Tacoma teachers, students return to class today
DEBBIE CAFAZZO; Staff writer
Tacoma teachers, staff, students, parents and school district officials breathed in collective relief Thursday, as nearly 99 percent of teachers who gathered for a vote agreed to return to class and end their strike that began Sept. 13.
School resumes this morning at its regular times at more than 50 schools citywide.
Union members approved a three-year tentative agreement with 1,683 yes votes, 15 no votes and three invalid ballots. That’s nearly 90 percent of those eligible to vote.
And with that, Tacoma Education Association President Andy Coons declared, “This strike is over. We will be back in our classrooms tomorrow and with our students.”
Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Art Jarvis said later that “we have a fair and equitable contract.” He said the community should celebrate teachers’ return to the classroom, where they “find their joy” and where they “earn our respect.”
Jarvis, along with school board President Kurt Miller and others, resumed an old Tacoma tradition to call students back to school. They joined in ringing a bell atop the Central Administration Building in downtown Tacoma.
Teachers who met in the gym at Mount Tahoma High School at noon smiled after the vote, but some still had questions about how the agreement would play out.
Mount Tahoma special education teacher Anthony Davis said he felt like he was voting on something tentative without a lot of time for discussion.
“It still put questions in your head on trust,” he said.
But Lister Elementary School music teacher Theresa Tommaney said after casting her ballot that she had faith in the union bargaining team’s 11 members, who were given flowers before Thursday’s vote.
“We expected them to come through, and they did,” she said.
Travis Davio, a Lincoln High School social studies teacher, said he was happy with the agreement.
“I have faith that the district and the teachers will reconcile their differences and come together in the best interest of students,” he said.
Reconciliation will be important as the union and district seek to address what had grown into the biggest issue in the strike: how to create rules governing teacher transfers and reassignments.
The district pushed for flexibility to match teachers with programs and individual schools. The union argued that job assignments would be left to the whims of school principals.
Now, the old seniority- and credential-based system will stick around for another year while a committee determines what to do next.
Brent Gaspaire, a Lincoln High School teacher, was glad to see that the thorniest contract issue was resolved to the union’s satisfaction.
“I feel like our biggest win was in holding back the subjective language the district was trying to push forward dealing with displacements,” Gaspaire said.
“I just want to get back in class.”
The other two major issues in the strike – teacher pay and class size – were also resolved.
The deal was reached late Wednesday in Olympia, after more than six hours of talks brokered by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The Tacoma School Board will vote on the contract at a meeting yet to be scheduled. The school board’s next regular meeting is set for Oct. 6.
In the interim, said school district attorney Shannon McMinimee, both sides intend to honor the tentative agreement.
McMinimee also said Thursday that she would ask Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff to cancel the district’s previous request for a preliminary injunction hearing, which had been scheduled for Tuesday. The hearing was part of a legal process the district had used to try to force teachers to return to work.
The judge had issued a temporary order telling teachers to return to the classroom, and Chushcoff had threatened to impose court sanctions against those who did not.
Jarvis said Thursday that the district’s position is that sanctions are no longer needed.
Tacoma parent Teresa Hatton cheered the news that school would resume after eight days without classes.
“I’m a single mom doing it all by myself,” she said Thursday morning, adding that child care during the strike was a struggle. She ended up shuttling her son, Matthew North, a seventh-grader at Jason Lee Middle School, to a Boys & Girls Club on her lunch break from work.
He’s been eager to get back to class, she said.
Peter Marken works as a general contractor and was able to take his son, Gabriel, a fifth-grader at Sheridan Elementary School, to work with him during the strike.
Marken said he didn’t closely follow the back-and-forth between the union and district, but was glad to hear both sides reached a contract agreement.
“Nobody likes the inconvenience of being saddled (unexpectedly) with day care,” he said.
Gabriel, 10, said with a smile that he didn’t mind missing class. When asked if he was excited to return to school, he offered a noncommittal “kind of.”
Cindi Hardwick, picked up her 5-year-old grandson, Nickie Frederick, from the YMCA, which offered child care during the strike.
Hardwick said she was glad he’d soon be back in class at Lowell Elementary School. But she was also frustrated.
“(The district and union) had all summer,” she said. “It was uncalled for.”
At Mount Tahoma, cheerleaders were working on a banner to boost school spirit in time for tonight’s football game against Bellarmine Preparatory School.
Senior Gabby Ramsey voiced the concerns of her classmates worried about whether they will graduate on time, and whether they may be forced to return to class after commencement to make up for days lost to the strike. No decision on that issue was announced Thursday.
“Our senior year started off good, then it got cut off,” she said. “I understand where teachers are coming from. But I do want to start school.”
Staff writers Sara Schilling and Stephanie Kim contributed to this report.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com