Tacoma teacher contract talks turn into war of words




Posted on August 24, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 24 at 5:27 PM

TACOMA, Wash. - The sign in front of Jason Lee Middle School says the first day of school, September 1.

With that date fast approaching, a group of teachers got a jump start and set up their classrooms on Wednesday.

“I'm a little nervous because it's such an unknown territory right now,” said Mallory Bentley.

Bentley is nervous because her contract expires in a week, along with more than 2000 teachers in Tacoma Public Schools, and there's talk of a possible strike.

“I don't think any teachers want to strike they want to start school on time,” said Nancy Read.

On the table - two major sticking points: class size and salary.

The district wants to add up to two more students per classroom and cut salaries up to 1.9 percent because of state budget cuts.

The union said “no,” leaving the superintendent "frustrated."

Superintendent Art Jarvis wrote in a letter to parents and staff, saying the union also made "shockingly unexpected new demands."

“We were surprised that they wanted pay increases and reduction class size,” said Dan Voelpel, Tacoma Public Schools.

But in an e-mail to the superintendent, the union criticized the district for not "picking of the pace" on negotiations.

“We are working hard every day … we're asking Superintendent Jarvis to come to a fair settlement that is good for kids and not drag this on,” said Andy Coons, Tacoma Education Assoc.

“What we've seen from the union is state WEA rhetoric 101, attack the bargaining team without addressing the issues,” said Voelpel.

The only thing both sides can agree on is they want what's best for the students.

The union has not threatened to strike but said that is a possibility if an agreement isn’t reached.

There is a Tacoma school board meeting Thursday night, and a big turnout is expected by parents and teachers who want this issue resolved before school starts.