YAKIMA, Wash. -- After teachers and the Yakima School District reached a tentative contract agreement over the weekend, school began as scheduled Monday — much to the relief of parents, students and employees.
“Today was about as good of a first day that I can remember having, it was a lot of fun,” said Duff Dewitt, an English teacher at Eisenhower High School. “There was a lot of high energy in the building. I think teachers were relieved that they got to come in to work today, they were satisfied in the contract that we negotiated; and, in addition to that, we have new building administration at Eisenhower.
“There was a brand-new energy at Ike today for students and teachers and administration.”
About 4 miles away at Barge-Lincoln Elementary School, parents arrived at noon — the district had early release Monday — to pick up their kids. Some said they, too, were relieved teachers didn’t strike.
“My kids were ecstatic,” said E.J. Boggs, who has a daughter in kindergarten and a son in first grade at Barge-Lincoln.
Boggs said a strike wouldn’t have affected her too much because she’s typically able to look after her kids during the day.
But others — such as Guillermo Lopez — didn’t have that option.
If school hadn’t started on time, Lopez said he didn’t know what he would have done with his son, who started first grade at Barge-Lincoln. He said he would have contacted the district and urged administrators to find a way to resolve their issues with the Yakima Education Association, the certified staff union they’ve been negotiating with since April. But he said he’s glad he didn’t have to do that.
“It’s awesome, it’s the best thing ever,” Lopez said as he watched his son play on a swing in the elementary school’s playground.
The district has 16,000 students, and the union represents 1,000 staff members.
Members of the Yakima Education Association voted Tuesday to strike if they didn’t get what they thought was a fair contract offer from administrators by Monday. The two sides met daily to continue negotiations until a tentative agreement was reached Saturday evening.
The agreement isn’t final. Negotiations will continue Wednesday over contract language. However, the union said it was satisfied Saturday with the progress that was made and agreed to go to work Monday.
The tentative agreement would give teachers and other certified staff an average 16 percent salary increase, and give teachers more flexibility with lesson plans and standardized testing. Once the agreement is completed, it will need to be ratified by the union and approved by the district’s board of directors.
Such negotiations across Washington became tense this summer as school districts received millions of dollars in additional funds from the state to spend on salaries. The Legislature left it up to employee unions to bargain with the districts for that money.
School districts got the additional funding because of the Legislature’s response to the McCleary decision, a 2012 state Supreme Court case that found Washington wasn’t adequately funding K-12 education.