Battle Ground educators and the district remain miles apart in resolving the strike. And students and parents are caught in the middle.
More than 40 citizens spoke during Monday’s public meeting at the Lewisville Campus. The room was packed to the brim, with many people standing, and a crowd of supporters gathered outside. Many of those parents, students and residents of the district expressed their frustrations and their lack of trust in Ross and members of the board.
At one point, Karl Lemire, a resident of the district, gave Ross $9 and asked if he would put that toward teacher salaries. Ross said he would have to split that amount in half to account for the levy he expects will decrease by 50 percent in the next two years.
Before the public comments, Ross read a statement backing the district’s proposal to increase salaries by 11.6 percent. He believes the Battle Ground Education Association’s request for a 19.6 increase is not sustainable and could lead to more budget deficits and possible staffing cuts in the future.
“Both sides have continued to disagree. Therefore, we have asked for an independent fact finding to look at each side’s proposals and come to an unbiased conclusion on the extent of availability of McCleary funding,” Ross said.
“We apologize to our community members for the delay to the start of school,” he added. “Our biggest desire is to get back to the business of educating our students as soon as possible with a budget that is sustainable and does not add further burden to our tax pay citizens.”
When asked about the mediation session in Olympia Tuesday, Ross explained that a Fact Finder will talk to both parties about arranging a meeting. It could be Wednesday, it could be Thursday, it could be the following week. He said the district’s priority is to meet Wednesday. He added that there will be a five-day waiting period before the Fact Finder report is released.
Citizens spent the duration of the three-hour meeting pleading with the board members to settle up with the teachers. They challenged Ross’ statement that all of the McCleary money is in the district’s current offer. They said if Battle Ground teachers accepted that offer, they would still be the lowest paid teachers in Clark County.
The school board allowed all of the people who signed up to speak three minutes to share their thoughts. President Ken Root read the rules before the public comments started and asked the audience not to clap or cheer because it disrupts the process.
As the meeting eclipsed the two-and-a-half hour mark and the final speaker finished, the audience roared with applause. Root closed the meeting to the public and moved it to a different room.
The crowd did not get the opportunity to witness the board’s unanimous decision to suspend salary or wages for all employees involved in the strike if the work stoppage lasts through Monday, Sept. 17. The suspension would last until they returned to work. Health insurance would not be affected if that happens.
This story will be updated.