Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Thank Chris Gregoire for ending Tacoma’s pointless strike

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm with 4 Comments »
September 23, 2011 5:06 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

An old conspiracy theory holds that the Washington Education Association – the state teachers union – targets a school district every so often and urges its local union affiliate to stage a bruising strike.

The resulting school closure is as much a display of raw power – a cautionary tale for other districts and the Legislature – as it is a quarrel over the terms of a contract.

We’ve never seen proof, but the strike in Tacoma certainly doesn’t weaken the theory.

The final contract agreement – forcefully brokered by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday – was no great coup for either the Tacoma Education Association or the school district.

The 2011 Legislature had ordained a 1.9 percent cut in teacher compensation, and it eliminated funding earmarked for holding down class size. In the end, the TEA – which had sought reductions in class sizes – more or less hung on to the status quo, though it gave up a training day that translated into a .5 percent pay cut.

The real flash point was the district’s insistence that administrators be allowed more discretion over which schools teachers are assigned. The union insisted on a traditional system that emphasized seniority.

At Gregoire’s prodding, the two sides agreed to the creation of a committee that will study the options and adopt a new assignment policy. Under the agreement, seniority reportedly will not be a dominant factor.

There’s no reason these reasonable compromises couldn’t have been reached earlier, without the governor’s intervention. More to the point, there’s no reason they couldn’t have been reached by bargaining into the school year, without striking and without creating child-care crises in homes across the city.

So what was the point of the strike? A suspicious soul might conclude that the strike itself was the point of the strike – that the union closed the schools to show that it could close the schools.

The Legislature itself bears much of the responsibility for this debacle.

Lawmakers cut money for teacher pay and class size, but they didn’t have the guts to take the heat for it – they left the details open to collective bargaining in local districts. Statewide disputes over school funding were thus outsourced to the districts and the unions.

For that matter, the Legislature could have provided a clear state policy on the role of seniority and other contentious issues that racked Tacoma this year and no doubt will rack other districts in years to come.

The governor, though, deserves nothing but praise for the way she stepped in, knocked heads together and squeezed a deal out of two parties that appeared to be deadlocked and hardening in their positions. Tacomans will long remember her welcome intervention.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. tree_guy says:

    The governor called the parties together but it’s not clear what role she actually played in the settlement. The most contentious issue, the district reassignment policy wasn’t even settled, just postponed. What the public really learned from this is the problem we created when we allowed trade unions to infiltrate the government services sector. As the recession grinds on this is going to turn out badly.

  2. CeeCeeDD says:

    “An old conspiracy theory…” This is the first I’ve ever heard of such a theory, and I must say, like similar urban myths, this one is completely unfounded. Are you trying to stir up more dissent in order to sell newspapers? That’s a conspiracy theory in which I believe, and I see it played out daily in your newspaper.

    If the district had been willing to negotiate with the teachers, they never would have gone on strike. However, the district’s hiring of outside negotiators, the exorbitant and unproductive agreement with those negotiators, and the district’s foot dragging and use of media to color public opinion, show that the district would never have come to terms with TEA unless they voted to strike. As far as the district was concerned, the teachers could do without a contract indefinitely.

    I would strongly suggest that your editorial board undergo some remedial education in the historical role of unions, especially as they relate to education. You will find that unions have raised the professionalism of educators and helped teachers to make good choices for students. In states where teachers are protected by union contracts, students’ test scores are actually higher than in non-union states. In addition, unions give teachers a voice about poor curriculum, help them to use methods that they know will be effective with their students, protect them from pressure about the awarding of grades, and keep them from having to curry favor from arbitrary administrators.

    Another conspiracy theory is that poor teachers cannot be fired because of unions. This is not true. Poor teachers are definitely fired, and professional educators join the general public in wanting them to be gone. But these teachers are very rare: the truth is that most educators are hard working and dedicated to their students.

  3. BigSwingingRichard says:

    The real reason Gregoire freaked out was the scheduled hearing in Superior Court on the legality of public school teacher strikes. This is what the WEA fears because they know they will lose the case. They called the Governor to make sure this did not happen.

    She gets credit for getting the agreement AND maintaining the WEA’s ability to determine which school district goes on strike each year. Teachers strikes will go every year thanks to Gregoire and the WEA.

    Rossi would never have bailed out the WEA and we would have received an opinion on the illegality of teachers strikes and all kids in the state would have benefited.

  4. bysmiths says:

    As a former substitute and assigned classroom teacher in 4 South Puget Sound districts and having published an MEd thesis on the Tacoma School district, I believe that I have a perspective on our system.
    First, how effective can any professional be when their current workload is increased 10-15% – increasing class sizes? Second, how many people would go to a hospital with urologists performing heart surgery by assignment by the hospital administrator – Principals assigning teachers? Third, how can we possibly evaluate teachers by student test scores without evaluating parental support, classroom resources, prior subject matter exposure, etc., etc. – current evaluation system…. All strikable issues.
    I retired after all of the teachers in my school had met for three weeks and determined assignments and schedules for the next year as a group, and the principal arbitrarily revised it on the last day of school. I have since averaged an annual income almost triple what I made as a teacher.

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0