Tacoma Schools Superintendent Art Jarvis says the union representing teachers and office workers in the school district has presented the district with “unexpected new demands” and asked for pay increases for its members, including substitute teachers.
In an e-mail sent to parents throughout the district, and also published on the school district Web site, Jarvis described this week’s negotiations with the Tacoma Education Association as “frustrating.”
The News Tribune is seeking comment from union representatives.
Jarvis’ message said that the union has rejected a district call that it accept wage reductions equal to the state salary funding cut handed to school districts by the Legislature.
Read on to view Jarvis’ open letter.
Superintendent’s open letter to the community on labor negotiations with teachers
An Open Letter to Tacoma School District Families, Staff, and Community:
Unfortunately, it has been a frustrating week since we last sent an update on our labor negotiations with the teachers’ union. In this stage of bargaining, we would normally be reporting on progress and, identifying what, if any, final few issues remain to be resolved. However, in our situation, we’ve experienced very little substantive progress by the union negotiators. And most dishearteningly, we received shockingly unexpected new demands.
On Friday, Aug. 19, the union negotiators finally presented a complete set of contract proposals. The negotiators followed this up by also presenting for the first time a set of economic proposals for their classified employees (professional and office workers), who are represented by the same union.
In these two 11th-hour proposals, we learned for the first time that the WEA-Tacoma Union leaders are rejecting any consideration of accepting wage reductions equal to the reductions imposed by the state Legislature. Unbelievably, the union’s proposal demanded salary increases for all of its members.
Additionally, in the face of district requests for support to look at modest class size increases in case we experience continuing revenue losses, the union proposal included new demands for smaller class sizes. I remind all that the Legislature made two cuts that affected class size. One of those was the loss of Initiative 728, which had provided districts extra funds to reduce class size. The other was the Legislature’s cut in extra funding to keep K-4 teacher-to-student ratios low. The district has already absorbed those reductions and maintained class size.
The union also proposed pay increases for substitute teachers.
Item by item, the late-in-the-game union proposals appear planned to obstruct any possible resolution to negotiations. Our Chief Financial Officer estimates the union proposals have a combined total impact of adding at least $5.8 million per year in unfunded costs to be borne the district.
Our district has just come through one of the most difficult budget periods in its history. We cut $11.2 million from our budget by eliminating about 100 positions, shuttering some programs, making cuts in administration. We tapped $15.4 million from district reserves to save some positions and programs. We even closed two elementary schools to save $1.1 million a year. Given these difficult choices, it is unbelievable the teachers’ union wants to increase unfunded costs by $5.8 million per year.
Let me restate the obvious, the tumultuous economic times have reduced funding for education. The Great Recession generated millions of lost jobs and budget cuts throughout all levels of public service. Most recently we all heard new bad news from the state economist that the recession has worsened and that the Governor has called on state agencies to prepare for additional budget cuts up to 10 percent.
The WEA-Tacoma union leadership knows that our district had carefully built up our reserve fund, despite the tough times, so that we could offset additional budget shortfalls over the next three years and, therefore, preserve jobs and our investments in innovative programs. Now the union leadership wants to draw down our reserves for increased salaries for their members, thereby creating a bow-wave of higher, unfunded costs in each succeeding year.
To date the two mediators from the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) have been unable to draw out any meaningful counterproposals. The teachers’ union negotiators have been unwilling to discuss options on any substantive issues and have continued to stall through engaging in multi-hour meetings amongst themselves. In another unexpected move, on just this Monday, Aug. 21, the Washington Education Association assigned a new negotiator to the union bargaining team.
We do not believe this non-productive behavior belongs at the bargaining table. We will continue to try to reach agreement on a contract that is fair, responsible and appropriate for our top-notch teachers and classified employees, as well as for our district. At the same time, we will be asking the mediators to press the teachers’ union negotiators to bargain in good faith.
We are prepared to open school next week as scheduled, but yet we must also prudently prepare in case we see additional evidence that the union negotiators intend to delay the start of school.
Many of our teachers have attended professional development activities in anticipation of the start of school. We have had a number of enthusiastic back-to-school nights at our schools. We know parents and students depend on us to finish these negotiations so schools open next week. As you can probably tell, I am frustrated. Our negotiating team is frustrated. While I and our team stand committed to school opening next week, we need to see some realistic behavior at the bargaining table from the union negotiators in order to make that happen.
I sincerely hope my next communication is to let you know that the district and the teachers’ union have reached agreement on fair, responsible and appropriate contracts.