Confrontation puts Touchet school contract talks on hold

A union representative became physically aggressive toward the mediator, the school superintendent said.

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TOUCHET — Talks were suspended Thursday afternoon after a confrontation between the Public Employee Relations Commission mediator Sally Carpenter and Leslie Betke, who represented the Washington Education Association Southeast in the negotiations.

Betke was physically aggressive towards Carpenter, according to Superintendent Dan McDonald. The incident occurred about 2:45 p.m. in the school commons area. Walla Walla County Sheriff deputies arrived after the incident and took statements, McDonald said.

Mediators were called when teachers and the school district were unable to reach a contract agreement after five bargaining sessions.

Talks seemed to be progressing Thursday, McDonald said, although he was not privy to all the details. "The process is kind of closed," he said.

All parties began the day with an initial meeting then utilized "shuttle diplomacy," McDonald said.

Talks between the district and the Touchet Education Association reached an impasse over loss of professional development time, increased out-of-pocket expense for insurance, and loss of contracted work days, according to a press release from the Washington Education Association Southeast.

McDonald said he did not know what the next step will be in the bargaining process.

"In the meanwhile we’re looking to open our schoolhouse doors (Tuesday)," he said.

"We’re shocked and dismayed that this happened," McDonald said.

"It was a very different day."

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