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Teachers in Tumwater, Stanwood-Camano, Rainier districts go on strike; Arlington gets tentative pact

TUKWILA, Wash. -- On Labor Day, school district workers such as Rhonda Lee couldn't take the day off.

Lee’s office is full of school supplies at the Tukwila School District headquarters.

“All of these backpacks are all donated,” Lee said.

Supplies may be ready for Tukwila students, but Lee, the district's spokesperson, isn't sure when kids will actually be in class.

Lee is working overtime keeping track of negotiations over teacher salaries.

“We are hoping, hoping to avoid any kind of controversy,” Lee said.

On Monday night, Stanwood-Camano teachers announced they were on strike after not reaching a tentative agreement with the district.  Classes were canceled for Tuesday, which was supposed to be the first day of the school year.

Also Monday night, the Rainier School District teachers also announced they were on strike. The district tweeted that schools would be closed Tuesday "due to strike," after negotiations with the teachers union were unsuccessful. But the district tweeted that after-school activities would take place Tuesday as scheduled.

Teachers in Evergreen, Battle Ground, Washougal and Longview in Southwestern Washington do not have agreements and remain on strike.

Tumwater teachers also are on strike; classes are scheduled to start Wednesday, Sept. 5.

Teachers in Centralia, Puyallup, Tukwila, Conway, South Whidbey, Monroe and Wapato have voted to strike if they don’t have agreements by the start of school this week.

Arlington Public Schools and the teachers union reached a tentative contract agreement Monday night. Teachers are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to ratify the contract. School will start on Wednesday

Tukwila teachers appeared poised for a strike, but in the 11th hour the district asked teachers to come back to the table on Tuesday -- before the scheduled first day of school on Wednesday.

“We are looking for any type of progress,” Lee said.

The district says the average teacher salary is about $60 an hour. The potential pay raise in a new contract proposal is not being revealed but both sides say the goal is to avoid a strike.

“The offer really hasn't been fair and competitive to our members,” Tukwila Education Association Treasurer Debbie Aldous said.

Aldous is a middle school teacher and she says their union is also fighting for other school employees, like nurses and secretaries, to get a pay increase.

Educators across the state have been loud about what they deserve.

Many unions successfully negotiated double-digit pay increases in districts like Lake Washington and Everett.

The reason why there are still so many school districts still bargaining boils down to the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. It led to a $9.2 billion increase over the next six years for public education.

The Washington Education Association noted that because of the McCleary decision, the 2018 Legislature approved $1 billion for K-12 educator compensation. That's in addition to the $1 billion for educator salaries that lawmakers approved last year.

Teachers say it's a historic opportunity for educators to up their salaries.

“If Tacoma remains the lowest paid district in the South Sound region, Tacoma will be a revolving door of educators -- and parents know that's not in the best for their kids,” Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton said.

Last Thursday, Tacoma Public Schools spokesperson Dan Voelpel said while other districts got a windfall of new dollars, Tacoma didn't. He said they could only provide teachers a 3.1% pay increase.

“The new funding schedule is overly simplistic, and in trying to apply a simplistic formula to 295 school districts across the state just did not work,” Voelpel said.

But by Monday, Tacoma Public Schools says they have agreed to significantly go up from 3%.

Whether teachers will agree to the new deal is yet to be seen.

Tacoma teachers will meet on Tuesday to vote whether to strike.

And in Tukwila, the uncertainty for more than 3,000 students is certainly stressful.

A strike would add to the many other challenges this district is already facing.

“It's been a challenge like I have ever seen,” Lee said.