Updated 8:15 a.m. Sept. 1
Bellingham School District Superintendent Greg Baker sent out a message tonight to families informing them that district teachers would be striking starting Friday, Sept. 2.
Bellingham Education Association members met tonight, Wednesday, Aug. 31. I hope to speak with BEA president Shirley Potter in the morning. According to union president Shirley Potter, the main sticking points relate to class sizes and time for professional development and conference time. As part of the district’s plan this year to have elementary schools release early on Wednesdays, the early release days in November for conferences were removed from the calendar. In the past, conference days have been used for both elementary and middle schools.
“We have a shared vision on teaching and learning, and the district is making it almost impossible to implement,” Potter said, adding later “some of the things we’re asked to do are impossible with the number of kids in classes.”
The district letter references salary as one of the sticking points.
Teachers were expected to report to school on Friday for a teacher work day. Potter said teachers will still do whatever district-related activities they had set up for Thursday.
Baker’s message is below:
Dear Families and Community,As we have come to know one another during the last year, I hope you have recognized that one of my deeply held values is to be as open, transparent and consistent in my communications with you as possible. We have just been informed by the Bellingham Education Association (BEA), our teachers’ group, that they will begin a strike on Friday, Sept. 2, a teacher workday. My purpose with this communication is to update you and provide factual information.We look forward to continuing to meet with the association on Thursday, Sept. 1 and will continue through the weekend, if needed, in hopes of reaching a settlement and starting school as scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 6. We recognize the hardships a delayed start could create and therefore, are sharing this information at this time to allow as much planning time as possible for families to make arrangements, should the school year begin later in September and end later in June. In the event that any changes to the school schedule occur between now and Tuesday, it is important that district families have updated their contact information and notification preferences in SchoolMessenger. Updates will also be communicated at www.bellinghamschools.orgWe have been negotiating for the past six months, working through many issues in the spirit of understanding and responding to each other’s interests, compromising, and desiring to move forward. We are very close to an agreement, but have not yet settled on some remaining issues, including salary.Our offer to our teachers’ association includes:· No salary cuts or furlough days (the district would cover the 1.9 percent salary cut from the state for each year of the agreement);· Other creative ways to use existing resources differently in order to provide additional compensation in each year of the agreement;· An additional one percent salary increase in the second year of the agreement in recognition of a shared instructional vision; a calendar to support collaboration, assessments and family engagement; and other work priorities such as full-time kindergarten, K-5 literacy, online learning and more; and· A pledge to work with staff to respond and address each other’s concerns such as providing more certainty regarding how we report student progress and performance, and engage families in their child’s education.With limited resources and a long list of yet unfunded student learning needs, we need to find common ground related to compensation that we can sustain in the unforeseeable economic future. These economic times and our state Legislature’s decision to cut staff pay by 1.9 percent have made this a challenging starting point for labor negotiations. We are all frustrated by our Legislature’s inability to uphold its paramount constitutional duty: adequate funding of K-12 education.I value all of our employees and our seven labor groups. For many years, we have used local levy funds, generously provided by our community, to make up the state’s shortfall in basic funding for our students, schools and staff. Throughout the summer, we rehired 55 of the 57 certificated staff who received layoff notices in May. We have fabulous classified and certificated employees, and intend to continue to use local funds to expand learning opportunities for students, reduce class sizes, and recruit and retain the highest quality staff. Other school districts are asking staff to take furlough days and pay cuts. We do not want to decrease teaching and learning for our students, and therefore, have not asked our staff to take furloughs, nor the pay cut that the state has delivered.As the first scheduled day of school approaches, communications regarding negotiations can quickly take on an “us-versus-them” dynamic. I encourage our staff, families and community to remember, locally, we are all on the same team when it comes to advocating for the best possible education and outcomes for our Bellingham Public Schools students. Let’s collectively direct our frustrations appropriately at the state Legislature for its growing reliance on local communities to provide what is needed for our children.I will continue to keep you informed as we make progress toward a solution with our Bellingham Education Association.Sincerely,Greg BakerSuperintendent of Bellingham Public Schools