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Tacoma, Wash., teachers vote in favor of strike

Tacoma, Wash., teachers vote in favor of strike

September 13th, 2011 in News

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - About 28,000 students will stay home Tuesday after teachers in Washington state's third-largest school district voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike.

Eighty-seven percent of the Tacoma Education Association's total membership voted Monday evening to walk out, after weekend contract negotiations failed to result in an agreement, union spokesman Rich Wood said.

Issues in dispute include pay, class size and the way the district's teachers are transferred and reassigned.

The Tacoma School District will seek an immediate court injunction Tuesday to terminate the strike, which school officials contend is illegal, district spokesman Dan Voelpel said.

Superintendent Art Jarvis will revisit the decision to keep schools closed in light of whatever happens in court, Voelpel said.

Both the Washington attorney general and state judges have ruled that state public employees do not have the right to strike.

Teachers applauded and waved signs before Monday's vote at Mount Tahoma High School. They plan to picket at the city's high schools Tuesday morning, The News Tribune reported.

District officials, meanwhile, sent automated calls to parents and staff explaining their response to the strike. Athletics will continue since coaches are covered under a different contract.

Tacoma teachers have been working without a contract since school started Sept. 1. The union and district negotiated Saturday but couldn't agree on a contract proposal.

A strike vote at the end of August failed by about 28 votes. Union bylaws require approval by 80 percent of the nearly 1,900 members to authorize a strike.

Since the last strike vote was so close, the union decided to allow members with schedule conflicts to vote early. About 200 union members with after-school responsibilities like coaching voted Friday or Saturday, Wood said. This time, 1,623 of the union's 1,869 members voted to walk out, he said.

A 2006 state attorney general's opinion said state and local public employees - including teachers - have no legally protected right to strike. That opinion also noted state law lacks specific penalties for striking public employees.

During several past teacher strikes, Washington school districts have gone to court and judges have ordered teachers back to work.

In Washington, only the Seattle and Spokane school districts are larger than Tacoma.

Tacoma teachers earned an average salary of $63,793 during last school year, according to the district. They are the best-paid teachers in Pierce County and about the fifth-highest paid among the state's largest districts, behind teachers in Everett, Northshore, Seattle and Bellevue, according to state data.

The Legislature included in its state budget a 1.9 percent cut in teacher pay but left it up to school districts to figure out how to save that money. Some districts have made cuts elsewhere, some have cut teacher pay, and others have worked out compromises with their local teachers union.

The News Tribune reports that on the issue of pay, the district said Sunday it has offered teachers two options.

They could maintain the current pay schedule and sacrifice pay for one personal day, one individual optional training day and one school-wide training day. Or they could accept an effective 1.35 percent cut in the salary schedule. In exchange, teachers would be allowed to schedule 2.5 furlough days.

The district said it has also offered to keep class size maximums at the current level. The union wants to decrease class sizes, but the district says subtracting one child per class could cost the district about $1.8 million a year.