Around 120 Oak Harbor Education Association members gathered Tuesday morning in front of the Midway Training Facility, the sight of bargaining negotiations. Union members said Tuesday’s crowd had double the number of a similar rally last year. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Around 120 Oak Harbor Education Association members gathered Tuesday morning in front of the Midway Training Facility, the sight of bargaining negotiations. Union members said Tuesday’s crowd had double the number of a similar rally last year. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Teacher bargaining tone changes from sour to sweet

After what was described as a “contentious” start, bargaining for certified teachers in the Oak Harbor school district is making positive progress, say members of the Oak Harbor Education Association.

Around 120 union members gathered outside the Midway Training Facility Tuesday morning before a bargaining session.

“We’re trying to draw more public attention to what we think is a gross injustice by the district bargaining team,” said member Bryan Schulle.

Since Tuesday, the bargaining teams have come closer to interpretations of legislation that will bring in around $11 million, almost $7 million of which can be used for teacher salaries, according to lead union bargainer Jeff Laiblin.

During approximately 20 hours of negotiating between Tuesday and Wednesday, he said, the district and teachers are confident a settlement will be reached at the next session on Aug. 15.

“Right now, the future of negotiations is very positive and we’re working under that knowledge now,” Laiblin said.

Past tension centered around a difference in interpretation of how the state funds could be used. District bargainers originally said there was a 3.1 percent cap on salary increases, according to union members. Maya Kilmer, a spokesperson for the education association, said this cap shouldn’t exist.

During this stalemate, several union members attended strike training and the group voted to consider a Sept. 1 strike if an agreement isn’t reached by then.

Kilmer said past negotiations have also been contentious.

“We have had to fight for every penny,” Kilmer said at Tuesday’s rally. “It doesn’t make sense that a district would fight its teachers.”

Since Tuesday, district negotiators have offered a “legal pathway” around the 3.1 percent cap, Laiblin said.

The association and district released a joint statement Thursday regarding bargaining.

“Following a support rally by union members on Tuesday, we’ve had two very productive bargaining sessions with strong progress toward an agreement,” the statement reads.

“While the details are still being finalized, we’re confident that we will have a mutually beneficial settlement in the very near future.”

Maya Kilmer holds up a sign at a Oak Harbor Education Association rally Tuesday morning. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Maya Kilmer holds up a sign at a Oak Harbor Education Association rally Tuesday morning. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Lindsey Smith, a teacher at Oak Harbor Intermediate School, holds up a sign at a union rally Tuesday morning. Bargaining had reached a stalemate over a perceived cap in salary increases that has since been resolved, according to the district and union members. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Lindsey Smith, a teacher at Oak Harbor Intermediate School, holds up a sign at a union rally Tuesday morning. Bargaining had reached a stalemate over a perceived cap in salary increases that has since been resolved, according to the district and union members. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

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Photo by The Everett Herald / 2016
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