After a weeklong strike, teachers in Tacoma have reached a tentative contract agreement with Tacoma Public Schools, the union and district announced Thursday evening.
If teachers approve the contract, school will begin Monday, the district said. Teachers will vote on the tentative deal Friday morning.
A joint statement from the school district and union said the new contract "will allow us to recruit and retain strong professionals," but did not offer details of the deal.
The statement emphasized concerns about funding from the state Legislature, saying the School Board, superintendent and union had been "placed in a difficult situation."
"Without changes in state funding, Tacoma Public Schools will face painful cuts," the statement said.
Striking teachers in the state's fourth-biggest school district had sought salary increases reflective of increases in other districts across the state. The conflict over teacher pay raises has raged across most of the almost 300 school districts, with many administrations agreeing to double-digit pay hikes after state lawmakers injected their budgets with about $1 billion this year to comply with a long-running school finance case known as McCleary.
Sara Ketelsen, a math teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, said she and other union members won’t learn details of the deal until Friday’s meeting.
“I am definitely relieved and excited and nervous,” Ketelsen said. She had spent part of Thursday evening preparing to return to the picket line Friday and said she was anxious to “make sure everybody wins” in the new deal.
“I’m just excited to be back with my students on Monday,” Ketelsen said.
News of the contract deal spread fast on a group chat among Ann McPartlon, a special education and math teacher at Foss High, and her coworkers.
McPartlon, whose husband also teaches in Tacoma schools, worked on the union's bargaining team in 2011, the last time Tacoma teachers went on strike.
"I trust the (union) bargaining team who have volunteered their time," she said. "They were given a clear message, which includes the backing of their union brothers and sisters, to get the best. They wouldn't have a agreed to a (deal) otherwise."
Over the past two years, the Washington Legislature added nearly $2 billion to its K-12 budget to cover the state's tab for teacher salaries and satisfy the McCleary case. But Tacoma schools, unlike districts in wealthier parts of Washington, did not receive as large a windfall to pay for hefty raises. Projections from the state superintendent's office indicate Tacoma will actually lose about 4 percent of its state allocation for teacher salaries this school year and the district has warned of multimillion-dollar shortfalls in the coming years.
The Seattle, Spokane and Edmonds districts also have forecast budget crunches after approving double-digit pay hikes in recent weeks, prompting early calls for teachers unions and their districts to unite in lobbying lawmakers next year for more funding.
"It's a statewide issue,"McPartlon said. "We just need to work together. This shouldn't be separating us if we can get districts and (paraprofessionals) and everyone else to work together."
Earlier Thursday, the teachers union, the Tacoma Education Association, held its largest rally since the start of the work stoppage. Meanwhile, some teachers returned to work despite the strike. About 125 staff members, some of whom are members of the union, accepted a so-called "extra pay for extra work" offer made by the district on Wednesday, district spokesman Dan Voelpel said by phone. Angel Morton, president of the teachers union, called that "a tactic by the district to divide us."
The union represents about 2,400 teachers and office professionals.