As strike enters 2nd week, Tacoma school district says what it is offering teachers is competitive

TACOMA, Wash. -- There is no telling when about 29,000 students in Tacoma will start the school year as the teachers strike entered a second week.

Tacoma teachers say the damage has been done and some teachers are already looking to go to other districts. The two sides are so polarized the district had to call in an independent arbitrator to determine what is fact or fiction.

Thousands of Tacoma teachers marched outside the Tacoma school district headquarters on Monday, steadfast in their mission to stay on strike.

“I had someone put in their resignation today,” Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton said.

Morton said that teacher was leaving due to the strife over pay.

“They can make more money somewhere else,” Morton said.

“We don’t want to lose our teachers to surrounding districts, (but) we can only afford to pay so much, considering the state’s funding formula,” Tacoma Public Schools spokesperson Dan Voelpel said.

Voelpel said the state Legislature, in trying to meet the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision on full funding of education, gave Tacoma Public Schools less money than other districts. He said the district is now facing a $32 million deficit next school year.

“They don’t have a financial crisis; they have a respect crisis and they are not respecting educators,” Morton said.

Morton said the district received $30 million from the state for educator salaries, but that the district is only offering $11 million of that to teachers.

But Voelpel disagreed, countering, “They are misinforming the public and their own membership of what the school district got."

The confusion is also compounded because each side is interpreting the new funding differently.

“We don’t think they have the facts straight. Once an independent person sees it, they are going to side with the district,” Voelpel said.

The district also made a graph to compare what they are offering their teachers compared to neighboring districts, saying they are competitive. The graph shows the median salary on the table would be about $77,000 for teachers for the 2018-2019 school year.

The top-earning educators in Tacoma would make around $102,000.

The range is similar to other districts like Fife, Clover Park and Peninsula -- and Q13 News pointed that out to Morton on Monday to get a response.

“If you are good at what you do, you deserve to be paid. If people at the top end of salary schedule came (to Tacoma) from Puyallup, they would lose $7,000,” Morton said.

Morton added that that’s because Tacoma requires a PhD with 20 years experience to make the top salary while in Puyallup it’s 16 years with a master’s degree.

“We are only asking for the same salary that other districts have already given their employees,” Morton said.

Q13 News reached out to a policy expert at the Legislature for some clarification.

A source says Tacoma schools will receive about $38 million in new state funding this year but there is no requirement that all of that money be used on teacher salaries.

Voelpel says although new state funding is going up, local levy dollars are coming down, leaving Tacoma schools in a deficit very soon.

He says in 2019-2020 with local levies going down, funding will drop by more than $30 million.

That’s why the district says it is vital for state lawmakers to fix the formula to make it more fair to Tacoma.

The only school districts in the state where teachers remain on strike, besides Tacoma, are Tumwater, Centralia, and Battle Ground in southwestern Washington.

And on Monday night, the Centralia district and teachers announced they had reached a tentative contract agreement.