In Tacoma, teachers needed to strike simply to keep the status quo

Teachers nationwide are fighting cuts and unwanted education reforms, but those in Tacoma, Wash., went further and went on strike. With the strike now over, what did that accomplish?

Ted S. Warren/AP
Angela Evans and Brian Goff, both third-grade teachers at Jennie Reed Elementary School, walk a picket line outside Foss High School, in Tacoma, Wash., Wednesday. Striking teachers and district officials reached agreement on a contract Thursday.

It’s back to school time – again – for 28,000 students in Tacoma, Wash., now that striking teachers and district officials have reached agreement on a contract.

Ending the 10-day ordeal took intervention from Gov. Christine Gregoire. After she called union and district representatives to her office in Olympia Wednesday, they negotiated with mediators for hours and made a late-night announcement about the tentative agreement.

The strike garnered national attention as a rare line-in-the-sand moment for teachers during a time of education reforms and massive state budget cuts that have left many teachers and their unions feeling unfairly targeted.

Tacoma teachers gathered today at a local high school gymnasium and voted with nearly 99 percent approval for the three-year contract, much to the relief of parents who had to pay for alternative day care or stay home with their kids themselves.

Schools will reopen Friday morning.

Governor Gregoire commended both sides for working through difficult issues, saying in a news conference that “they’ve done some things that I think will be the model for school districts around the state.”

Among the points in the agreement, based on a summary posted by

  • Class size will remain the same. The district had originally wanted to increase class sizes but later changed its position to keep them the same; the union had wanted to reduce class size by one student.
  • Teacher pay will hold steady. To help absorb state funding cuts, teachers will have one less day of optional paid in-house professional development. The district originally had proposed a trim in salary or a larger reduction in the number of training and personal days.
  • The teacher-transfer policy will stay intact this year. During the 2012-13 school year, a committee – half teachers and half district officials – will develop a new policy, with approval by a two-thirds vote of the committee.
  • An amnesty clause will protect teachers from any negative repurcussions for striking.

A major sticking point for the union had been the district’s proposal to no longer use seniority as the determining factor when transferring teachers to accommodate changing enrollments. Teachers had feared transfers based on principals’ personal preferences. Now they will have more input in what criteria administrators can use to make this kind of transfer.

The Tacoma Education Association and the nearly 1,900 teachers it represents, had continued picketing even after a judge ordered them back to work last Wednesday while negotiations continued.

“We begin the process of healing as a school district and a community and I say thanks to both bargaining teams for creating a fair contract for Tacoma,” said Arthur Jarvis, Tacoma School Superintendent, at a press conference Wednesday.

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