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Tacoma teachers, office professionals and other staff approve new three-year contract

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Adrian Florez

UPDATE, 11:30 am: Adds comments from a Tacoma school district spokesman.

Last year, Tacoma public schools were delayed by a teachers strike that lasted more than a week. This year, the district and the educators union reached an agreement well before the start of school.

The Tacoma Education Association reached a tentative agreement with the district at 3:33 a.m. on Wednesday, the union said in a Facebook post. Members gathered later that afternoon to take a vote. The certificated contract passed with 89 percent in favor, and the contract for office professionals and technical staff passed with 95 percent. 

Educators in Seattle also approved a three-year contract this week.

Tacoma educators already had an agreement in place for a 3 percent pay increase this school year. Under the new contracts, they’ll get a raise of about 3.5 percent next school year and 5 percent the year after that, said Angel Morton, president of the union. A portion of the pay increases will come from state-funded cost-of-living increases, district spokesman Dan Voelpel said.

“Our members were excited. They were anxious to cast their ballots,” she said. “We had an overwhelming pass rate on this and people are happy about the compensation, of course.”

Last week, Morton and Voelpel said negotiations were proceeding smoothly. That’s in contrast to last year, when Tacoma was one of a record number of school districts where educators went on strike amid disputes with district officials about how to use additional state funding. Lawmakers had approved the money to end the long-running McCleary school-finance lawsuit.

"We're pleased that the tenor of the negotiations remained positive throughout the process," Voelpel said in an email. "With this competitive agreement, we can recruit, train and retain the best teaching force in the region."

The new collective bargaining agreement includes a number of items beyond compensation. Morton said the district agreed to reduce K-3 class sizes by one student per class this school year and one student per class next year.

And she said the district will initiate a late start one day a week beginning next year. That means school will begin one hour later on that day of the week. Voelpel said a number of schools already have their own occasional late start days and the district would like to coordinate that so there's more predictability for families. The district is asking families to complete a survey about the school calendar.

“The association is excited about that because that will finally create a space for our teachers to do collaboration and spend some more concentrated time working with their colleagues and doing the stuff that we know makes the class environment richer for kids,” Morton said.

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.