This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Both sides in the contract dispute between the Tacoma School District and its teachers claim to want what’s best for the kids.
They have starkly different visions of what that is. Teachers want to hold the line on salaries, class sizes, and policies regarding displacements and transfers. School administrators, facing state and federal mandates to improve performance and the prospect of yet more budget cutbacks, want more flexibility from the teachers union so that they can deal with those challenges.
Here’s what’s unquestionably best for kids: to be in school. Tomorrow.
Tacoma’s teachers should vote today not to strike, to keep teaching and to continue negotiating without a contract. If they do vote to strike, the administration should immediately seek a court injunction. Any judge that gets the case should assess daily fines on teachers who do not report to their classrooms.
That would be an appropriate response to an illegal strike. And strikes by any public employee union are illegal. A 2006 opinion by state Attorney General Rob McKenna states that “state and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike” and that “courts may grant injunctive relief to prevent or end unlawful strikes.” Courts have frequently done just that.
Even if a lot of kids like the idea of having some time off now that the weather has warmed up, that’s time they would have to make up at the other end of the school year. Tacoma’s schoolchildren should be in their classrooms and learning, not waiting for their school leaders and teachers to agree on a contract that should have been cemented over the summer.
A strike would be a major headache for many Tacoma families. Unless they’re fined, teachers incur no financial loss by striking – but parents could.
Working parents who are unable to arrange last-minute child care may have to stay home from work – and not all employers allow that. Not working may mean not getting paid or even losing their job.
In this economy, that’s no small thing. Teachers won’t lose their jobs by striking, but they should consider the impact it could have on their students’ families, many of whom earn far less than teachers.
There are reasonable, well-meaning people on both sides of this dispute. Surely they can agree to keep working on a contract, to find common ground and compromise, and to do what’s really best for the kids – educate them.