Bargaining continues day before district plans to take Tumwater teachers to court over strike

TUMWATER, Wash. -- The Tumwater School District is taking teachers to court on Friday in hopes of forcing striking teachers back into the classroom.

And despite an upcoming legal battle, teachers say they are still not backing down.

The teachers strike began Tuesday in Tumwater, and there is no telling when kids will start school.

Tumwater teachers say the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision and the Legislature's action last year pumped $2 billion into public education this year so they want their compensation to go up with those new dollars.

On Thursday, teachers picketed outside school.

“We’ve been marching for seven and half hours a day,” teacher Doug Peltier said.

They are hoping negotiations will result in a historic pay increase.

“I know the bargaining team has been quiet about what they are asking for,” Peltier said.

But the district is spilling the numbers.

District officials said that  last week,before they had to call in a state mediator, they had offered teachers a 13% to 16% pay hike over two years.

But the district says union leaders were asking for a 26% to 31% salary jump in one year.

“I agree that we have to pay teachers well -- most of the folks in the state would agree -- but when the demand is a nearly 30% wage increase, that seems unreasonable,” state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said.

Braun says the demand is unbelievable and he supports the school district’s decision to take teachers to court to force them back into the classroom.

“It’s disappointing that they have to use legal methods, but the fact is strikes are illegal. Keeping our kids out of the classroom, it’s very disappointing and frustrating,” Braun said.

Peltier says he doesn’t want to be on strike either.

“We are sorry that this is what’s happening. We know in the end-run what we are asking for is what’s going to be best for all the kids in this district,” Peltier said.

The average teacher salary in Tumwater last year was $68,526. Peltier, with more than two decades of teaching experience, is making more than that.

He says his wife is also a teacher at the North Thurston School District. He says between the two of them, they are financially comfortable. But Peltier says many other teachers are making a lot less in his district.

Teachers also say the strike goes beyond just salaries.

“For some time we feel like we have not been respected for what we do,” Peltier said.

He says education is a difficult thing to do and they should be compensated to match that.

The two sides will head to court on Friday. State law says teachers cannot strike but the law does not impose fines.

The two sides started bargaining on Thursday at 1 p.m and negotiations were to continue through the night.

The Tumwater School District says they want to pay their teachers a competitive salary but the range teachers are asking for would not be sustainable for the district, even with new dollars coming from McCleary.

With the McCleary decision, the Legislature raised the base pay for beginning teachers across the state to $40,000. But many school districts are already paying more than that.

Under McCleary, there is also a new rule that says after five years of teaching, educators will have to make at least 10% more than their beginning salary.