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Tacoma Teachers Decide Against 'One-Day Strike'

Kyle Stokes
A marcher during the Seattle teachers union's one-day strike May 19 holds a sign protesting legislative proposals for school funding and teacher pay.

Teachers in Tacoma have decided against joining the wave of walkouts that have closed some of Washington's biggest school districts this spring, with the union voting Tuesday to hold an alternate protest.

Now the largest school district in the state to refuse a one-strike, Tacoma teachers union members opted to hold a "grade-in" to highlight their dismay with state legislative proposals on school funding, class sizes; and teacher pay, benefits and collective bargaining rights.

Tacoma Education Association president Angel Morton said her union's 2,200 members are clearly fed up with Olympia, but didn't feel they could organize a successful walkout with just two weeks left of school. Instead, union members will gather at Tollefson Plaza on June 3 with stacks of papers to grade, highlighting the amount of work they do outside of school hours.

"It's so very obvious that people are so, so, so frustrated with the lack of movement in the legislature," Morton said.

Around 680 Tacoma teachers gathered to discuss the decision at Mt. Tahoma High School on Tuesday. Some union members floated a motion to hold a half-day walkout, but Morton said it received little support.

Morton added her members have not ruled out the possibility of walking out next fall, depending on what happens in Olympia this summer.

"Statewide, there will be a response to a bad budget," Morton said, citing a motion from the state teachers union's representative assembly in April.

Local teachers unions in more than 60 school districts have opted to hold "one-day strikes" since late April. Walkouts shut down the state's largest district, Seattle, last week and the second-largest, Spokane, on Wednesday. Districts where local unions have approved protests enroll more than 585,000 students — more than half of Washington state's student population.

Other districts have opted against one-day strikes. In Bethel, Clover Park and Edmonds, teachers opted to hold informational pickets instead of all-out work stoppages. Even some of the 64 "one-day strikes" have occurred as half-day walkouts or on days students were already excused from school.

Many Republican state lawmakers have criticized the teacher strikes, questioning the legality of the walkouts and defending their budget proposals. (Both parties have proposed more than $1.3 billion in increased K-12 spending and cost-of-living raises for teachers in their budgets, though their proposals differ.)

While Morton said timing was the primary reason for foregoing a walkout — "each day, now, for the rest of the year is spoken for for assessment or field trips or certain activities," Morton said — she also noted memories of a strike that closed Tacoma schools for eight days in 2011 are still fresh.

"We had such great community support in previous years that if we're going to do a walkout motion, we want to make sure we give families time to prep for that because we know our families are supportive and willing to work with us," Morton said.

Where walkouts have occurred, many local union leaders have taken care to say their protests are against lawmakers, not their district administrations.

Around the state, teachers in the Yelm, Longview, Rainier, Spokane, Olympia and East Valley School District outside Yakima held walkouts Wednesday. Puyallup teachers have approved a walkout on June 3. Grandview teachers will hold a one-day strike on June 11.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.