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Striking Tacoma teachers need lesson in timing (opinion piece)

Posted by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 5:44 PM
  • 6 Replies

Striking Tacoma teachers need lesson in timing

Recently a middle-school teacher in Tacoma wrote an anguished letter to his colleagues about what was leading to a school-stopping strike there. He said it wasn't money.


Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Unbelievable that any state employee would try to strike right now. Talk about poor... Read more
quotes Great column Danny. I admire good teachers and agree the good ones should make more. ... Read more
quotes Teacher unions should be barred from strikes. Our police unions, as self-described... Read more

Recently a middle-school teacher in Tacoma wrote an anguished letter to his colleagues about what was leading to a school-stopping strike there. He said it wasn't money.

"Teachers did not get into this profession to get rich," he wrote. "I am tired of hearing in the media about my level of greed."

I agree with this completely. Admittedly I'm biased, being the son of two teachers. But if my parents or any other teachers I've ever known were driven by greed, they certainly weren't very good at it.

So I would use a different adjective for the Tacoma teachers strike that shut the state's third-largest district Tuesday. Hidebound, maybe. Or: tone deaf.

First off, the state of Washington is one day away from declaring a five-alarm fiscal fire.

On Thursday, we are going to hear that the just-completed two-year state budget is already $1 billion to $2 billion short. It's due to what the state's chief economist is calling "weak job growth, weak confidence, weak consumer spending and, of course, weak revenues."

So: really weak time to go on strike. Even if Tacoma teachers deserve better pay (and they probably do), it's delusional to walk off the job to try to get it now. Not when every district is facing more cutting.

They also are fighting over a seniority policy in Tacoma. Principals want to be allowed to consider a teacher's credentials and performance when assigning them to a school, rather than only choosing from the pool of least-experienced teachers.

This is a version of a debate happening all over the country. Principals want more flexibility in staffing schools. Teachers, sometimes for good reason, don't always trust principals and so have negotiated a system based more on formula.

It's a legitimate debate. But that they've shut down an entire district over it, a week into the fall schedule, is as dysfunctional as Congress. As one high-school sophomore said in the Tacoma paper, The News Tribune: "You're adults. Grow up."

Here's a comparison that does not reflect well on Tacoma. Somehow these same financial and seniority issues were worked out collaboratively — even maturely — in, of all places, Seattle.

Last year Seattle Public Schools and the teachers union crafted a new evaluation and transfer policy that resolves, at least in part, what Tacoma is at war over.

"Notably, Seattle is one of the few districts with a National Education Association-affiliated union that has negotiated a contract that eliminates the role of seniority in teacher assignment," reported the National Council on Teacher Quality.

And this summer, the Seattle union and management quietly agreed on a state-ordered temporary pay cut (mostly by taking a few furlough days). It was all done without much rancor, to the credit of both the union and the much-maligned Seattle administration.

Nobody likes less pay. This year, members of the union I belong to at The Seattle Times are taking seven furlough days, next year up to eight. We also voted to freeze, permanently, our own pensions.

What kind of a union would willingly freeze its pension? Well, the way we saw it was: one that wants to survive.

That's what feels most off-kilter about this latest teachers strike. They're walking the line over a few furlough days and a transfer policy. Maybe they missed the governor's emergency declaration that further double-digit cuts may be imminent. Maybe they didn't hear that in some states (see Wisconsin), public-employee unions are in a death struggle as to whether they can exist at all.

If the Wisconsin fight ever arrives here, unions are going to need all the public goodwill they can get. Teachers may regret how often they seemed to walk so easily over so little.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

Your thoughts?

by on Sep. 14, 2011 at 5:44 PM
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Replies (1-6):
tooptimistic
by Kelly on Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:03 PM

Striking over a transfer policy?  Really?  They can't just work where they are needed?  Where their skills are best used?


Quote:

Principals want to be allowed to consider a teacher's credentials and performance when assigning them to a school, rather than only choosing from the pool of least-experienced teachers.

I am sincerly confused as to how this idea is bad?
Peanutx3
by Ruby Member on Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:21 PM

I am not sure why that is a bad thing.  Teacher strikes in Washington really piss me off.  They don't give a damn that it is illegal for them to strike.  They do it anyway. 

candlegal
by Judy on Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:24 PM

definitely poor timing

tangledteach
by Member on Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:50 PM
1st- moving schools and classrooms is not like moving cubicles. It takes several people a couple of days to move my stuff.
2nd- moving schools means longer commutes etc; especially in larger districts.
3rd- getting into 'good' schools as a teacher is timing, luck and yes seniority.
Would it be fair to be a high achieving experienced teacher and be put into the worst performing, sometimes dangerous school...because ur a good teacher- without input or protection?


Quoting tooptimistic:

Striking over a transfer policy?  Really?  They can't just work where they are needed?  Where their skills are best used?



Quote:

Principals want to be allowed to consider a teacher's credentials and performance when assigning them to a school, rather than only choosing from the pool of least-experienced teachers.


I am sincerly confused as to how this idea is bad?
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
tooptimistic
by Kelly on Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the students if you were a great teacher to move to where you are needed?  Isn't the point of public school doing what's best for the students? 

Quoting tangledteach:

1st- moving schools and classrooms is not like moving cubicles. It takes several people a couple of days to move my stuff.
2nd- moving schools means longer commutes etc; especially in larger districts.
3rd- getting into 'good' schools as a teacher is timing, luck and yes seniority.
Would it be fair to be a high achieving experienced teacher and be put into the worst performing, sometimes dangerous school...because ur a good teacher- without input or protection?


Quoting tooptimistic:

Striking over a transfer policy?  Really?  They can't just work where they are needed?  Where their skills are best used?



Quote:

Principals want to be allowed to consider a teacher's credentials and performance when assigning them to a school, rather than only choosing from the pool of least-experienced teachers.


I am sincerly confused as to how this idea is bad?


Peanutx3
by Ruby Member on Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:54 PM

So only the performing schools deserve good teachers? 

Quoting tangledteach:

1st- moving schools and classrooms is not like moving cubicles. It takes several people a couple of days to move my stuff.
2nd- moving schools means longer commutes etc; especially in larger districts.
3rd- getting into 'good' schools as a teacher is timing, luck and yes seniority.
Would it be fair to be a high achieving experienced teacher and be put into the worst performing, sometimes dangerous school...because ur a good teacher- without input or protection?


Quoting tooptimistic:

Striking over a transfer policy?  Really?  They can't just work where they are needed?  Where their skills are best used?



Quote:

Principals want to be allowed to consider a teacher's credentials and performance when assigning them to a school, rather than only choosing from the pool of least-experienced teachers.


I am sincerly confused as to how this idea is bad?


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