No school Monday as Ferndale teachers' strike drags on

FERNDALE - Students in the Ferndale School District will miss a fourth day of school Monday, Sept. 13, as the teachers' strike continues.

The 2010-11 school year was scheduled to begin Wednesday, but members of the Ferndale Education Association voted to strike the day before due to the lack of a contract.

Athletics will continue as scheduled due to coaches having a separate contract.

The FEA and district bargaining teams met again Friday morning to try to reach an agreement on a three-year contract for district teachers. Friday's meeting was after about 16 hours of negotiations on Thursday.

They were still in discussions at the newspaper deadline Friday.

Superintendent Linda Quinn said Friday afternoon that if an agreement wasn't reached Friday night, she expects the teams to continue negotiations through the weekend. Even if an agreement is reached over the weekend, there will be no school for students Monday so teachers have a day to get their classrooms prepped. In that case, the first day of school would be Tuesday.

"We're optimistic that's going to happen," she said. "It's hard to promise, but people shouldn't read into the fact of (no school Monday) means we won't get a settlement this weekend."

One of the major sticking points is the amount of planning time for elementary classroom teachers. The FEA has asked the district for an additional 30 minutes of planning time each week during the student day, with students being overseen by other certificated teachers.

According to the FEA's 2009-10 contract, elementary-level teachers get 225 minutes of planning time each week before students arrive to school, plus 120 minutes during the school day. This results in a total of 345 minutes of planning time each week.

A graph posted on the FEA's website during the week compared Ferndale's planning time to other regional districts, however, there are some discrepancies between the data presented and what individual district officials say is accurate.

Ferndale elementary teachers have more overall planning time than elementary teachers in Bellingham, Blaine, Meridian and Nooksack Valley school districts. When looking at the amount of planning time during the student day, Ferndale teachers have more time than Bellingham and Blaine school districts.

In the Stanwood-Camano School District, which has a similar enrollment to Ferndale and was cited on the FEA website, elementary teachers have less overall time for planning. In that district, all certificated employees have between 255 and 270 minutes of planning each week, with 45 minutes each day during school hours. The other 30 to 45 minutes is on Wednesday mornings when students arrive late. Ferndale teachers have less planning time during the school day than Stanwood-Camano.

Another area that's been under negotiation is teacher compensation. In Washington state, certificated teachers are paid based on their number of years of experience and their level of education. There is a "state salary schedule," and then unions bargain with individual school districts for added pay on top of that. During the 2009-10 school year, Ferndale teachers got 15 percent more than the state salary schedule.

For the 2010-11 school year, state salaries range from about $34,000 for a new teacher with a bachelor's degree to about $64,000 for a teacher with at least 16 years of experience and higher-level degrees.

In Ferndale, the average base salary for a classroom teacher during the 2009-10 school year was $53,909, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. That was the second-lowest average base salary in Whatcom County, above only the Blaine School District, which had an average base salary of $53,543.

But teachers can get additional pay for a variety of reasons. In Ferndale, the average overall classroom teacher salary for the 2009-10 school year was $63,284. This was the second-highest average teacher salary in Whatcom County, behind the Bellingham School District, which had an average of $66,468. The lowest was the Nooksack Valley School District, with $58,105.

In the case the strike continues past the weekend, Quinn said she has been in contact with the district's lawyer about the steps required in filing for an injunction that could force teachers to return to work. But "we're trying to avoid that heavy-handed process," she said.