Tacoma teachers are going for broke
Posted by Lynne Varner
By defying a judge's order to return to work, Tacoma teachers are courting danger. This Seattle Times editorial sums up general public impatience: get back into the classroom and continue to hammer out a good contract.
Oh, and recalibrate your definition of good. Most workers have lost ground in this recession.
It is about to get worse. Maybe because teachers were out on the picket lnes, they didn't hear the news. The latest economic forecast shows state revenues down by $1.4 billion. State budget writers met in Olympia this morning to start the process of chopping more from a budget that many would argue has already been scrubbed clean. Judging from here, don't expect things to improve anytime soon.
Education spending is a huge chunk of the state budget pie and it is unlikely lawmakers will be able to resist looking there for cuts. Expect levy equalization funds to be on the chopping block. It may be open season on higher ed which doesn't enjoy the same constitutional protections as basic ed.
With what's at stake, education advocates ought to be screaming with one voice against further cuts. The Tacoma School District should be holding onto its reserves instead of giving in to the union. The next round of budget cuts might require the reserves to keep the lights on. With the federal stimulus and now with reserves, districts are sorely tempted to spend reserves, one-time money, and pray for a financial turnaround while they build up emptied coffers.
That isn't smart. Any government entity, or person for that matter, who isn't spending money conservatively right now isn't paying attention. Tacoma teachers already earn average salaries of nearly $64,000 a year. To the unemployed and underemployed, that's worth being grateful for, at least until the recession is over.
But the strike is about more than money. Supposedly.
It is also about class sizes. The way that debate has been cast is less than honest. Publicly the word is that teachers are fighting to physically lower class sizes. But what's really at stake is how much to compensate teachers for overcrowded classes. I'm not against overload benefits, in fact most teacher contracts already have some language on it, but let's be honest about the vocabulary. Two things: smaller class sizes or accepting larger class sizes in exchange for higher compensation. I can justify both. We just need to be honest.
A third issue is around seniority. Why are we clinging blindly to seniority? When it comes to assigning or laying off teachers, logic holds that most of the best-performing teachers would also be among the most experienced.
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