Tacoma teachers walked off the job and onto the picket line last night after union members voted overwhelmingly to strike.
At the center of their disagreement with the district: the role seniority plays in teacher evaluations.
In the latest contract proposal the Tacoma Public School District is seeking to change the long-held seniority based system for evaluating, transferring and reassigning teachers to a system based on a teacher's performance.
Union leaders say the administration's demands are "subjective and discriminatory" and say those demands are the biggest obstacle for any possible settlement.
Language contained in the contract proposed by the district would give administrators the ability to transfer or reassign teachers based on a number of criteria, including:
1) the requirements of the position that needs to be filled;
2) a teacher's endorsements (what they're qualified to teach);
3) the teacher's "highly qualified status" (a legal definition under No Child Left Behind. It can be attained by a) earning a bachelor's degree, b) earning state certification and/or c) proving specific content knowledge);
4) the teacher's appropriate certificate;
5) whether the teacher has shown evidence of setting high expectations of learning and respecting student differences;
6) whether the teacher has shown evidence of creating and maintaining a safe and effective learning environment that supports learning for all students;
7) whether the teacher has demonstrated knowledge of subject content and elements of effective instruction;
8) the use of ongoing assessments to reinforce and evaluate student achievement as well as to plan instruction;
9) whether a teacher is contributing to school effectiveness through collaboration with others; and,
10) if a teacher promotes positive interaction with families.
Tacoma School District spokesman Dan Voelpel says the district is simply attempting to revise the contract in a way that will allow them to make the best match between a teacher's skill set and what is needed in a particular classroom. In a district where only half of its students graduate, improving student performance by whatever means possible is crucial.
The Washington Education Association argues that the last six of the ten criteria are subjective. WEA spokesman Rich Wood says the criteria are not defined and are not measurable. He contends individual administrators could use the criteria to favor their friends or to punish teachers they don't like.
Voelpel says calling the changes discriminatory is a scare tactic on the part of the union. He says the contract proposal includes an appeal process for teachers who disagree with a proposed transfer or reassignment. That process includes the creation of a peer review committee made up of between five and seven K-12 certificated employees. Voelpel says the reviews will be "blind," meaning the committee will not know the identity of the principal proposing the reassignment or the staff member being reassigned.
The union has proposed its own changes to the transfer and assignment policy, which continue to be based on seniority. You can read more on the union's counter proposal by clicking here.
In the meantime, Tacoma schools will be closed on Wednesday and a hearing is scheduled in Pierce County Superior Court at 9 a.m. on the district's injunction request.