With days to go before the start of school, Tumwater teachers go on strike

Rallies supporting teachers in Tumwater and North Thurston districts

Rallies were held recently in support of teachers in Tumwater and North Thurston districts as negotiations for contracts continue.
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Rallies were held recently in support of teachers in Tumwater and North Thurston districts as negotiations for contracts continue.

With no contract deal and just days to go before the first day of school, Tumwater teachers went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Saturday when their previous contract expired.

Representatives for the Tumwater Education Association and the Tumwater School District were negotiating a new contract Thursday and Friday but no deal was reached. Teachers had voted to authorize a strike earlier in the week.

Another bargaining session is scheduled for Monday; the first day of school is Wednesday.

Tumwater is one of many Washington school districts with contract negotiations coming down to the wire because of recent changes state lawmakers made to the way schools are funded.

After the state Supreme Court ruled the state has to pay for “basic education,” lawmakers gave schools more state money — including money for teacher salaries — while putting limits on how much districts can raise through local levies and what levy dollars can cover.

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Unions say this means districts can afford to pay them more, and that pay increases will help attract and retain high-quality teachers. But some districts — including Tumwater — say they can’t afford significant increases given cuts to local levy funds.

Districts where housing is more expensive or there are more experienced teachers will get extra money from the state. Olympia School District and North Thurston Public Schools are slated to get such bonuses, but the Tumwater district is not.

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The Tumwater teachers union asked teachers not to go to schools over the weekend to set up their classrooms. Tim Voie, the TEA president, said they are planning to picket schools starting Tuesday morning.

A district spokeswoman said Saturday a decision to delay the first day of school would not come before Monday’s bargaining session.

“If TEA’s strike decision will result in the need to delay the start of school or cancel school events, we will communicate those decisions as soon as possible,” the district posted on its website.

In North Thurston Public Schools, negotiations are set to continue Sunday and Monday, if needed. Teachers plan to rally outside district offices both days to show their support.

“We really can’t back down and expect to get what we think we deserve,” said Ray Nelson, president of the North Thurston Education Association, adding he is confident schools there will start on time, with or without a contract deal in place.

In Centralia, teachers are at a “standstill,” said Lauri Johnson, bargaining lead for the Centralia Education Association.

Teachers voted a month ago to authorize a strike if they didn’t get a contract deal. Their contract expired Friday, but now they are waiting to decide whether to strike until after a Sunday school board meeting, where the board will consider a resolution on consequences for striking teachers, including disciplinary actions or even lawsuits.

On Tuesday morning, teachers and their supporters plan to rally at Centralia High School and march to district offices for the next round of negotiations.

The first day of school is set for Wednesday, but the district is putting parents on notice that could be delayed.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Mark Davalos said both sides are looking forward to welcoming students back to the classroom “very soon.”

“This difficult time will pass,” he predicted.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869