefield teachers authorize union leaders to call a strike

The latest proposal, released Thursday morning, increased the year one raise to 6.5% and added a yearly 2.5% step increase for eligible employees while leaving the raises for years two and three and the TRI hike unchanged from the prior proposal.

The district said the new offer represented an approximate compensation increase of at least 16% over the three-year life of the contract, and would be as high as 28.5% for eligible employees.

The union has not released its own proposals publicly but has given statements in the past week indicating that it has been pushing for smaller class sizes and better pay. The district's average class size is 27.2 students, according to the district FAQ page, although the average for high school classes is 31 students.

Following a Wednesday bargaining session, the union said that "progress toward a deal was made," but the union was still looking for improvement "areas that impact student learning, teacher workload and learning conditions."

"We love teaching in Ridgefield and we love our students, but we’ve experienced too much burnout and seen unsustainable practices that don’t give our students the support and resources they need," union co-president Elizabeth Stamp said in a statement. "We want to stop turnover in Ridgefield and our district has the resources to make a difference, we just need a contract that makes that a priority."

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