Education

Tumwater is going to court to get striking teachers back to work

Tumwater teachers get honks of support while picketing

Tumwater teachers wave signs and get honks of support at Littlerock Road and Trosper Road on Thursday morning. Teachers have been on strike since Saturday, and now the Tumwater School District has filed an injunction to get them back to work.
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Tumwater teachers wave signs and get honks of support at Littlerock Road and Trosper Road on Thursday morning. Teachers have been on strike since Saturday, and now the Tumwater School District has filed an injunction to get them back to work.

The Tumwater School District will be in court Friday morning to try to get its teachers back to work.

Then Friday night, North Thurston Public Schools teachers — who have been in class this week — could vote to strike, if a contract deal hasn’t been reached by then.

Tumwater teachers have been on strike since Saturday, when their contract expired. The two sides have been unable to reach a deal on a new contract, with issues of teacher pay, class sizes and safety all on the table, according to the union.

School was scheduled to start Wednesday in Tumwater but that was delayed. Schools there remained closed Thursday as bargaining continues.

On Wednesday, the district filed an injunction in Thurston County Superior Court against the Tumwater Education Association and its president, Tim Voie, arguing the strike interferes with students’ right to go to school.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

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Tumwater is one of many Washington districts still dealing with contentious contract negotiations because of recent changes by state lawmakers 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 — but put limits on how much districts can raise through local levies and what levy dollars can cover.

Teachers in Centralia, Tacoma, Puyallup and elsewhere also are on strike.

In North Thurston Public Schools, teachers went back to school Wednesday without a contract. The teachers union president there said if a contract deal is not reached by Friday, teachers could vote to authorize a strike.

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In Tumwater, the district said the decision to go to court was meant to “encourage movement at the bargaining table.”

“The Washington State Supreme Court and Attorney General have determined state law prohibits strikes by public school employees and authorizes civil injunction proceedings and other remedies to address this illegal action,” the district said in a statement Wednesday evening. “This is a step that the school board is taking to help encourage movement at the bargaining table and bring an end to this strike — just as the TEA has chosen steps they feel necessary to help make movement at the table.”

On Facebook, the union said the district is “resorting to taking their teachers to court instead of bargaining a fair contract that respects our community, responsibly compensates our teachers, and provides safe classrooms for our students and staff.”

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

On Thursday morning, Tumwater teachers gathered along Second Avenue, Trosper Road and Littlerock Road, waving “ON STRIKE!” signs and eliciting support from passing motorists. Each honk or wave resulted in cheers from the picketing teachers.

While salaries are important, many teachers who spoke with The Olympian emphasized the need for smaller and safer classes.

Colleen Mott, who teaches first grade, said she has 24 students and no support from a paraeducator. She said a colleague had a student throw furniture in the classroom, and the teacher was kicked and verbally assaulted.

“We need more support for students who have tough, emotional issues,” she said, adding after a teacher has cleared the classroom in that situation, it can be hard to be “on” again. “We are as traumatized as the students are.”

Ron Smith, a teacher for more than 30 years, said he is on his own with 25 students.

“It’s difficult to teach with so many kids in the classroom,” he said. Speaking to safety concerns, he added, “individual students can take a class down to square zero.”

Special education teacher Molly Sayler called for proper staffing and safety.

“My students deserve better,” she said.

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