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Tumwater schools to start Tuesday after striking teachers ratify new contract

Tumwater teachers ratify contract, classes to start Tuesday

Meeting in the Tumwater High School gymnasium Monday teacher Matt Bell leads a jubilant group of his fellow educators in the song "Sweet Caroline" as they celebrate a 98% ratification of their new two-year contract with the district.
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Meeting in the Tumwater High School gymnasium Monday teacher Matt Bell leads a jubilant group of his fellow educators in the song "Sweet Caroline" as they celebrate a 98% ratification of their new two-year contract with the district.

After a strike that delayed school for nearly two weeks, the Tumwater Education Association and Tumwater School District reached a tentative contract agreement Sunday night that teachers ratified Monday morning at Tumwater High School.

Teachers gathered for about an hour in the gym, then emerged jubilant.

“Relieved,” said longtime Black Hills High School math and science teacher Matt Bell about the agreement, adding that he believes teachers got a fair deal.

“We’re ready to get back to work,” he said.

School will begin Tuesday for grades 1-12. Preschool will start Wednesday and kindergarten meetings are set for Tuesday through Thursday, followed by the first day of kindergarten on Friday.

Teachers voted nearly unanimously to approve the contact that adds key language about class sizes and class safety and increases pay.

Bell said the contract didn’t put a hard cap on class sizes, but it does increase compensation for those teachers with overloaded classrooms. It will cost the district if classes get too large, so there’s an incentive to keep them smaller, he said.

As for classroom safety — something that was a concern among picketing elementary and special education teachers — if there’s an incident in a class, the teacher and principal will coordinate a response to all parents who have children in that class, not just to the students and parents involved.

“Parents should know,” Bell said, particularly when non-verbal students can’t explain such incidents.

After ratification, the union announced the specifics of the new two-year contract in a news release.

“Tumwater teachers will receive anywhere from $50,926 for beginning teachers to $96,000 for those with a master’s degree and 16 years of service in 2018-19. In 2019-20, total compensation ranges from $52,159 to $98,309,” the news release reads.

That reflects a 16.7 percent increase in pay over the next two years and a 2.4 percent increase in 2019-20, according to the district.

However, the district now faces an estimated $4.4 million deficit over the next two years and another $7.5 million in 2019-20, district data show.

“TSD leadership will immediately begin to review potential cost-saving measures for the current school year to help reduce the district’s deficit,” the district said in its news release.

Administrators also plan to lobby state lawmakers to improve what they call “significant inequities in the new state funding model that are penalizing Tumwater.”

Tumwater teachers went on strike Sept. 1 after their previous contract expired Aug. 31. The district sought court action to force them back to work and won, but teachers were unbowed and immediately voted to remain on the picket lines. The two sides were headed back to court Monday (Sept. 17), but worked out a tentative deal Sunday night.

Teachers were busy Monday preparing for school on Tuesday. Bell said teachers typically get ready for the school year over Labor Day weekend, but he hasn’t had a chance to do that because of the strike.

“I”m feeling a little anxious,” he said.

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