Tacoma teach­ers brace for long strike

Wash­ing­ton is lat­est state to join the trend

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Lind­say Sch­nell USA TO­DAY Con­tribut­ing: Chrissie Thomp­son

“Teach­ers have the pa­tience of saints. I think the dis­trict doesn’t un­der­stand that. We will wait this out.”

Me­gan Holyoke

First-year Lin­coln High teacher

TACOMA, Wash. – Anne Hawkins prides her­self on teach­ing stu­dents at Ja­son Lee Mid­dle School to stand up for them­selves. She preaches so­cial jus­tice, im­plor­ing the youth in her class­room to call out in­equal­ity.

So in­stead of re­port­ing to her class­room the way she has for 19 years, Hawkins walked a picket line Mon­day morn­ing, chant­ing about bet­ter pay. About 2,200 Tacoma Pub­lic Schools teach­ers are strik­ing, and most of them cir­cled the dis­trict of­fice Mon­day, joined by hun­dreds of par­ents and stu­dents who sup­port their walk­out. Their sound­track: Aretha Franklin’s “Re­spect” and “Rev­o­lu­tion” by The Bea­tles.

“If any stu­dents asked me what I was do­ing, the an­swer would be sim­ple,” said Hawkins, who has taught lan­guage arts here for al­most two decades. “I would say, ‘I’m do­ing the thing we talk about and prac­tice ev­ery day in class.’ ”

Strikes have rocked the ed­u­ca­tion world this year. Teach­ers want higher salaries. They’re fed up with pay­ing for school sup­plies out of their own pocket and work­ing ex­tra hours.

Last school year, teach­ers staged statewide strikes in West Vir­ginia, Ari­zona and Ok­la­homa. They also ral­lied in Ken­tucky, North Carolina and Colorado, clos­ing some of the big­gest schools. As the new school year starts, teach­ers aren’t stop­ping.

About a dozen dis­tricts in Wash­ing­ton missed their start dates be­cause of teacher strikes, the state teach­ers’ union said. Ed­u­ca­tors in four of those were still strik­ing Mon­day, although Cen­tralia teach­ers, in west-cen­tral Wash­ing­ton, reached a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with their dis­trict Mon­day night.

In Los Angeles, teach­ers at the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest school dis­trict have voted to strike if ne­go­tia­tors can’t reach an agree­ment. A walk­out there could come as soon as next month.

In Tacoma, an hour’s drive south of Seat­tle, teach­ers be­lieve the strike could keep the dis­trict’s 30,000 stu­dents out of school for all of Septem­ber. “Teach­ers have the pa­tience of saints,” said Me­gan Holyoke, who was sched­uled to start her first year of teach­ing at Lin­coln High but hasn’t made it to her class­room yet. “I think the dis­trict doesn’t un­der­stand that. We will wait this out.”

Strikes in other parts of the coun­try have been “cat­alyz­ing” for Tacoma teach­ers, said Nate Bowl­ing, a teacher at Lin­coln High School. He also pointed to a re­newed spirit of protest across the U.S. in the wake of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion two years ago.

Peo­ple every­where have hit their break­ing point when it comes to a lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion and money for what teach­ers do, Bowl­ing said. In this po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, grab­bing a sign and join­ing a march is not only ac­cept­able, but also en­cour­aged.

And this time, even par­ents scram­bling to find child care or wor­ry­ing about their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion are back­ing strik­ing teach­ers.

In Tacoma, teach­ers are protest­ing what they be­lieve is a mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of money the school dis­trict re­ceived af­ter a land­mark state Supreme Court case. The Wash­ing­ton Supreme Court ruled in 2012 the state wasn’t spend­ing enough to cover ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion costs. Jus­tices or­dered leg­is­la­tors to fix that by the start of this school year.

Many Wash­ing­ton schools have di­rected the mil­lions they’ve re­ceived to siz­able pay in­creases. But in Tacoma, teach­ers say they haven’t seen the money. Many said they could drive 10 min­utes from their cur­rent school and get a $10,000 raise. Why can’t they earn that money here, in Tacoma?

The school dis­trict says it needs the $50 mil­lion in­flux it re­ceived from the state to cover a pro­jected bud­get crunch. Of­fi­cials blame law­mak­ers for not send­ing the dis­trict more money.

“It’s frus­trat­ing to us, much as it is to our teach­ers,” dis­trict spokesman Dan Voelpel said. “We be­lieve they de­serve dou­ble-digit raises as well, but we’re just not in the po­si­tion to fund it that other school dis­tricts are.”

That’s not a good enough an­swer for some teach­ers.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand this is not a raise,” said Tina Tay­lor, who was set to start her 22nd year teach­ing here last week. “Th­ese are repa­ra­tions. This is money we’ve been owed since 2012.”

Teach­ers say the new money for ed­u­ca­tion is be­ing fun­neled to high-level ad­min­is­tra­tors, po­si­tions many con­sider un­nec­es­sary. They’re par­tic­u­larly fu­ri­ous about the salary of Su­per­in­ten­dent Carla San­torno, whose $291,000 salary is nearly $114,000 more than that of Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee.

This strike “feels dif­fer­ent” than in 2011, the last time ed­u­ca­tors here walked off the job, teach­ers told USA TO­DAY. Par­ents are up­set their chil­dren aren’t in school, but many blame school ad­min­is­tra­tors, not strik­ing teach­ers.

When the school dis­trict posted on Face­book it would be closed Mon­day, it re­ceived hun­dreds of com­ments in re­sponse – many of them an­gry par­ents, sid­ing with teach­ers.

“My daugh­ter needs to be in school! She wants to be at school,” com­mented Leonette Hall, who says her youngest daugh­ter is a 10th grader in the dis­trict. “You need to pay th­ese teach­ers what they de­serve! Your games are hurt­ing th­ese kids, par­ents and teach­ers.”

“I’m strug­gling,” chimed in Alexan­dria Lynne, who says she is a se­nior at Mount Ta­homa High. “You’re mess­ing up my whole en­tire life plan go­ing on. Can you guys suck it up and just pay them the right amount al­ready please?”

Some com­menters blamed the teach­ers. Since teach­ers don’t want to work, Jes­sica David­son com­mented, “how about all of us par­ents go and teach and then maybe our kids will learn some­thing?”

Dis­trict of­fi­cials, spokesman Dan Voelpel said, are do­ing “ev­ery­thing we can to bring an end to it as quickly as pos­si­ble and get our stu­dents back to school.” The dis­trict has asked the state to as­sign an in­de­pen­dent ar­bi­tra­tor to the case.

Strik­ing teach­ers carry picket signs as they march around the Tacoma School Dis­trict Cen­tral Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing on Mon­day in Tacoma, Wash. AP

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