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Why teachers remain on strike in Tacoma, and elsewhere

Teachers continue to strike or reach tentative agreements in Washington state as the 2018-19 school year begins. But many parents are wondering why the teachers are striking or negotiating in the first place — wasn’t the bevy of new state funding supposed to solve these issues?

“Here’s the brass tax of why there’s a strike in Tacoma,” Tacoma teacher Nate Bowling told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “Tacoma schools receive more funding than neighboring school districts, on a per student basis, and Tacoma teachers are being offered a contract that would not pay us the same salaries as people in adjacent districts.”

“I have an eight-minute drive to Lincoln High School,” he said. “I could turn my commute into a 12-minute drive south to Franklin Pierce High School and make between $7,000 and $12,000 more.”

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Bowling was teacher of the year in 2016. He says he feels connected to his community, and therefore doesn’t want to quit and leave Tacoma schools. He knows other teachers, however, who have left Tacoma after years working there. He argues Tacoma is at risk of losing effective teachers who have contributed to the district’s “renaissance” over the past few decades that have increased graduation rates and developed a college-going culture.

Tacoma school funding fight

Each school district in Washington state manages its budget independently. So while teachers in Centralia announced that a tentative agreement was reached with its school district Tuesday, teachers in Tumwater remained on strike. In fact, the Tumwater school district is taking the teachers’ union to court over the strike. Similar to Tacoma, Tumwater teachers argue that their pay has failed to keep pace with the rising salaries in neighboring districts, such as Elma and Shelton.

In Tacoma — and Battle Ground — a state arbitrator has been called to intervene in the matter. The district received $50 million from the state this year. It will replace the city’s levy funding of $46 million (the levy will go away under new education funding). The district offered teachers a 7.5 percent pay raise recently; a $5,500 per teacher raise as well as a $250 annual stipend for classroom supplies. School officials argue that the district already faces at least a $25 million deficit — before bargaining began. That may result in layoffs next year; and more layoffs if raises are approved.

RELATED: Tacoma schools offer breakfast, lunch during strike

“What has happened is that the State of Washington gave districts a large tranche of state money, but also put a cap on local levy spending,” Bowling said. “What we have in Tacoma is a situation where voters have been generous to Tacoma schools and have funded programs in schools and that levy money has been cut. The issue — the State of Washington knew that was a problem and gave Tacoma an additional infusion of $12 million as an offset. Now there is basically a fight over how that money should be spent.”

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