Tacoma teachers headed for strike vote... again

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by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 11, 2011 at 4:28 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 12 at 8:15 AM

TACOMA -- Less than two weeks after school began for about 28,000 children in Tacoma, a teacher strike is once again looming.
 
"Looks like it will be a strike vote," said Tacoma Education Association spokesperson Rich Wood. 
 
Despite a 12-hour negotiation session Saturday, the district and the teacher's union still have yet to find common ground.
 
"There's been no movement, the same three issues are still on the table, and it doesn't look like we're going to have a contract," said TEA Vice President Adrienne Dale.
 
The union holds a general membership meeting Monday afternoon.  With no recommended contract on the table, teachers likely will have to vote for the second time in two weeks if they want to strike.
 
Dan Voelpel with Tacoma Public Schools said the stalemate continues over class size, pay, and assignment and reassignment of teachers.
 
In particular, the issue over teacher transfers seems to be a sticking point. 
 
Traditionally, seniority has been the "tiebreaker" in determining which teachers stay at a school and which go elsewhere, said Dale.  The district has proposed that several factors also influence that decision, including interactions with parents and subject knowledge.
 
Union leaders argue several of these criteria are too subjective and could be abused by administrators against teachers. 
 
The district said it's proposed ways to measure those criteria, but the union has not agreed to any of them.
 
"We have fantastic teachers in this district," said Dan Voelpel, spokesman for Tacoma Public Schools. "All we're trying to accomplish is, with the fiscal constraints that the state has put on us, to deal fairly with them and to put them in the best position in this district to be successful."
 
Voelpel said the district is just waiting to see what teachers decide on Monday.
 
"Nobody wins in a strike," Voelpel said. "And really, there is no backup plan.  We need to get to the bargaining table and hammer these  issues out, the community expects that of us."
 
On August 31, teachers narrowly failed to approve a strike, missing the required 80 percent threshold by 28 votes.
 
With the previous vote so close, this time around the union has already gathered about 200 votes from educators who will not be able to make Monday's meeting, said Wood.

Several parents, meanwhile, told KING-5 they do not want to see a strike, even though they support their teachers.

"From an outside perspective, sometimes I feel looking at it like, 'wow, you guys should just be happy you have jobs," said Joyce Conner, whose son and daughter both attend Tacoma schools, "But on the flip side maybe [district officials] really are taking away a lot of their benefits."

"When you don't know what's going on," said Christina Conner, "and you don't know if they're going to strike, if they're not going to strike, it's very frustrating."

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