Teachers in several Washington state districts are continuing their fight for better pay this week, as the strike in Tacoma enters its third school day. While some districts reached an agreement with teachers over the weekend — Tukwila and Puyallup teachers will receive a 10 percent raise and an average 11 percent raise respectively — numerous districts have yet to see their demands met.
Melanie Muller, a Puyallup teacher, told Q13Fox that she was happy the union secured a raise.
“It was hurtful. We work really hard. So this feels just,” she said.
But the fight continues in Tacoma, Centralia, and Tumwater, according to KOPB-FM.
Over the past several days, educators in multiple districts in the state, including Puyallup, Centralia, Tumwater, and Tukwila, have been pushing for increased salaries. The debate over pay increases and the subsequent strikes is the result of long legal battle over education funding that recently came to an end. In 2012, the McCleary Decision found that Washington state violated its constitution when it underfunded its K-12 schools. Lawmakers have been working to meet the expectations of the order since then.
In June, the Washington Supreme Court said the state had fully implemented a school funding plan. Lawmakers recently allocated $2 billion toward teacher salaries to meet the agreement’s expectations.
Teacher strikes continue in Tacoma, Tumwater, Centralia & Battle Ground. Talks continue. Settlements in Puyallup, Tukwila, Longview & Stanwood-Camano. pic.twitter.com/OQbu1K9j8s
— Keith Eldridge (@KeithKOMO4) September 9, 2018
But the state’s approach to meeting those expectations meant that as state funding rose for schools and salaries, it also put a cap on what districts could use from local property tax levies, the News Tribune explained. The money was unevenly distributed in that respect, so that school districts where property values were lower, such as Tacoma and Puyallup, were disadvantaged by the formula.
The Tacoma teachers union recognizes that Tacoma had the shorter end of the stick, the News-Tribune reported, but teachers still dispute the claim that the district doesn’t have the money for raises, since the district received $12 million to account for these funding gaps. The district has said a one-time injection of $12 million can’t be used for ongoing costs like salaries, even if the district wants to believe legislators will address the problem by making changes to the funding formula.
“They’re still getting more money than they were last year. And next year’s per-pupil funding is still above the statewide average,” president of the teachers union, Tacoma Education Association, Angel Morton told the News Tribune.
— JSEL. PNW253 (@253pnw) September 7, 2018
The union and the school district have met with a mediator and held discussions for nine days but have not come to any resolution. Now, the district wants to have a state arbitrator come into the negotiations, which would begin a fact-finding process and recommend a non-binding decision, according to KIRO7.
Union leaders have said the union wants to continue the negotiations and have a fact-finding process at the same time because it doesn’t want to see the negotiations process slow down. Morton has called this move to bring in a state arbitrator a “stall tactic” and Tacoma Public Schools spokesperson Dan Voelpel has accused the Washington Education Association of “fueling fire with misinformation.” The union has said it will be at the bargaining table at noon on Monday, KIRO7 reported, but it’s unclear if the district will be.
Striking teachers in the state are also facing legal threats from school districts that want strikes to end. The Washington attorney general’s office upholds a 2006 attorney general opinion that said teachers do not have the right to strike.
On Friday, Tumwater teachers saw a judge rule that the strike was illegal after Tumwater School District officials decided to be “among the first” to go to a judge to get teachers back in schools, according to KOMONews. But Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese said he wouldn’t order sanctions at this time. He said the district has not proven “substantial harm” yet.
— Keith Eldridge (@KeithKOMO4) September 5, 2018
A judge granted an injunction for Longview Public Schools to set a date for teachers to go back to school and, not long after, the school district and union reached a tentative agreement. Centralia teachers have said they will stay on strike even though the district filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the teachers union last week. Tacoma teachers went on strike in 2011 and were ordered by a judge to return to school. But they stayed on strike anyway, and as KOMONews reported, teachers did not face any consequences as a result.