Summer break has been extended for San Juan Island School District students.
Just a day after the first day of the new school year, on Friday, Sept. 1, the district’s teachers went on strike and school was closed.
At 8 a.m., Sept. 1, roughly 20 SJISD teachers marched from the Friday Harbor Elementary School to Spring Street, eventually picketing at the county courthouse. They carried signs asking for fair wages and intermittently chanted “What do we want? A fair contract.” According to Hull, this is the first teachers’ strike in district history.
That afternoon, a SJISD school board meeting almost filled the Friday Harbor High School library to capacity. The board voted to give SJISD Superintendent Danna Diaz the authority to close the school. Teacher salary negotiations would continue over Labor Day weekend, said the board, in the hopes to open the school the following Tuesday. Watch for updates.
The teachers’ contracts ended on the first day of the new school year, Thursday, Aug. 31. The union convened after school, said Hull, and 97 percent of the 55 union teachers voted to strike. According to the association’s press release, 97 percent also voted “no confidence” in Diaz, who is the chief negotiator between the district and board.
“…Diaz doesn’t trust or respect us as education professionals,” said Hull in the press release, which also stated that educators’ feel “[Diaz] treats teachers like they are replaceable.”
At the meeting, SJISD Chairman Ralph Hahn noted that the board is Diaz’s boss.
“If you are mad at the superintendent, you should redirect that to the board,” he said.
The district was notified of the strike at roughly 6 p.m., Aug. 31, according to SJISD Business Manager Jose Domenech, and district officials notified parents and students of the day’s closure.
Domenech previously told the Journal that staff is the largest expenditure in the district, and last year, about 80 percent of funds was spent on them.
“This is a very difficult situation for our entire community,” said Diaz on a message posted to the district’s website. “The district is committed to resolving this situation as quickly as possible. “
According to Hull, the union met with the district’s negotiating team six times since June. Specifics on negotiations can’t be discussed, she explained, but teachers are requesting a salary raise and additional training to increase personal development. They are also requesting the inclusion of special education needs in contracts to alleviate those educators’ caseloads.
Michael Biggers, a Friday Harbor Elementary teacher for 14 years, said teachers, from the similarly sized district of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, recently received a 5 percent salary increase. He added that the school board once used Coupeville as an example to limit wages when those teachers made less than SJISD educators.
“Now, we’re using them as the example,” said Biggers.