Art Jarvis, Gov. Gregoire, Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons
On Wednesday night, after Governor Christine Gregoire had summoned both sides to her office in Olympia for a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement, and after seven hours of intense negotiations which were mediated by Gregoire herself, both sides made the necessary concessions to end this week-long strike.
The new three-year labor deal keeps the previous class-size limits in place as the teachers agreed to drop their demands for lower overall ratios of students to teachers. The district agreed to abandon their proposal to cut salaries, although teachers lost one paid training day.
The biggest arguments occurred over the district’s demands to revise staffing policies allowing them to reassign teachers between schools based on criteria such as performance evaluations rather than seniority. Ultimately, it was agreed that a joint panel of school officials and teachers would be established to set new teacher evaluation standards to be used along with seniority to determine future staffing reassignments.
The settlement includes an amnesty clause which guarantees that union members who participated in the strike would not be adversely affected by that participation in their performance appraisals.
On Thursday, Tacoma’s teachers showed up at Mount Tahoma High School to vote on the new three-year contract. Of the 1,701 who voted, only 15 teachers voted against the contract. The atmosphere was a celebratory one mixed with chants, standing ovations, and teachers dancing in the bleachers.
Tacoma Education Association president Andy Coons told the crowd, “We need to start healing. We need to get back to our classrooms. We need to focus on why we did this … we need to get back to that work tomorrow.” And of the teachers, Coons said, “I have never been more proud to be a teacher. This was not an easy process, but … we did what had to be done and we did it together.”
Dan Voelpel, the district spokesman said, “I think there’s a sense of elation not only at getting students and teachers back in the class but that we came up with an agreement that sets the stage for innovation in how we match up teachers with the needs of schools.”
Steve Jacobson, a 35-year old high school health and physical education teacher, who had his daughter, Bianca, perched on his shoulders during the celebration, said, “I’m excited to get back to work, and I’m excited for my daughter because she gets to go back to school.”
District officials celebrated as well. Tacoma Superintendent Art Jarvis and school board president Kurt Miller rang the ceremonial bell which stands above the district’s central office, something that hasn’t been done in almost 10 years.
As he rang the bell which echoed throughout downtown Tacoma, Jarvis declared, “We call all the children back to school.”
And to parents who have had to search for and pay for day care and for many students, the news has been a welcome relief.
“We were thrilled,” said Jill Furman after the strike ended. She was preparing to go grocery shopping with her ninth-grade daughter Rebecca, who said she was running out of things to do in the days off. “It just got boring after a while,” she said.
Some loose ends will still need to be tied up. For instance, the judge must still decide whether he will drop the contempt-of-court citations, although district officials said that they consider the issue closed. And the district will still need to determine how they will spend down its reserve funds by $15.4 million this year in order to avoid deeper cuts in student programs and staffing.
On Thursday, the district’s website announced that school would reopen Friday, and today, teachers and students returned to their classrooms.
What a relief for this district who reached a fair compromise and can now get back to doing what it does best; educating and guiding its students!