VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) - Vancouver Public Schools is back at the bargaining table, only this time, the district is not negotiating with the teacher’s union over salaries, rather its support staff.
In August, more than 1,500 teachers went on strike for days, demanding higher wages.
Now, members of the Vancouver Association of Education Support Professionals (VAESP) – representing clerks, secretaries and paraeducators are threatening to do the same.
“It’s just a matter of making a living wage. It’s an important job that we all do and I don’t think they should have to work 2 and 3 jobs to survive,” Special Education Paraeducator Kristen Stockwell said.
Stockwell told FOX 12, she works helping kids with autism communicate at Discovery Middle School and the job is quite challenging.
“We get a hazard pay daily because some of the students can be aggressive," said Stockwell.
Despite the hazard pay, Stockwell claims she and her colleagues do not always earn what they need to get to by. Her coworker, Roya Nasseri, a secretary at Discovery Middle School, agreed.
Both women are VAESP members, currently fighting Vancouver Public Schools for higher wages. Tuesday, union members voted to strike if an agreement is not reached by Friday.
“We’ve been bargaining since May and not making any headway," said Nasseri.
Nasseri claims their negotiations took a back seat as the district handled the Vancouver teachers’ strike in the summer. Now, more than 700 VAESP members are asking for what they feel is rightfully theirs.
“The money that was sent down with the McCleary Act was earmarked for salaries," she said.
Nasseri is referring the landmark Washington Supreme Court decisions which set aside $2 billion for educator salaries.
District spokeswoman Patricia Nuzzo said, for most Washington schools, the decision has had a detrimental impact.
“We’ve lost funding, even though we gained funding from the state. But, we’ve also had to cap our local funding," said Nuzzo.
It is a trade off, that according to Nuzzo, has left the district with an $11 million dollar shortfall this year, meaning jobs will be cut as will some programs.
She told FOX 12, officials have already eliminated five administrative positions at the district offices and will soon need to decide which programs they will cut next school year. However, the district is still hoping the state will come up with additional funding to balance the shortfall.
Meanwhile, VAESP insists its members have not received their piece of the pie from the McCleary decision, despite striking a tentative agreement in December.
Nasseri said, just weeks after the tentative agreement was made, Steve Webb, Superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools, backed out of nearly $1 million promised in that deal. But, Nuzzo told FOX 12 that did not happen.
“The district did not back out of it,” Nuzzo said. “There was a miscommunication or misunderstanding about the terms of the total agreement.”
Officials told FOX 12, they remain open to negotiations. When asked whether classes will once again be cancelled if the two entities do not reach an agreement by Friday, Nuzzo said, “We don’t know yet. We’re hoping we don’t have to go there.”
Union members said, they too remain hopeful.
“I’ve been told by the superintendent, assistant superintendent, the board, how valuable we are and that they wish they could pay us what we’re worth” Nasseri said. “Due to this McCleary Act this is their opportunity.
Nasseri’s message to the district, “Don’t let us down.”
VPS officials said a mediator is helping them continue negotiations with the union by phone Wednesday evening. They say, they will meet in person Thursday, sitting down at the bargaining table to hopefully arrive at another tentative agreement.
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