Tacoma teachers, school board ink new five-year contract

Just three summers ago, teachers in Tacoma were walking picket lines over what they termed unfair contract proposals and heavy-handed bargaining tactics from Tacoma Public Schools.

The aftermath of the eight-day strike in 2011 left bruised feelings on both sides.

But by the time negotiations for a new contract opened this year, the rancor had largely subsided.

The prevailing calm allowed both sides to produce a new five-year contract that will govern teacher-district relations through August 2019.

The Tacoma School Board approved the contract Thursday night; teachers had voted to ratify the contract two days earlier.

The contract offers teachers a 9.4 percent salary increase over five years. Percentage increases vary from year to year, with this year’s increase set at 1.6 percent.

Those raises and other contract provisions — including increased pay for substitute teachers and teacher training tied to new technology — will cost the school district an estimated $15.5 million over the five years, according to district documents.

What made the difference in negotiations this year?

“We worked hard over the past several years to develop a workable relationship, and I think that makes a huge difference,” said Angel Morton, president of the Tacoma Education Association.

The district worked hard to clear the air as well.

“We wanted to establish a collaborative culture and atmosphere,” said Lynne Rosellini, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district. “That was important after the strike.”

Morton notes that the school district has had a major turnover in leadership since 2011. Rosellini, for example, came to the district afterward.

A major sticking point in the 2011 strike concerned the district’s decision to hire an outside firm to handle negotiations. This time, Rosellini sat at the table throughout the bargaining process.

“The people in place now are people who are interested in working logically towards a fair outcome for all people,” Morton said. “While we don’t always agree on what needs to happen, we can have a conversation and work through it in a civilized manner.”

Other contract highlights include:

One provision that drew praise from both sides requires principals to set aside 10 minutes of each monthly staff meeting to allow union and administration discussion about issues of mutual concern before an entire school staff.

“It’s a way to get things on the table, be transparent about issues and have all staff hear the message at the same time,” Rosellini said.

This contract runs for five years. Typically, teacher contracts have been three-year agreements.

Rosellini said the five-year term “allows the district to do future planning and budgeting. For our employees, it gives them security so they can focus on the work they’re here to do.”

Also Thursday, the School Board approved contracts with several other employee unions, including office professionals and technical employees, building and construction tradespeople, and food service workers.