As beloved Tacoma teacher resigns amid strike, former teacher of the year says more will follow

TACOMA, Wash. -- A day after the woman some called "Tacoma's best teacher" resigned amid a teacher strike, a former Washington teacher of the year says more teachers will likely follow suit.

Jason Lee Middle School teacher Anne Hawkins resigned from the district Monday, five days into a strike that has pitted teachers against the district and delayed the start of the school year. No classes have been held since the teachers union voted to strike Wednesday night.

"I thought I was a lifer, I thought I'd be at Jason Lee until they dragged my scarred carcass out of the building, but this particular strike, it just says to me everything the district thinks about the teachers," Hawkins told Q13 News.

For Nate Bowling, a Tacoma teacher and 2016 Washington teacher of the year, news of Hawkins' departure from the district was heartbreaking.

Hawkins taught across the hall from Bowling when he was a student-teacher. He said he noticed students he was struggling with working hard in her classroom, which prompted him to ask her, "How do you do it?"

"She said, 'Nathan, it’s never the kids, it’s you.' And that stuck with me always ... Anne is the best teacher I’ve ever seen, period ..." Bowling said. "I can tell Hawkins’ kids when they come into my classroom. They have an intensity. They do the handshake she teaches them. She is a gift to education ... And to see her driven out of my district that I’ve worked in my entire career and where I was a student, it really hurts."

Bowling said based on his salary schedule, if he moved to a neighboring school district, he could make $7,000-$12,000 more for this school year alone.

Tacoma Public Schools says it cannot afford the level of pay increases that other districts have given their teachers. State lawmakers conceded in a letter written Monday that Tacoma Public Schools was disproportionately affected by the funding formula that the state implemented following the McCleary Supreme Court decision.

Asked whether more teachers will leave the district if the strike continues, Bowling said "they absolutely will."

Bowling has been contacted by principals in other districts, he said, and he knows he's not the only one.

"Tacoma has historically been a destination district that people move to. I’ve recruited teachers to Tacoma. If we don’t get a fair contract, we’re going to lose young teaching talent to neighboring districts, and that’s going to harm our community and our students," he said. "I will not vote for a contract that pays Tacoma teachers below the average of neighboring districts."

Tacoma Public Schools has requested a state arbitrator to come in and help with negotiations.