School canceled Thursday for Tacoma and Puyallup students as bargaining continues

It’s official: no school in Tacoma or Puyallup Thursday. Strikes by teachers in both districts are moving forward.

After a long day of bargaining, the district and Puyallup Education Association (PEA) teachers had not reached an agreement on salaries. Tacoma teachers were also locked in continuing negotiations Wednesday evening, with no settlement in sight.

“It’s still going,” Tacoma schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said Wednesday evening, referring to the bargaining session. “We just sent an offer.”

Voelpel added that he couldn’t give details of the latest offer until teachers had time to look it over.

“We need to give them time to assess it and respond to it,” he said. “We would expect it would take until tomorrow.”

Tacoma Education Association president Angel Morton said negotiations were still underway Wednesday evening.

“Currently both sides are at the table, working,” she said, adding that the latest offer from the school district, “didn’t appear to be the type of offer that we’re looking for.”

Puyallup officials announced at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday that there would be no school Thursday and that negotiations would continue. At 5 p.m., Tacoma officials sent alerts to parents and staff members, announcing that Thursday, the scheduled first day of school, would be postponed.

“Members of the PEA and PSD bargaining teams have met all day today. Unfortunately, there is still no agreement,” said Brian Fox, communications director with the Puyallup School District, in an email Wednesday. “Although negotiations continue, the school district is unable to open schools until teachers agree to return to work. For this reason, the work stoppage will continue tomorrow, Thursday, September 6. All school buildings will be closed.”

On Tuesday, Puyallup teachers attended a school board meeting and announced a strike, which was approved by 98 percent of the union’s teachers. Tacoma teachers also met Tuesday and voted to go on strike starting Thursday. The vote passed by 97 percent.

Puyallup teachers were out picketing about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. all around the district, PEA president Karen McNamara said. From what she saw, the public and the teachers were out in solidarity.

“Every place I went, I saw parents and kids there supporting their teachers, many of them walking the line with them,” she said.

She added they plan to be out tomorrow.

“This could be solved in five minutes,” she said. “It’s not rocket science. Just get this done.”

Tacoma teachers planned to picket Thursday. Tacoma School Board members gathered Wednesday morning for a hastily arranged meeting, announcing that the first day of school would be canceled if the strike went forward.

Though the meeting was brief, a few school board members voiced hope for a swift resolution. School board vice-president Karen Vialle said more than that, taking a moment to chide state lawmakers for their role in the continuing strife.

“Believe me, this board does not sit up here and be the evil people that you think we are,” she said, addressing a smattering of teachers clad in red who attended the meeting. “We care. We care and we respect our teachers. We’re betwen the rock and the hard place, too. We need to put the blame where it belongs, and that’s on the Washington State Legislature.”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486, @seanrobinsonTNT
Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison
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