As the Tacoma teachers strike moves into day four, allegations are being raised that the walk out is part of a long-range plan by the state teachers union to intimidate school leaders and state lawmakers.
The Washington Policy Center, a Seattle-based think tank, points to minutes from a Washington Education Association meeting last May as proof of their accusation that the union is orchestrating the Tacoma walk-out as a means of flexing their muscle in Olympia.
WEA spokesman Rich Wood acknowledges that the group's Representative Assembly met last spring and at that meeting urged those local associations that were in contract talks to take a hard stand against budget cuts. Wood insists however that the Tacoma Education Association made its own decision to strike. He points to votes taken of TEA members in late August and again Wednesday night in which members overwhelmingly approved the strike.
Among suggestions the WEA Representative Assembly made to local unions who might be facing budget cuts were:
- Local associations should recommend to their governing bodies and membership that their local adopt a "reduced pay means reduced work days" position;
Wood defends this point by saying, "Why should teachers work the same number of hours for less pay?"
- Locals should not agree to eliminate instructional work dates at the end of the school year or those occurring before/after a normal holiday or vacation period. Instead, the eliminated work day should be on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of a normally scheduled five-day work week.
The Washington Policy Center suggests this is intended to have the greatest influence on students and families. By scheduling proposed furlough days in the middle of the week the union would be interrupting instructional flow and creating child-care issues for families. Wood says a day off is a day off no matter when it falls.
- In the event a district refuses to agree to reduce instructional days (classroom time), the local association should consider unilaterally determining the dates their members will not report for duty.
Liv Finne, Director of the WPC's Center for Education, takes issue with the WEA urging any local association, especially Tacoma's, to push for fewer instructional days as a means of saving money. In a district where nearly half of all students fail to graduate, she says, less class time is not the answer. Finne says striking teachers are sending a clear message - they don't care about the kids.
Wood says public schools and teachers have had to absorb billions of dollars in cuts in recent years. Teachers have done without cost of living increases and have watched the price of their health care benefits go up, all while class sizes have increased. Wood says teachers should not be the only ones to feel the pinch. He says lawmakers cannot continue to cut millions of dollars from education and not expect it to have an impact on families and children.