After 10 months, Battle Ground Public Schools has approved a contract with its teachers union, though the protracted process and finances of the situation have bargainers on each side questioning how the negotiations are conducted.
During their Oct. 9 meeting, the BGPS Board of Directors approved 4-0 its contract with the Battle Ground Education Association.
Total compensation for teachers in the district for the 2023-24 school year ranges from about $63,000 at the low end to nearly $118,000 at the high end, according to a salary schedule provided to the board.
The teachers union approved the contract Sept. 26, Kim Bettger, president of the BGEA, said at the meeting. She noted the approved pay scale is 2% closer to larger school districts in the area.
“Although collaboration and innovation take time, this process allowed us to explore new ways to better support students and families. We look forward to a great school year,” Bettger said in a Sept. 21 release from the district announcing a tentative agreement.
Although the previous contract expired Aug. 31, the BGEA voted to not strike, and school in the district started on time. Negotiations on the contract began at the start of the year.
The 10 months of negotiations did cause problems, Bettger said at the meeting. Some classes began but will need to change in their execution midway through the school year, and it also complicated the substitute teacher process in some buildings, she said.
“We need to complete the negotiations before the start of the school year,” Bettger said.
She said she would like both the district and union to think of ideas to be “faster, but fair” in contract negotiation.
BGPS Deputy Superintendent Shelly Whitten said staff worked hard to make the contract “as commensurate as we could afford” within the district’s resources. She mentioned the contract also includes classroom size adjustments to benefit students and staff and adjusted some timing of training to better prepare for the year.
The contract also now includes language about alternative learning environments, something previously not found in the contract.
“Alternative learning experience changes oftentimes through legislation, and so we’ve been rather apprehensive about adding language,” Whitten said.
Handling those environments became too cumbersome to manage without the explicit language, necessitating its inclusion.
Before the vote, the BGPS board’s discussion focused on potential impacts of the next negotiation when the contract expires in 2026.
BGPS Board Chair Jackie Maddux prefaced by saying she loved the teachers in the district. She said the compensation for teachers is “amazing, and a little unrealistic, and not sustainable long term beyond this contract.”
“While I love our teachers and I want them to be paid appropriately for their position, I want it to be fiscally responsible, not only for us, [but] for our district, but for our community,” Maddux said.
Whitten said BGPS wasn’t alone in figuring out how to be fiscally responsible while adjusting to the labor market. From what she has seen, she believes the McCleary state Supreme Court decision changed funding in a way that complicates the process.
Following the passage of law that made those changes in 2017, BGPS has never had a contract with the teachers union approved by the Aug. 31 deadline, Whitten said.
“I think part of that is the complexity of creating your own salary schedule in every single district,” Whitten said.
Another factor includes the loss of COVID-19 pandemic-era funding at the federal level. All the factors made for an “interesting” time for district budgeting, Whitten said.
“We’re trying to adjust so that we don’t get behind our neighbors to the point where we lose valuable staff,” Whitten said.
Potential cuts will be based on program effectiveness, Whitten said. She noted some programs using federal COVID-19 pandemic funding were always planned to cease once that funding ran out.
“There will be things that will not be in place in the future that we have in place now,” Whitten said.