Amidst teacher strike, Tacoma parents walk fine line of loyalty


by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

Posted on September 18, 2011 at 11:10 AM

TACOMA, Wash. --  Since Tuesday, Josiah Anderson and his brother Martin are finding ways to keep learning, by reading books at home and practicing Beethoven on the piano.

But the fourth grader who was attending McCarver Elementary School will tell you he feels the effects of the Tacoma teacher strike just the same.

"School started. School is supposed to keep happening," Josiah said, "and I just want the routine to keep going."

The sidewalks outside Tacoma's schools may be picket-free for the weekend, Josiah's mother Kari said she still finds herself walking a fine line between supporting her teachers and wanting her sons back in class.

"I feel very torn," she said. "They buy school supplies, they work long hours, they stand in the gap for families who struggle. We are in the middle and just want to see a resolution quickly."

On Saturday, while the teacher's union and school district negotiated late into the night with no resolution, a handful of parents including Anderson gathered at the Peace Community Center in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood.

As the two sides continue to fight over issues of class size, salary, and teacher reassignment, parents find themselves stuck in the middle.

"We are frustrated by the effects that  the strike has on our community," Anderson said.

The most contentious point appears to be over hammering out how teachers are involuntarily shuffled around the district.  The district has proposed several criteria, some of which the union called too subjective and ripe for abuse by principals playing favorites.

On Saturday, the union posted on its website a proposal to create a committee that would look for ways to resolve the reassignment issue, but the district said the proposal was offered through a memorandum of understanding as opposed to in contract language, making it less enforceable.

Meanwhile, parents were meeting to discuss what resources were available to Hilltop residents struggling to care for their kids while working.

According to Tacoma Public Schools, about 18,000 district students for free lunches. With school canceled, community centers and churches are picking up some of the slack.  Anderson said she was working with Peace Community Center to feed and care for dozens of kids whose parents weren't able to stay at home with them.

"Different people have been volunteering out of our home food budgets to provide food," said Anderson. "But this was 100 kids that we were able to feed 100 burritos. But that's a drop in the bucket."

Even if a contract agreement emerges, class may still be canceled Monday if the union calls for a vote of its membership to send teachers back to work.