RIDGEFIELD, Wash. — Ridgefield schools will remained closed Wednesday due to an ongoing strike, the Ridgefield School District announced late Tuesday. Bargaining between the district and the Ridgefield Education Association continued Tuesday but apparently did not reach a resolution.
Teachers and parents packed into the audience section at a Tuesday evening school board meeting, and most of the people who spoke during the roughly 45 minute public comment period testified in support of the teachers and criticized the district, although a few criticized the union.
The union, which represents about 200 teachers and other staff in the Ridgefield School District, began striking Friday after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement before a self-imposed union deadline. Ridgefield schools were closed Friday and union members staged pickets outside district campuses.
The previous three-year contract expired at midnight Aug. 31, just before the start of the current school year on Sept. 1. Bargaining for a new contract had been ongoing for months at that point, according to the union, and four more bargaining sessions were held last week leading up to the strike.
District and union negotiators met for at least six hours of bargaining on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, according to updates on the district's website and Facebook page, and a state mediator joined each session.
"We remain committed to reaching an agreement that ensures more support for students, so they get the resources they need to thrive. Our district has the resources to do what we’re asking, so we hope the district team is ready to move and make deal happen today," union co-president Elizabeth Stamp said in a statement ahead of the Monday session.
The district has previously stated that the school closures will continue until the strike ends, and missed days will need to be made up at the end of the year or during scheduled breaks in order to give students 180 days of instruction time for the year.
When asked by one Facebook commenter whether the strike would affect graduating seniors, the district replied that seniors are only required to have 175 days of instruction before graduating, but the date of the graduation ceremony in 2023 will not be known until the strike is resolved.
Teacher pay and class sizes appear to be among the sticking points in negotiations. The district has posted a series of its contract proposals publicly on its website in the past two weeks, each of which has added some sort of incrementally larger pay increase.
Responding to comments on its Sunday evening Facebook post, the district implied that its salary offers were limited by a budget crunch.
Responding to a comment stating that the district has "the power (and capital funds) to resolve this NOW," the district wrote that it aims to maintain a general fund balance great enough to cover at least two months of operating expenses, but its fund balance is projected about $1.8 million short of that mark this year due to lower-than-expected enrollment.
The union has not publicly released any of its own proposals, but the district's most recent offer, posted Sunday, includes some sections highlighted in red that the district said are provisions the union sought to add or update, drawn from what the district says was a Sept. 7 union proposal.
One contract section with a lot of back-and-forth involves additional compensation for teachers whose class sizes exceed the maximum number normally allowed under the contract.
Another back-and-forth area focuses on the minimum required ratio of staff to students for positions like school psychologists and counselors. Some other areas of disagreement include additional teacher planning time and additional administrative leave time for COVID quarantine.