Money not the biggest issue behind Tacoma teachers strike

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by LIZA JAVIER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 15, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 16 at 6:07 AM

TACOMA, Wash. -- As the Tacoma teachers strike continues for a third day, the Tacoma Education Association and Tacoma Public Schools remain at odds on three key issues: teacher pay, class sizes and the way teachers are transferred or reassigned.

While teachers say the biggest obstacle in negotiations isn't over money but about reassignment plans.

"It's not that. It's about the displacement of teachers," said one striking teacher at Lincoln High School.

The school district says sometimes it has to move teachers from one school to another.

"What we'd like to do is look at a wide range of criteria other than seniority to find the best match between a teacher's skill set and the needs of the kids at that particular school," said Dan Voelpel, Tacoma Public Schools spokesman.

Teachers argue the district's plan on reassignments is too vague and subjective, and that clear criteria on how teachers are transferred is needed to avoid discrimination.

"The administration has refused to drop its demand to use subjective and discriminatory criteria in making school staffing decisions," the teachers union argues on their website. "Tacoma teachers have made it clear they cannot approve a contract that includes that policy language. This is the biggest obstacle to settlement."

Teachers who marched on the picket lines Thursday expressed strong opinions on the dispute.

"It's frustrating and disheartening that we're being bullied into an unfair contract," said Peter Briggs, teacher. "But it's important for us as teachers to model to our students what correct behavior looks like. And for now, that looks like standing up against injustice and bullying and being out here on the picket lines."

Voepel said the two other unresolved issues - teacher pay and class sizes - were economic and have yet to be agreed upon.

On the Tacoma Education Association website, teachers say they're not asking for a pay increase, rather, the district is pushing for a pay cut, even though neighboring school districts haven't cut teachers' salaries despite a reduction in state funding.

Superior Court Judge Brian Chushcoff, who issued the injunction, has scheduled a hearing for Friday to determine whether teachers had complied with his order Wednesday. Meanwhile, the district says they'll determine later Thursday what to do about Friday classes.

"We're currently evaluating our options and figuring out what we have to do next," said Voelpel.
 

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