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Tacoma superintendent “frustrated” in teacher contract talks

Post by Debbie Cafazzo / The News Tribune on Aug. 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm with 39 Comments »
August 24, 2011 2:51 pm

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
Page Content
An Open Letter to Tacoma School District Families, Staff, and Community:

Dear Friend,

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.


Art Jarvis

Leave a comment Comments → 39
  1. jimkingjr says:

    Thirty-seven years later, same irrational actions by the teachers…

  2. gonefishin69690 says:

    Wasn’t there an article just last week stating that TEA’s #1 concern was for students? It’s ok, we ALL knew it was a bunch of BS anyway.

  3. PumainTacoma says:

    Do what they should have done in 1979 and FIRE THEM ALL.

    Teachers and public employees listen up. Average college educated person works 260+ days and gets no overtime. Stop bit”chin about your $50 hr jobs, 7 hour days and 180 school days while getting extra pay for extra work and TRI money on top of it.

    This is absolute absurdity. Bloated government. Time to FIRE em all.

  4. ltkeffer says:

    Jarvis is a nut. The district has a huge reserve and can easily afford what is being asked.

  5. ctdrules says:

    Give them the raise the ‘Union’ asked for and then lay off a couple hundred teachers.

  6. PumainTacoma says:

    The private sector is trying to avoid inflation and the public sector is trying to increase inflation with economic inflamed wage inflation measures.

    Jarvis should fire and rehire. Do what should have been done in 1979. Taxpayers are fed up with these whiny, spoiled adults complaining about having a job, benefits, health care and a pension!

  7. tree_guy says:

    Good time to buy some of those teachers used Excalades and Jet Skiis!

  8. can only assume the union has been infiltrated by TEAparty activists seeking to destroy social capital

  9. yallarecrazy says:

    My wife is one of the young energetic teachers in the district, goes to work at 7 and gets home at 6. Meanwhile she teaches next to someone who is well beyond retirement puts little effort into the classroom and it shows. The principal is unable to fire him.

    I don’t feel like all teachers are overpaid, lowering pay and benefits I don’t think is the answer. I think demanding quality and responsibility is the cure. There is no competition, no accountability and very little reprecussions for bad teachers.

    At this point we need a superintendant with the guts to fire everyone and re-hire. Dr. Jarvis could be the guy to do it as he is retiring at the end of this year anyway so his job security won’t be threatened like Milligan’s was.

  10. nonstopjoe says:

    yallarecrazy: hits the nail on the head. Get rid of the turkies and retain the competent teachers.

  11. spotted1 says:

    The principal is very capable of firing a teacher who is not doing their job. They are unwilling because it means extra work for them. Meaning they might actually have to do their job. Yet the knee jerk reaction is to fire everyone. Great idea.

    The next time Boeing machinists or other union goes on strike, fire them all. Hire non-union workers. I am sure that will be just as good an idea.

  12. ctdrules says:

    We can only hope the Tea Party folks will destroy all social capital.

  13. gonefishin69690 says:

    yallarecrazy is spot on with that comment. Unions are what is destroying education, not teachers.

  14. Rollo_Tomassi says:

    Why did it take the union until August 24th to finally say what they want? It sure sounds like this union doesn’t want to start school on time September 1st. Otherwise they would have presented their demands earlier, no?

  15. AlabamaGeorge says:

    Corporate CEO goes up = good thing

    Union employees want more = bad thing

  16. I have been reading these comments that people have been leaving and I am just disgusted with how you all think that it is so easy to be a teacher! I am a Para-educator/ teachers’ aide. Have been for 23 years now. I do not make a lot of money, but I DO love my job! The teachers spend money on their classrooms all the time. You say that they make to much money now, well you try to support a classroom with limited school funds. It DOES NOT happen! Some of you out there really need to volunteer in a classroom and see what it is all about! 28 kids in a classroom, 28 desk to walk around, 28 individuals that ALL learn at different paces! Good luck to all you haters out there! Before you make any comments, go visit a school classroom and see how you feel when YOU walk out!!

    Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/08/20/1789049/will-contract-talks-delay-start.html#ixzz1VzA9psU4

  17. i’m interested in highlighting Art Jarvis numbskull insistance on interest-based negotiating where both parties state what they’re interested in instead of getting down to business till now.

  18. Art Jarvis leaving is the best thing to happen to Tacoma School District 10 since he arrived. If he is so concerned about money, tell him to leave his Big Fat Cushy exit package and bloated retirement benefits behind. And raise the window shade on his office so he can see the classrooms outside. What a hypocrite!

  19. olympicmtn says:

    yallarecrazy Glad your wife is working. Sounds like she should be for merit pay then and fight the union thugs with these backward longevity “seat time” out dated pay practices. So when Jarvis fires and rehires your wife will be the first to be re-employed.

    Fact is the private sector is cutting, and becoming leaner while trying to move the economy forward and actually produce items GDP and create jobs and build growth. While the other sector (public sector) in this so called depression, double dip recession is expecting the rest of society to pay for their bloated salaries and benefits. So when times are tough the private sector lays off employees, while the public sector retains and rehires. During these tough times, If your not producing anything, growing the economy and just expect the rest of society to pay for your summers off, your in for a new reality check. I agree with others, time to fire and rehire the best teachers.

  20. ha_tamale says:

    The TEA is out of touch. Most of us are suffering in this economy–those who work in the private and public sector. Everyone has to pitch in. That includes the TEA recognizing that demanding raises for teachers is off the table until the economy improves.

  21. Rollo_Tomassi says:

    MommaK –

    I didn’t see anyone write that teaching was easy. But several posters have indicated that it should not be more expensive next year than it was last year. That’s an opinion I can strongly support.

    This is the problem with union negotiations, just because someone wants more money does not mean they are entitled to it. Some professions are so popular that they generate an overabundance of applicants and that drives the cost down.

    If you don’t think your profession is profitable enough, change professions.

  22. Rollo_Tomassi, even Superintendent Jarvis Didn’t Claim that it took the teachers until August 24 to state their position. He stated: “On Friday, Aug. 19, the union negotiators finally presented a complete set of contract proposals.”

    What he didn’t mention is that because the Administration had other priorities negotiations ended August 4th and didn’t resume until August 15th.

    He also failed to mention that the union was ready to start negotiation early spring, but the administration waited two months to begin.

  23. Belatrix says:


    Plug in your favorite school and see the pay and benefit packages. A telling economical factor right now is that emmisions testing is down almost 33% at the Fife station. This union is totally out of touch with reality. Sure doesn’t hurt to ask as it is for the children. That is what it all about. The children.

  24. I do not want to strike- the colleagues
    I have spoken to are embarrassed by our union’s behavior. We are more than willing to take on a larger class size, get rid of programs such as the mentor program and keep our salaries where they are or a slight reduction. We know we have a great job. We don’t need waiver days. We know that the private sector has been taking hits for the last couple of years and we haven’t.

  25. Rollo_Tomassi says:

    jimlj –

    My bad.

    If the proposal from the Union was sent way back on Friday, then including the weekend, the District had 5 additional days to consume and digest this proposal. How terribly reasonable of the Union to finally present their full proposal 12 days before school starts and expect the district to come up with $5-6M to meet their demands.

    Yes, that is good faith negotiation.

  26. frankiethomas says:

    I think the demands by the TEA are ill timed and imprudent. I think Art Jarvis with his bloated salary has some nerve turning to the public for sympathy. Get back in the room.

  27. I am ALL for Tacoma teachers striking. Until you all have taught every kind of child made….you really have NO IDEA what it takes to accomplish this. Our teachers do not make enough to cover their out of pocket expenses to enhance the learning experience for OUR children. Also…..Tacoma Public Schools “higher ups” have all their bonues and handsome wages intact. I don’t think what our teachers are asking is unrealistic or unwarranted. I say go for it!!!!!

  28. paradox255 says:

    I guess that teachers make so much dough that it would be in my best interest to return to school to get my B.A. degree and then plod ahead for my masters in education so I can make the kind of big bucks they do. Oh wait…I forgot, I’ll have to take out a student loan for 30k and look forward to loan payments for the following 15 years so I can join those “elite” people who should be willing to take a pay cut and work in a shoe store on the weekends.

  29. Belatrix says:

    People who are paid by taxpayers just don’t get it. The rich the rich the rich. The rich don’t have enough money to pay for the mess. Those not rich are still paying taxes and going down hill very fast. When one looks at the pay and benefit package for public employees, you just gottah wonder why they are demanding more from the people who pay taxes and their incomes. A privaleged group. nice place to be, especially now. Don’t get me talking about unfunded pensions and health care for public employees. We are in a serious mess. it is never enough.

  30. David1964 says:

    Since it’s the state that gave the district a 1.9% pay decrease, and the district is just passing it on to the teachers, then the district should do as the state did: furlough the employees commensurate to their loss in pay. If my calculations are rights, 1.9% of their pay is the equivalent of 3.5 work days. So how about this proposal: TPS teachers, take a 1.9% pay decrease in exchange for a shorter school year.

  31. alindasue says:

    David1964 said, “So how about this proposal: TPS teachers, take a 1.9% pay decrease in exchange for a shorter school year.”

    The length of the school year is mandated by state law. Neither the teachers, the union, nor the administrators have any control over it. They can only negotiate which 180 week days out of the year the students will attend. They also have to plan enough leeway to account for possible “snow days” so that school can end on time to not interfere with parents’ vacation plans.

    I’ve talked with enough teachers to know that budget cuts for classrooms mean more out of pocket expenses for teachers. While I might understand the school district not agreeing to a raise at this time, I think it’s unreasonable to ask them to take pay cuts and increase the number of students they have to provide supplies for.

    Belatrix said, “A telling economical factor right now is that emmisions testing is down almost 33% at the Fife station.”

    I’m not quite sure what this has to do with the current conversation.

    If your insinuation is that all the teachers drive cars too new to require emissions testing, then the math doesn’t add up. Even if every teacher would go out to the Fife facility (and not the one in Lakewood that I go to), teachers do not account for anywhere near 33% of the population.

    Even if it did, there are two ways a car would not need emissions testing: to be less than 5 years old OR to be more than 25 years old (built before 1986). I see as many old beaters in the school parking lots as I do newer cars. You know Mr. Jarvis’s car is not one of the beaters.

    What is Mr. Jarvis doing sending that letter out to parents anyhow? That doesn’t sound like negotiating in good faith.

  32. As for the reserve funds, there is already a plan to spend them down in order to cover state budget cuts:

    The Future

    Superintendent Jarvis presented a three-year plan to operate Tacoma Public Schools with the least impact on the education of students.

    According to the Superintendent’s proposal, to absorb the State of Washington’s budget cuts for K-12 education, Tacoma Public Schools could:

    · Draw down its reserve funds by $10 million each year over the next three years for a total of $30 million. (That would leave approximately $9.15 million in reserve funds, which equals the approximate minimum amount allowed by board policy to meet acceptable government accounting principles.)

    · Cut the district budget by $5 million in the 2011-2012 school year, $7.5 million the following school year and $6 million in the third school year.


    Since this document was drafted, I believe the allocation from the reserves is even greater, because a decision was made not to close Foss.

    Please understand, if money from the reserve fund is used to cover a pay increase/classroom size decrease, there are very likely to be program cuts and/or school closures in the next few years. Things that will impact the kids.

    Maybe there is a way to find this money, but I don’t like to hear the reserve thrown around like it’s just extra money we inexplicably aren’t using.

  33. ltkeffer says:

    It is interesting how Bethel and Clover Park school district, who are much smaller and much more financially strapped can cover the 1.9% funding cut, but yet the Tacoma School District with a huge savings account isn’t willing to do the same.

    Jarvis and company should be ashamed of their actions.

    he can’t leave soon enough.

  34. I’m not sure what is going on here, Art Jarvis is very mistaken. Teachers are not asking for a pay raise. The teachers are saying that they want the district to cover the 1.9% pay cut that the state made (just like every other district in the area) with the districts 45 million dollar surplus. Teachers are also saying that putting more children in a classroom is a bad idea if you want them all to learn.

    So why should you as a taxpayer foot the bill (although the money is already in the districts coffers)

    When you think of all the money public education costs, consider the boost to the economy the free public education provides. Not only does every student get access to a quality education (whether they make use of it is another matter) but their parents are freed up to work if they need too with the confidence that their child is safe.

    Also teaching is not what it used to be 60 or even 20 years ago. Workers need to be smarter and more capable. Who do you want giving you drugs in a nursing home or directing air traffic or investing your retirement? Someone who can solve a problem they have never faced before or someone who can answer a 100 question true or false test?

    Free public education is at the foundation of America (unlike many communist or dictatorship run countries where only the chosen get an education). It is un- American and undemocratic to make it so that only the rich can send their kids to good schools.

  35. How do some of you justify giving teachers a 1.9% CUT in pay, but feel that it’s OK for them to have to absorb it? That would be equal to a gas station owner taking any increase in the cost of gas from his employees. It’s absurd thinking. Shame on Art Jarvis for taking this whole issue out to the public. Were the salary negotiations for Tacoma Police made public while it was on-going? (Or any OTHER negotiation process?) Shame on the Legislature fore making ANY cuts to education in it’s budget that included MILLIONS of dollars in salary for football coaches in our Universities. Shame on Governor Gregoir for submitting a budget that made such cuts in the first place.
    Here are cuts that can be made throughout the District without effecting the classroom. Cut every athletic program in every high school and the maintenance on the facilities normally used to support that activity: (Savings on electricity, water, equipment, vehicles, transportation, coaches salaries, insurance, building and grounds repair, etc, etc, etc. MILLIONS normally spent for the entertainment of a small part of the student body and families could repair buildings, provide supplies normally provided by teachers and staff, cut classroom sizes, enhance art programs and programs in science, History, Math, etc.(envision Math camps, Art fairs and such) and avoid our teachers having to take a pay cut.
    I know that this will never happen. But, why can’t it? We can do better by our teachers and yes, FOR our children. Take the emphasis OFF competitive athletics and teach our children what is necessary to function BEYOND High School.

  36. commoncents says:

    belatrix…yes, let’s talk about those unfunded pensions. Whose fault is it that the pensions are unfunded? Don’t blame the car (or its passengers) for running out of gas when the car’s owner was the one who only put in 1/2 tank of gas.

  37. Chellbie says:

    As a parent, with two children in the Tacoma Public School District, I am concerned about this whole thing. To increase the size of a class means less time a teacher is able to actually spend with each student and if that teacher has difficult students or students that are for some reason behind the others it takes away from other children in that class or those struggling continue to flounder. Our children are our future and we really need to safeguard our future if we want it to be better then our today. Teachers work hard, well the really good ones do. Yes, there is some deadwood that should be removed and shame on the principals for allowing these teachers to continue to bring down the whole. Should the teachers agree to a pay cut? NO! Would you if you were a teacher? They have bills just like the rest of us, they have families to support. My main concern however is the education for my children. I am concerned that with adding more students it will actually be damaging to learning and I will be forced at that point to home-school my children. I will not allow anyone to hinder the education my children need and deserve.


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