District says it has no plans to replace striking Tacoma teachers

Sep 19, 2011

Teachers will remain off the job for the sixth day (with schools closed as well) on Tuesday in Tacoma, where a strike has idled about 28,000 public school students. Negotiations have been continuing late into the night since the strike began.

However, despite the comments of a judge involved in the strike, the Tacoma school district says there is no plan afoot to hire replacement workers for the teachers who remain on strike.

District Spokesman Dan Voelpel says it came as a surprise to him when Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff said he might authorize the district to bring in replacements.

Voelpel says the district didn’t ask for that authorization. He added that it would be “a Herculean task” to replace the nearly 2,000 teachers who are now walking the picket lines.

"We currently only have about 600 certificated substitute teachers. So it would be quite a chore to come up with a process to be able to replace our teachers in a timely manner. That's why we need to focus on getting the collective bargaining agreement done, so our good teachers can do their good work in the classroom," Voelpel said.

Union spokesman Rich Wood says the teachers remain focused on getting a fair settlement at the bargaining table.

"That's where this needs to be resolved is in negotiations. So, thankfully, both sides are meeting with a state mediator and that's where the fair settlement needs to be hashed out,” says Wood. "Meanwhile, Tacoma teachers are going to continue to walk the picket lines on strike until they have a tentative contract agreement that they can vote on and approve and get back to school."

The earliest that could happen would be Wednesday.

The main sticking points in negotiations are about class size, salaries in the face of state-mandated pay cuts – and a proposed system of when and how instructors can be re-assigned to different schools, without their consent.

The district says budget cuts are forcing it to increase class sizes and cut teachers’ pay. The teachers union says the district has a healthy reserve it could spend, as some others have done. And both sides say the biggest disagreement remains: the proposed system of when and how teachers can be re-assigned to different schools, without their consent.