Bethel kids back to school Thursday as teachers approve new contract

Students in the Bethel School District will start school Thursday, following ratification late Monday of a three-year teacher contract by union members.

Initially, the Bethel School Board was to vote on the contract Tuesday night in a special meeting. But district officials announced late Monday that school will start as scheduled, and the school board will vote on the contract at its regular meeting Sept. 13.

District officials said the board provides bargaining parameters, and the agreement falls within those parameters.

Teachers also have ratified contracts in the Clover Park, Steilacoom and Fife school districts, said Rich Wood, spokesman for the statewide Washington Education Association.

Sumner teachers have reached an agreement with the district and are scheduled to vote on it later this week, Wood said.

Nearly half of the estimated 1,100 Bethel Education Association members cast ballots Monday night, and 93 percent of those present voted to accept the new contract.

The contract includes a district-financed 5 percent increase in each of the first two years of the contract, followed by a 2 percent increase in the third year. It also includes a 1.8 percent state cost-of-living raise in the first year.

The contract includes a district-financed, 5 percent increase in each of the first two years of the contract (2016-17 and 2017-18) followed by a 2 percent increase in the third year (2018-19).

It also includes a 1.8 percent cost-of-living raise granted by the state Legislature in the first year of the contact, and a district-financed option of two “team collaboration days” in the contract’s third year.

It’s not known whether the state will add pay increases in the final two years of the contract.

Negotiations touched on concerns teachers communicated last week to the school board. Contract highlights include:

▪ An increase in pay (to $25 per half hour from $21) for employees who are asked to give up their planning time to cover a classroom for another teacher. (Employees instead can choose to get the planning time back, as long as it can be taken within two weeks.)

▪ More flexibility for teachers, working with school administrators, to take individual student differences into account in delivering instruction.

▪ A pledge to adopt a “shared decision-making model” at the school level that may include “all interested employees.”

▪ A new payment plan for caseload managers who write Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for special education students. The contract guarantees an added $1,500 annually to the managers, as well as payment of $85 per IEP for those who complete more than 25 of the plans.

▪ Provisions on caseloads and class size for special education classes, along with a list of specific remedies when class sizes increase beyond stated limits. Remedies may include additional staffing, clerical assistance or other measures.

▪ Updated language surrounding teacher evaluations and assignment transfers.

▪ Two calendar provisions: the day before Thanksgiving will be a non-work day. In addition, the first required staff day will not be earlier than Sept. 1.

While teachers are the largest employee group covered in the contract, it also contains provisions related to school district counselors, social workers, librarians and others.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo