Tag Archives: Tacoma Education Association

Tacoma Teachers’ Strike Ends and Students Head Back to School

From left, Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Art Jarvis, left, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Tacoma School Board President Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons, president of the Tacoma Education Association, announce Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, that a tentative agreement has been reached in the Tacoma teachers strike, following a negotiating session in Gregoire's office at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Parties from both sides of a Tacoma teachers' strike were summoned to the Governor's office Wednesday after failing so far to reach an agreement.

     Art Jarvis, Gov. Gregoire, Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons

What welcome news! The Tacoma teachers’ strike is over, and its teachers and students returned to school today as everyone let out a sigh of relief.

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.”

Teacher Steve Jacobson holds his four-year-old daughter Bianca as he celebrates the end of the Tacoma Education Association strike in Tacoma, Washington September 22, 2011. EUTERS-Nicole Neroulias

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.”

Tacoma schools superintendent Art Jarvis (L) and School Board President Kurt Miller ring the ceremonial bell, signifying school is in session and the end to the teachers strike, on top of the Tacoma Central School District's Administration Building September 22, 2011. REUTERS-Nicole Neroulias

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!

Tacoma Teachers Defy Judge’s No-Strike Order

Battle lines have seemingly been drawn in Tacoma, Washington, today as teachers returned to their picket lines today in spite of being ordered back to school yesterday.

On Wednesday, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff filed a restraining order directing all employees who were represented by the Tacoma Education Association to immediately “report to work and to discharge their assigned employment responsibilities in accordance with the school calendar and individual employment contracts.” Yet, despite his orders, the roughly 1,900 teachers who walked off their jobs on Tuesday continued picketing today, forcing school officials to cancel classes for their 28,000 students for a third day.

The strike has been characterized as illegal by the superintendent of the Tacoma School District, the state’s third largest school district.

Rich Wood, spokesman for the union, said that the majority of teachers had made the individual decision to continue the strike in spite of the judge’s order.

The district spokesman, Dan Voepel, told Reuters, “We’re extremely disappointed.” He added that only a few teachers showed up at most of their schools on Tuesday, forcing the district to close school again “due to insufficient school staffing.”

Local media reports claimed that some teachers cited a legal loophole, as they called it, in the manner in which the union leadership was named in the court order and because the judge had crossed out a line referring to “all members of TEA.”

In the judge’s order, he had also stipulated that both sides needed to continue bargaining in good faith over contract disputes involving seniority policies, class size, and salaries. A negotiating session was scheduled for this afternoon. (I have no news yet on this session.)

According to the union, the biggest obstacles to reaching a settlement are the district’s demands to change staffing policies allowing decisions regarding teacher reassignments between schools to be based on performance evaluations rather than seniority, proposed pay cuts, and the district’s refusal to reduce class sizes.

The union claims that the district has a $40 million surplus, but the district said it will have to spend down its reserve funds by $15.4 million this year in order to avoid further cuts in teaching jobs and student programs. The district was recently forced to cut about 100 jobs and close two elementary schools.

Chushcoff has directed both parties to return to court tomorrow for a hearing to address compliance with his order. I will update you further on this story as more information is made available.


Judge Orders Striking Tacoma Teachers Back to Work

Monte Gibbs, a teacher and coach in the Tacoma School District, center, walks a picket line in front of Lincoln High School with more than 100 other teachers Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Eighty-seven percent of the Tacoma Education Association's total membership voted Monday evening to walk out, after weekend contract negotiations failed to result in an agreement, union spokesman Rich Wood said. Photo: The News Tribune, Joe Barrentine / AP

What a mess in Tacoma, Washington, the state’s third-largest school district, where teachers who went on strike Tuesday were ordered back in the classroom today!

After negotiations broke down over the weekend, teachers from the Tacoma School District met on Monday night to decide upon their future course of action. It was at this meeting that teachers voted overwhelmingly to go on strike over issues regarding teacher pay, class size, and the policy which allows the district to transfer and reassign teachers as the district sees fit.

The average salary for teachers in Tacoma during the last school year was $63,793, making them the highest-paid teachers in Pierce County as well as roughly the fifth-highest paid among Washington’s largest districts, (Everett, Northshore, Seattle, and Bellevue) according to information from the state.

Due to the state budget, a 1.9% cut in teacher pay was proposed by the Legislature, leaving the school districts to determine how they would save that money. While some districts have made cuts in other areas, some opted to cut teacher pay, and others worked out compromises with their teachers union.

On Sunday, the Tacoma School District told the News Tribune that they had offered their teachers two options when it came to pay. They could keep their current schedule if teachers would give up pay for one personal day, one individual optional training day as well as one school-wide training day. Or they could accept a 1.35% pay cut in their salary schedule. The trade-off was that teachers could schedule 2.5 furlough days.

The district claims it offered to keep class size maximums at the level they currently are, but the union wanted decreased class sizes. Reducing class sizes by one child per class, according to the district, could cost them $1.8 million a year.

And many teachers, especially those with more seniority, voted to strike due to the district’s attempts to move teachers throughout the district ignoring seniority. Sixty-year old, fourth grade teacher Robert Brown said, “It’s my 39th year of teaching. I’ve never struck before. I’d rather be in school; I’d rather not have adversarial relationships. The principal at my school is just wonderful. My relationship with him is great. It’s very negative from the central office.”

In respect to the district’s policy, Brown said, “In the view of this 60-year old, it’s age discrimination.”

Striking teachers picket outside Wilson High School next to a sign announcing an upcoming back-to-school night, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. School was closed for 28,000 students Tuesday after teachers in Washington state's third-largest school district voted to strike Monday night. Photo: Ted S. Warren / AP

So teachers hit the picket lines on Wednesday morning, where they planned to demonstrate at the district’s five biggest high schools all day.


Striking teachers and supporters are seen through the metal grating of a school sign as they picket outside Wilson High School, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. School was closed for 28,000 students Tuesday after teachers in Washington state's third-largest school district voted to strike Monday night. Photo: Ted S. Warren / AP

But this may be one of the shortest strikes ever, as a Superior Court hearing was convened upon the request of the Tacoma School District for an injunction which would order it’s almost 1,900 teachers back to work by declaring the strike illegal.

Andy Coons, Tacoma Education Association president, said, “I hope the district administration is taking less time on legal action and reflecting why their teachers are so upset they would leave the students they love.”

Today, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff issued a temporary restraining order against the picketing teachers, even though he agreed that the law over whether public employees have the right to strike in Washington isn’t very clear.

“I think it is fair to say the Legislature has left this just a tad murky,” Chushcoff noted.

Shannon McMinimee, the school district’s lawyer, told the court that since 1976, 19 judges had ruled that teacher strikes were illegal, but Tyler Firkins, a lawyer for the union, said that blocking the strike would bring the court into the bargaining.

It remains unclear what all of this means, since the language of the order was expected to be finalized later today, and the judge had not stipulated whether it would apply to all of the strikers, which would include the support staff, or just to teachers. But, after the hearing, Coons told teachers, “It’s clear as mud right now. We’re still officially on strike.”

“I think most everyone is confused about what it means,” said Chris Pigott, a teacher at Bryant Montessori.

Even the school district seems uncertain as to whether school will be in session for its 28,000 students tomorrow. 

Teacher, Brent Gaspaire, said, “I think any judge that’s going to force an injunction needs to understand that he’s very quickly going to be voted out of office. “

And, for teachers, the prospect of being forced back into their classrooms is not sitting well.

“They would literally have to prosecute every single individual in an already crowded system,” Gaspaire said. “And it’s just bad policy on the part of the district. We want to bargain.”

A bargaining session had been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, but with news of the court’s ruling, even the possibility of trying to reach an agreement is uncertain. We will have to wait and see what happens in Washington; because this is the kind of ruling we may be seeing more of as state governments seek to make strikes illegal.