Agreement in hand, Snoqualmie Valley teachers head back to school

NORTH BEND, Wash. -- Some 6,000 students in the Snoqualmie Valley School District are heading back to school Monday morning after teachers reluctantly voted to avoid a strike.

But the mood was heavy as classes began as even though the teachers voted to approve the district's contract, they made very clear they were not satisfied, only voting to approve the contract because they were convinced the district wasn't going to budge anymore.

The vote was 59 percent to approve the contract and 41 percent against.

The major points of debate between the school district and teachers were elementary school class size and teacher pay. For class sizes, teachers wanted them capped, but the district refused to hire more teachers. So instead, the teachers voted to penalize the district for packing the students in, setting cap sizes of 27 students in kindergarten, 29 in first through third grade, and 31 students for fourth and fifth grade.

For every additional student, teachers can choose an additional $7 per day, an extra half hour of planning per week, or one extra hour of aid time per week.

The teachers also wanted some sort of raise. The district agreed to a 2 percent raise each year over the next three years, but teachers say it doesn't even cover the cost of living.

"I wasn't jumping for joy voting yes and it's a long way to go," said Mt. Si High School social studies teacher Art Galloway. "And I think it's a good indication of dissatisfaction with the way the district treated the whole bargaining team and us with the whole bargain."

Teachers had been preparing for a strike over the weekend, making picket signs for a walk-out that was scheduled to start Monday morning if there was no agreement. That would have forced the district to cancel all classes.

"I think it was frustrating for everyone that we couldn't have brought this to a resolution sooner," Carolyn Malcolm, spokeswoman for the Snoqualmie Valley School District, said Sunday as the tentative agreement was reached. "I know it created anxiety for our community, which was hard on everyone."