Strike moves into second week with call for fact finding Tacoma Public Schools teachers continue picketing schools and district administrative offices as the salary strike enters into its second week.

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The Tacoma Public School Board has submitted a new contract offer for teachers that it says increases average salaries by 12.45 percent and threatens to add to the district’s funding shortfall next year if the state legislature doesn’t revisit the formula for funding public schools in Washington.

“We are calling on the (union) leadership to open it up for a vote to its members and see what happens,” district spokesman Dan Voelpel said during a press conference Wednesday morning that was met with hundreds of protesting teachers outside the district office.

The $3 million in additional salary spending above the district’s previous offer, he said, would put entry-level teachers in the midrange of the salary packages in surrounding districts while putting mid-career and veteran teachers among the higher rungs of regional pay scales.

The district’s proposal – $18.7 million in additional spending during the current school year – sets starting salaries for teachers at $52,589 and veteran teachers at $104,128, although the union strongly rejects those figures as more accounting tricks than actual increases. The district’s offer, for example, changes optional days teachers use for continuing education and planning into mandatory days.

“The district has stated that they proposed a 12 percent increase in salary, and this just isn’t true,” according to a TEA statement on social media. “What we are finding is that the district is not being honest with how they are costing their proposals. They won’t share how they are reaching these values. It’s like a shell game, smoke and mirrors, or both.”

The latest salary increase offer, which started at just a 3.1 percent increase when negotiations started in May, comes with a cost, according to district figures. The district already faces a $32 million projected shortfall for next year. The latest increase would raise that shortfall to $35 million unless the formula the state uses to fund public schools changes.

“Hopefully, that will happen,” Voepel said. “This is a statewide education issue.”

Tacoma’s state lawmakers pledged in a letter to the district that when the legislative session starts in January, they will seek changes to the state’s funding model that increased funding in school districts and lowered funding for others by capping levy amounts. That move took six years of negotiations and added $2 billion to teacher salaries around the state, which was a key section of the McCleary decision where the state Supreme Court ruled Washington was not providing enough funding for public education. Tacoma residents, for example, approved $70 million in levy funding earlier this year, but the state’s new funding model only allows the district to collect $40 million.

“We recognize that the funding formula agreed upon in 2017 disproportionately affected Tacoma Public Schools and a few other districts,” the lawmakers wrote. “We aim to fix these inequities in the 2019 legislative session because we want to keep salaries competitive to attract and retain great teachers and staff. There is a myriad of issues that, combined, have placed Tacoma schools in one of the most difficult positions of any district in Washington. While not all of these issues will be able to be addressed in a single legislative session, our energies will be focused on addressing levy capacity, appropriately funding special education costs, funding health care costs under the new system, addressing salary regionalization factors, funding institutional education costs, increasing funding for support staff, addressing the experience-mix multiplier, examining the prototypical staffing model and improving equity for high poverty school districts like ours.”

The Sept. 10 letter was signed by 27th District Representatives Laurie Jinkins and Jake Fey and Sen. Jeannie Darneille; 28th District’s Representatives Dick Muri and Christine Kilduff and Sen. Steve O’Ban; and 29th District Sen. Steve Conway and Representative Steve Kirby.

Mediated negotiations between the district and the union continue. The district has also asked the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission to conduct some fact finding about the disconnect. The scope of that work will be decided this week and end with non-binding recommendations that would be presented in a public hearing once concluded. Teachers had voted 97 percent on Sept. 4 to go on strike on what would have been the first day of school, Sept. 6, if a new contract weren’t approved. That didn’t happen, so teachers have been picketing outside of schools and district buildings ever since.

The union rejected a district proposal to end the strike without a contract to get their 30,000 students back into classrooms and enter into binding arbitration over salaries.

“The district may say that the association is refusing to return to work,” the union announced. “The association knows that TPS, as the district with the highest per pupil funding in the South Sound, has the funds to pay competitive wages. Tacoma Education Association wants to return to the bargaining table and work for a fair compensation agreement in line with agreements made by neighboring school districts. The association does not want to put a third party in charge of decisions impacting ourselves, our students, and our community. This is a local decision that needs to be made by TPS and TEA.”

TEA points out in its messaging on social media that the district received $12 million in one-time funding from the state for teacher salaries this year. The district then gave administrators salary increases and hired 16 new administrative positions. The district has increased administrative spending by 28 percent in the last five years and only increased instructional spending by 5 percent.

“I understand the district doesn’t have the cashflow they want,” TEA President Angel Morton said. “But our members don’t care about that. They want the money to go where it needs to go.”

For more information on the strike and the state of negotiations, visit tacomaschools.org/funding and tacoma-ea.org.


‘Say you’re sorry, then do better.’

Tacoma Public Schools teacher Keri Anderson pens her thoughts in a letter to the school board

“Say you’re sorry, then do better.” I say these words to my kids all the time. I say them now to the leadership of Tacoma Public Schools. Your lack of transparent, respectful dialogue is deeply disappointing, and is causing a rift in your relationship with the public. Shame on you for canceling this week’s School Board meeting in the midst of a crisis. Shame on you for using en-masse messaging to parents that blames the teachers, the union, the legislature…anyone except taking responsibility for this disaster.

Make no mistake: The damage is done. World class educators are resigning right now. As Unforgettable Anne Hawkins said on national TV, “Teaching comes from the heart.” The way you have treated teachers during these negotiations has been heartbreaking. Ultimately, our kids will pay the price. And the longer you stall, the further behind they fall.

You could have bargained to pay what our educators are worth, then relentlessly advocated for them to receive that funding. Instead, you’ve wrung your hands and complained about how Tacoma has received a raw deal. That’s not leadership.

It’s time to show up, engage in courageous conversations, and lead. Our kids are counting on you.

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