Ellensburg teachers prepared to strike the day before classes start

Ellensburg teachers prepared to strike the day before classes start
Ellensburg Education Association members rallied in support of their bargaining team Tuesday morning. Wednesday, they will march again at 7 a.m. near 7th Avenue and Main Street in Ellensburg. 

Ellensburg teachers are preparing to strike next Tuesday if contract negotiations with the Ellensburg School District fail.

Union members with the Ellensburg Education Association want more competitive salaries and benefits. They also want more equitable class sizes.

Donna Grassel, the president of the Association, said the district is losing teachers to other areas where they can receive higher pay and better benefits.

The union voted 98 percent in favor of striking if attempts to negotiate are unsuccessful.

“Our biggest priority is our students. We do not want to be out on the picket line on September third or fourth,” said Grassel. “We would much rather be in our classrooms, but we are going to do what we have to to maintain great programming with our kids, and that will include retaining and recruiting the outstanding teachers that we have here in Ellensburg.”

While the 2012 McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court increased education funding overall in Washington, it changed the way teachers are paid.

Kelly Kronbauer, the Ellensburg School District’s Executive Director, said they can’t pay teachers with higher degrees a higher wage.

The McCleary decision also capped levy funding, leaving the district with a $3 million per year shortfall, according to Kronbauer.

“We have amazing quality people at the bargaining table with both the teachers and the district, and we’re confident that we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” said Kronbauer.

Kronbauer said unanticipated health insurance hikes this year through their participation in the School Employees Benefits Board program didn’t help.

As teachers rallied earlier this morning, union representatives and district officials sat down with a state-appointed mediator. They plan to meet every day this week until an agreement is reached.

If the negotiations fall through, teachers will strike Tuesday — just a day before the first day of school.