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Tacoma And Bellevue Teachers Still In Talks As School Year Approaches

Phyllis Fletcher

The bargaining teams of the Tacoma School District and the union that represents its teachers are scheduled to negotiate Tuesday. School is scheduled to start there on Thursday (9/1). Tacoma and Bellevue schools are still hammering out deals with teachers. KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher reports.


When teachers and school districts negotiate, everyone says they want what's best for kids. They might even admit the other side wants that too. But what is best for kids is what everyone disagrees about. And it's usually tied to money.

Teachers' unions here are usually called education associations. Adrienne Dale of the Tacoma Education Association says it's fighting the district over class size.

Dale: "If you're a fourth or a fifth grader, you can count on now having 30 students in your class, where there had been 28. That's just not a way to improve student learning."

Dan Voelpel of the Tacoma School District says two things have made bargaining more stressful this time around: The salary cut of 1.9 percent from the state Legislature and input from special interest groups, like the reform–minded Vibrant Schools group in Tacoma.

Voelpel: "Trying to influence how teachers are evaluated and trying to tie teacher performance to student performance. Those are all very difficult issues that are converging at the same time."

In Bellevue, both sides say the top two issues are how quickly teachers have to turn in grades and how teachers use early dismissal time.

The Bellevue School District wants to see that time go towards professional development activity — like classes and meetings. Jacque Coe is spokesperson for Bellevue Schools.

Coe: "Continuous improvement is critically important in any profession. So it's a consistency — a cohesive approach to education."

Michele Miller is president of the Bellevue Education Association, the union. She says forcing teachers to spend all that time in meetings means asking them to work for free, because all the work they used to do during those hours doesn't go away.

Miller: "You still have to do those report cards and talk to parents and plan for your class and get your materials ready and meet with the special ed teacher and meet with the ESL teacher. You now just have to find your own time to do them."

Bellevue schools are scheduled to start on September 6, the day after Labor Day.

Teacher contracts in Tacoma and Bellevue expire on Wednesday.

Even districts with continuing contracts had to go to the bargaining table to deal with the salary cut from the Legislature, like Seattle — they settled the issue with furlough days.

I'm Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News.

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