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Tacoma Teachers Approve Agreement Over Salaries, Ending Strike

Ashley Gross
Teachers picketed outside Baker Middle School in Tacoma

This story was updated at 4:24 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, to reflect that teachers have approved a salary agreement.

A bitter labor dispute that delayed the start of school in Tacoma by more than a week  has now come to an end.

The Tacoma Education Association, which represents more than 2,400 teachers, librarians, office professionals and other school staff, has approved an agreement with the school district over salaries. 

Ninety-nine percent of union members who voted Friday approved the deal that includes an average 14.4 percent pay raise for this year. That boosts starting pay to $54,308 per year and caps yearly teacher salaries at $108,520.

"That makes this fight worthwhile to know that my members can focus on their jobs and not worry about how they're going to make ends meet," said Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton.

The agreement also includes a three percent raise for next year. But the two sides will be back at the negotiating table starting in March as they work out their next contract.

The agreement means most students will start school on Monday, even though the school board will have a special meeting that day to officially approve the deal. Pre-school and kindergarten will likely start later, according to a district spokesman.

A tentative agreement was first announced late Thursday. That night on Twitter and Facebook, Tacoma teachers voiced relief. One wrote that it felt like Christmas Eve.

“I squealed like a girl,” said Nate Bowling, who teaches government at Lincoln High School and was the Washington teacher of the year in 2016. “My wife and I stopped and were just like, `Thank you.’ Because in the big scheme of things, this is all a waste. Whatever they’re giving us now, they could have given us on day one and this didn’t need to happen. It’s taken me away from what I love to do.”

This year has brought a record number of teacher strikes in Washington.  Unions have been bargaining over pay increases after the legislature approved almost $1 billion for school employee salaries earlier this year to comply with a state Supreme Court order.

The Tacoma school district has argued it was disproportionately hurt by the state’s new education funding system, which raised the state property tax and set a limit on local tax levies. That has hurt districts with lower property values such as Tacoma, according to the League of Education Voters, a research organization.

Teachers have said the district’s problems were of its own making and that it has overinvested in central administration positions.

But the Tacoma Education Association and the Washington Education Association have signed onto a joint statement with the school district saying they plan to ask the state legislature to tweak its school funding plans. 

District spokesman Dan Voelpel says that statement and a letter from eight legislators helped close the deal reached Friday.

"We're now collaborating with our teachers' union locally and the state teachers' union, the WEA, to collaboratively go to Olympia this next session and work to fix those inequities," Voelpel said.

Educators are still on strike in Tumwater and Battle Ground. Teachers in those districts are facing a court order to return to work.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.