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Eight state legislators sign letter trying to help end Tacoma teachers strike, lawmaker says

TACOMA, Wash. -- One state lawmaker says a letter she helped draft is intended to help Tacoma Public Schools officials end their teacher strike.

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was among eight lawmakers who signed a letter trying to help resolve the strike, which began last Thursday over salary issues.

Teachers are believed to be seeking double-digit pay raises similar to what educators in many other school districts have received in recent weeks, but the Tacoma school district says it didn't receive enough money from the Legislature to meet those level of increases.

“There are a myriad of issues which, combined, have placed Tacoma schools in one of the most difficult positions of any district in Washington,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to address the issues the school district faces following the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision, which required the Legislature to fully fund public education. To fulfill that mandate, the Legislature provided school districts with various amounts of funds, including for teacher pay raises. The Tacoma district said it didn't get an amount that would allow large pay raises for teachers.

“We recognize that the funding formula agreed upon in 2017 disproportionately affected Tacoma Public Schools and a few other districts," the legislators' letter said. "We aim to fix these inequities in the 2019 legislative session because we want to keep salaries competitive to attract and retain great teachers and staff."

The school district said the letter was backing up the district's position.

Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said, “Unless the Legislature steps in and fixes the funding formula, we’ll be facing layoffs of about 400 people, and program cuts across the district."

Voelpel said the district is already millions of dollars in deficit and increasing teacher salaries would just mean even more cuts to staff and programs.

Teachers say regardless of layoffs, the Tacoma school district is looking at losing teachers anyway.

“I don’t want to see our school district start to lose people as they go to other districts that are offering $10,000 more,” said Brent Gaspaire, a Tacoma teacher.

“Their (the school district's) interpretation of the letter was not very accurate in my perspective. So I posted my two cents (worth) in what I intended the letter to mean,” Jinkins said.

Jinkins added that she wants the strike to end.

She says as far as any layoffs, those wouldn't happen this year, which would give her and lawmakers time to come up with a fix before anyone loses their job.

In addition to Jinkins, the others signing the letter were state Reps. Jake Fey, Steve Kirby, Christine Kilduff and Dick Muri, along with state Sens. Steve Conway, Jeannie Darneille and Steve O’Ban.