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Originally published September 13, 2011 at 9:09 PM | Page modified September 14, 2011 at 8:52 PM

Injunction sought to end Tacoma teacher strike

School was canceled in Tacoma for the second straight day, Wednesday, as the fight between teachers and the school district shifted to a Pierce County courtroom, where district officials will ask a judge to order the striking teachers back to work.

The News Tribune

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TACOMA — School was canceled for the second straight day, Wednesday, as the fight between Tacoma teachers and the school district shifted to a Pierce County courtroom, where district officials will ask a judge to order the striking teachers back to work.

Members of the teachers union, the Tacoma Education Association (TEA), reported to picket lines across the city Tuesday instead of to their jobs — an action the district contends is an illegal strike.

The district said some teachers crossed picket lines at about 10 schools Tuesday, but district spokesman Dan Voelpel said he could not say how many teachers did so.

"They reported for work," he said. "They have other things they can do ... lesson plans, working on assignments."

The teachers and district are at odds over the district's proposal to change contract language that governs teacher transfers and reassignments. The two sides also disagree over how the district should deal with state cuts in funding for teacher pay and class-size limits.

The TEA represents nearly 2,000 district workers in the district's 57 schools, including teachers and other employees with professional certificates, such as guidance counselors, librarians and nurses.

School-district attorney Shannon McMinimee said Tuesday that officials hope Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff, who is scheduled to take up the district's legal filing at 9 a.m., will issue a ruling immediately requiring employees to return to work.

"(The teachers) are engaging in an illegal strike," McMinimee said on Tuesday. "From what I understand, the teaching union has refused to negotiate since Saturday."

TEA President Andy Coons said that union negotiators — mostly teachers — have bargained every evening after school since the start of the school year Sept. 1. He said they worked all day Saturday and into the evening. He said district negotiators did not ask to talk about two issues — class size and pay — until after 8 p.m. Saturday. By that time, he said, his team was tired.

Coons said he'd thought the district would call TEA negotiators to the bargaining table Tuesday instead of asking them to appear in court.

A prolonged strike would cause substantial harm to the district, and to its students and employees who can't work when school is not in session, the district contends. It listed in its pleadings 21 negative effects of a prolonged strike, including the possibility of lost revenue from canceled athletic events and uneaten food spoiling in cafeterias.

The district argues that several groups would be especially hard hit: its 3,800 special-education students, the 18,000 students eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals, and employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

The district, in its legal filings, accused the union of encouraging teachers to hide "district computers, teacher manuals, lesson plans and any other materials that a substitute would need in order to effectively teach."

The union said it advised teachers to remove personal belongings from classrooms, as well as grade books and lesson plans. Coons said teachers are legally responsible for grade books, and he said lesson-plan books would ordinarily not be left for a substitute teacher. He said teachers write separate lesson plans for substitutes.

Coons said the district's statement in legal papers shows either "a lack of understanding of what happens in the classroom, or they are just trying to spin it."

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