Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tumwater Educators Strike, School Delayed

Above: A young member of the Kressin family gives second grade teacher Lauren Roberts, center, a big hug Tuesday morning outside Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School. Kristina Kressin and her children came to show their love and support for the teachers. 

Teacher Lauren Roberts wants lower class sizes and language in her contract that addresses safety issues

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Tumwater school children met their teachers and brought them cookies and snacks at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School on Tuesday.

Teachers, crouching low, gave out big hugs while laughing and exclaiming how big their students had grown over the summer.

But instead of all these greetings happening in the classroom, they were out on the picket line outside the school.

School was scheduled to start on Wednesday, but that will be delayed for the Tumwater School District.

Day by day, Washington Education Association union members from across Washington State have been able to bargain agreements, but Tumwater School District and Tumwater Education Association (TEA) members have not.

“There will be no school September 5th due to the TEA decision for a teacher strike,” read the Tumwater School District website on Tuesday. 

“Both the district and TEA bargaining teams are coming to the table on September 6th to continue working to reach an agreement. If you have an appointment scheduled at any of our schools, it will need to be rescheduled when schools reopen. We will communicate Wednesday when we have more information.”

No negotiations were ongoing on Tuesday.

Above: Members of the Tumwater Education Association and children strike outside Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School on Dennis Street in Tumwater Tuesday morning.

Parent Kristina Kressin of Tumwater says her soon-to-be third grader, TJ, 8, is a smart little boy who has had the best teachers at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School.  

“He has had the best teachers who have made sure he is challenged - they've gone above and beyond and have helped him encourage other kids. The teachers deserve to get paid like everybody else. This school district made the top ten in all of Washington but are not being paid as much as those in Olympia and Thurston County.”

With her four year old daughter starting kindergarten next year and a five month old son, Kressin says she wants all her children to have the same teachers.

“I was going to be the mom who homeschooled her kids, but then I met his kindergarten teacher and fell in love.  I would really like to keep the caliber of teachers we have here. This is our home and I don’t want to lose our teachers because they can’t afford to live here.”

Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School second grade teacher Lauren Roberts of Tumwater says she is on strike in support of lower class sizes and language in her contract that addresses safety issues. 

She has been an educator for 12 years and is passionate about her classroom children.

“We do everything in our power to make sure their day is the absolute best that it can be and sometimes that’s hard. And most of the time, it’s the best thing in the whole entire world. It’s so fun. I wouldn’t do anything else but I also deserve to be paid fairly.

“We have a lot more kids these days. Some come from challenging home lives and they are not always ready. Some of those behaviors come out in the classroom. We love them through and through but it’s sometimes hard for the other kids in the classroom to see those outbursts.”

She said there have even been injuries.

“It can take its toll emotionally on a teacher and on a classroom. Those kids who act out end up being some of my favorites but we also need language in our contract that supports teachers during those challenging times.”

Roberts was asked what that support would look like.

“It would look like somebody covering the classroom for ten minutes so I can remove myself or help a kid take some time out, not as punishment, but to recognize that there may have been a trigger for something and we need to do something else. Maybe we could look for it in advance. Luckily at Peter G., our admin is so supportive of this and works really hard with us, but having that language in our contract helps protect us and helps us say, ‘No, we really need this.’”

She said that this year, she will have 24 children in her classroom.

“We’re in public education, so we are going to teach these kids, all of them. Our contract from before says that 24 kids is our trigger limit, so if I get a 25th kid, I get overage pay. We have five second grades right now. Three of us are at 24 kids and the other two are at 23. Those are really high numbers. Really, if we had one more teacher, we’d all be at 19.5 kids, which is a reasonable number. In the high schools, the class sizes are even higher.”

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tumwater is 277 out of 295 statewide districts for student to classroom teacher ratio.

Decision to Strike

The last thing Tumwater Education Association union members wanted to do is strike, said Tumwater Education Association president Tim Voie, but that’s what happened as of 12:01 a.m. September 1.

On August 27, voting 91 percent in favor, Tumwater Education Association members authorized a vote to strike if a contract agreement wasn’t reached by August 31. An agreement was not reached.

The Association’s goal was to start school on time with smaller, safer classes. The union is also calling for the Tumwater School District to pay its teachers competitively in order to attract and retain high quality teachers.

In accordance with the McCleary Decision to fully fund education, the Legislature increased state funding for public school by billions, including $2 billion to increase educator salaries in the 2018-19 school year.

As of Tuesday evening, nearly 6,000 Washington Education Association members are on strike in nine Western Washington school districts.

For more information about the negotiations and the Tumwater Educator Association, go to Little Hollywood and read the August 25 story, “Tumwater Educator Union Members Rally,” at http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2018/08/tumwater-educator-union-members-rally.html