Tacoma teachers hit the picket lines

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The scene leading into the vote Tuesday night on whether Tacoma Public School teachers would start the school year or strike was more like a pep rally than a union meeting as more than a hundred supportive parents, school bus drivers and para educations waved signs and gave cheers to the teachers passing through the main entrance to Mount Tahoma High School on their way to the vote.

The results were all but certain even before the ballot tally was announced. Teachers were going to strike. The only question was by what margin the vote would fall – 97 percent of the more than 2,000 teachers in the Tacoma School District opted to strike Thursday if a new contract wasn’t reached Wednesday night. Tacoma Schools alerted parents Wednesday that the first day of school would be postponed due to the strike, after an emergency meeting of the Tacoma School Board that morning.

No new deal was approved, so the Tacoma Education Association members began picketing outside their schools.

Negotiations through a mediator continue. Schools in Puyallup are also closed as teachers in that district also authorized a strike with 98 percent of its balloting.

All Tacoma Public Schools will be closed until the union strike is over and school-sponsored events – except for high school athletics – are canceled.

“The school district has been bargaining with teachers union representatives during the last few months to determine salary increases for teachers for the 2018-2019 school year,” the district announced. “Unfortunately, we have not come to an agreement yet. We are sorry that this uncertainty so close to the start of school is stressful and creates a hardship for you and your families. The district negotiating team is working hard to reach a fair agreement with the Tacoma Education Association as quickly as possible.”

The average teacher salary would increase by $8,992 a year under the district’s proposal, or $10,432 with benefit increases factored into the package, according the district statements. The increases total $18.4 million to the district’s two-year budget that reportedly already faces a $25 million shortfall. That projected deficit already translates to cuts of about 300 staff members around the district, a financial pickle school officials blame the state legislature for creating by changing the state funding formula for public schools.

“The state’s new funding formula for education did not provide Tacoma Public Schools with sufficient funding earmarked for the sole purpose of salary increases,” the district statement read. “Period. While the state did increase its allocation to Tacoma by about $50 million, it also decreased the local, voter-approved levy by approximately $46 million. …Tacoma’s reality, due to the funding formula, is different than many other school districts that have experienced a windfall in state and local levy funding.”

TEA President Angel Morton says the district’s claim of a looming funding crisis is just smoke and mirrors, noting that the district receives $1,806 more per student from the state under the new formula.

“There is no funding crisis,” she said. “They have the money. They just don’t want to spend it on teachers.”

The district’s budget, she says for example, has increased administrative expenses by 28 percent and only 5 percent for educational programs. She noted that the district’s call for a legislative fix when the session begins in January would address future budgets.

“They don’t have to do next year’s budget this year,” she said, adding that surrounding districts have all found ways to fund teacher salary increases by 15 percent. The district not finding ways to fund similar increases would simply mean Tacoma teachers will seek positions in surrounding districts. That would make Tacoma a revolving door of teachers who couldn’t find jobs in higher paying districts around the state. “All of my members have cars and are willing to drive.”

Resources during the strike:

FOOD: During the strike, 12 schools in the Tacoma District will serve breakfast and lunch to students. Meals will be available to free to all Tacoma students. Breakfast will be served 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and lunch will be served 11:30 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.

CHILDCARE: Child Care Aware of Washington Family Center, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, Metro Parks Tacoma, Boys & Girls Club and Rollin253 are providing full-day care and activities during the strike to aid parents who can’t stay home with their children when they would otherwise be at school.

DISTRICT UPDATES: Resources and district information regarding the strike will be added and updated regularly, with information on changes being available at tacomaschools.org/funding.

UNION UPDATES: Information about Tacoma Education Association can be found at We Teach Tacoma on Facebook and tacoma-ea.org.

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