No school in Tumwater Monday as district heads back to court

More than 100 people gathered Thursday night to take part in a meeting hosted by the Tumwater Education Association, the union that represents striking Tumwater teachers.
More than 100 people gathered Thursday night to take part in a meeting hosted by the Tumwater Education Association, the union that represents striking Tumwater teachers. Rolf Boone

Tumwater School District officials have canceled school for Monday, and teachers and district leaders will be back in court that day unless a contract deal is reached over the weekend.

On Friday, the school district asked the court for an enforcement hearing, which has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. The district said it will seek a per-day fine of $2,329, a prorated amount of what Tumwater teachers pay in dues to the union.

According to the school district, bargaining continued Friday.

“We remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement quickly and that the hearing will not be necessary,” according to Laurie Wiedenmeyer, a district spokeswoman.

Teachers have been on strike since Sept. 1 after their previous contract expired Aug. 31. The strike turned testy after the school district filed suit to force the teachers back to work. The district won that round on last Wednesday, but teachers defied the court order and voted to remain on the picket lines.

On Thursday evening, more than 100 people crammed into a small meeting space to reiterate their support for striking Tumwater teachers.

The meeting was hosted by the Tumwater Education Association, the union that represents about 350 teachers in the Tumwater School District. The association scheduled the meeting after a school board meeting was canceled, wanting to give the public a chance to ask questions about the bargaining process and strike.

But that did not happen. Those in the room largely heard from Tumwater teachers who spoke passionately about their jobs and the importance of securing a fair contract. What little time was left over was devoted to hearing from the two school board members in attendance: Kim Reykdal and Melissa Beard.

Although name placards were set out for the entire school board and Superintendent John Bash, Reykdal said that if a quorum of school board members had attended, they would have been in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Reykdal and Beard spoke favorably about Tumwater teachers and the community, and both thanked the audience for making them feel welcome. Little was shared about the negotiation process.

“There’s not much I can say because we’re still bargaining,” Reykdal told the audience.

An unidentified special education teacher discusses how she loves her job despite its difficulties at an overflow meeting of striking Tumwater teachers and supporters at the Washington Education Association office Thursday night.

Although many spoke passionately about Tumwater teachers, some comments were more pointed.

Math and physics teacher Matt Bell, who addressed the district in the form of an angry letter, said the district was trying to divide the teachers and community with misinformation, and it was having the opposite effect.

“I’m tired of you saying you’re bargaining in good faith, because if you were, I would be back in the classroom,” he said.

Bell said he understands that the school board members can’t talk about the negotiations, but he wished they had addressed concerns about information being distributed by district emails and on its website.

“We have to explain to the community over and over again what’s true and partly true,” he said.

One example shared Thursday night was a recent district email that said teachers had suddenly left the negotiating table. But that was not the case, teachers said, saying they had only left because a mediator had advised them to do so.

Casey Sobol, who has children enrolled in the district, told Beard and Reykdal about the district’s “messaging” during the strike, saying it felt like they were getting some information but not the full picture.

After the meeting, Sobol shared concerns about the district’s leadership under Superintendent Bash, and said she wondered why he wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting.

“He chose not to be and that speaks volumes to me as well.” Sobol said.