The first day of school in Tacoma was postponed again Tuesday, as a continuing teachers’ strike headed for its fifth day.
School district leaders announced the cancellation of classes Wednesday (Sept. 12) shortly after 5 p.m., citing lack of progress in bargaining sessions.
“Due to the continued strike all schools will remain closed Wednesday, September 12,” the announcement said. “Negotiations continued today between Tacoma Public Schools and the Tacoma Education Association for salary increases for the 2018-2019 school year.”
A proposed fact-finding hearing by the state Public Employment Relations Commission, requested by district leaders late Monday, hasn’t been scheduled yet, according to PERC executive director Mike Sellars. He said the two sides were still in mediation.
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Angel Morton, president of the Tacoma Education Association, said the district submitted a new offer to striking teachers, who are seeking salary increases comparable to other districts in the region. Morton said the union’s team of negotiators was working on a response to the offer. She did not expect an immediate resolution.
Neither side provided details.
Meanwhile, district leaders also used the district’s website to post a letter from state lawmakers to schools superintendent Carla Santorno and school board members. The description of the letter added a dose of spin.
It reiterated the standing argument from district leaders that state legislation passed in 2017 and 2018, intended to address school funding statewide, harmed Tacoma disproportionately. District leaders also touted their latest offer to teachers, while saying further increases would lead to budget deficits and layoffs.
“Eight legislators confirmed what Tacoma Public Schools has stated for the last year,” the statement read.
The letter from lawmakers said more than that. Signed by state Reps. Laurie Jinkins, Jake Fey, Steve Kirby, Christine Kilduff and Dick Muri, along with state Sens. Steve Conway, Jeannie Darneille and Steve O’Ban, it acknowledged the effects of past legislation on Tacoma schools. It also included a promise to address the problem in next year’s legislative session.
“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,” the lawmakers wrote.
Jinkins also responded separately to the school district’s statement on her personal Facebook page.
“Maybe I was too subtle,” she wrote. “My point in signing this letter was to say, ‘Yep, there are things we need to address and we are committed to doing just that but you should bargain in good faith and do what you need to do to pay teachers fairly. Settle this strike, NOW!’ “
In another sign of simmering tension, teachers and parents shared an email sent to parents by school board member Enrique Leon that said teachers had turned down a 12 percent salary increase. Lincoln High School teacher Nathan Bowling, among others, called the email inaccurate and misleading.
A member of the school board is telling community members that Tacoma teachers turned down a 12% raise. Bruh, if they offered twelve this would be done and I'd be in room #306.— nate bowling (would rather be teaching) (@nate_bowling) September 11, 2018
Misleading the public like this really, really bothers me. pic.twitter.com/OaEX3rWPaL
“Bruh, if they offered twelve this would be done and I’d be in room #306,” Bowling said on Twitter, referring to his classroom at Lincoln.
The school board recently canceled its next meeting, set for Thursday, another move that drew angry comments from striking teachers. Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said the cancellation was a routine move given the active strike.
“It’s typical for school districts, during strikes, to postpone business meetings.” he said. “In 2011, when TPS had its last strike, the board postponed all business meetings until the strike ended. There’s no immediate need to conduct official business when school is not in session. The single most important business of the school district right now is to negotiate an end to the strike. That’s where we are focusing our energy.”
Tacoma is one of three districts where teacher strikes are still ongoing. Teachers in the Tumwater and Battle Ground School Districts were still on strike as of Tuesday evening. The Tumwater School Board canceled its regular meeting, scheduled for Thursday. The Battle Ground School Board did not. Members met Monday, despite the ongoing strike.