Bethel teacher strike enters second week

TACOMA - Negotiations between the Bethel School District and the striking teachers of the Bethel Education Association will continue today, delaying the start of school for 18,000 students until at least Wednesday.

District spokesman Mark Wenzel said the district and the union were unable to reach an agreement over the weekend, despite mediation sessions Saturday and Sunday.

"We've made some progress, but we still have a long way to go," Wenzel said.

Parents were notified Sunday afternoon by telephone that school wouldn't be in session Tuesday, Wenzel said. Bethel's school year was supposed to start last Thursday.

Members of the association are striking in part about lack of overtime pay, their cost of health insurance and large class sizes.

Association President Tom Cruver said the fact that the parties remain at the negotiating table after the weekend is promising.

"They're still working. That's, I hope, a good sign," Cruver said. He declined to comment on any other aspects of the negotiations.

Because the association requires 24 hours to review any proposal put forth by the district before voting on it, an agreement between the two groups would have to be reached today for school to start on Wednesday.

The state Attorney General's Office says it's illegal for public employees, including teachers, to go on strike, but it won't get involved unless the strike lasts so long that it prevents students from getting a full 180 days of school before the scheduled start of the next school year, a spokesman from the office said last week.

Superior Court judges in King and Snohomish counties have ruled against striking teachers unions in the past when school districts took the unions to court.

Wenzel said last week that the Bethel School District isn't considering legal action at this time.