Tacoma teachers say they feel 'disrespected' by school district

TACOMA, Wash. -- Tacoma Public Schools on Wednesday publicly released its newest teacher salary proposal -- one week after the educators went on strike.

Officials say the new offer puts Tacoma teacher salary right in line with other school districts.

“If you remember, we started at 3.1 percent as our offer. We’re up to 12.45 percent,” said Dan Voelpel, spokesperson for Tacoma Public Schools.

Voelpel was joined by School Board President Andrea Cobb during a press conference Wednesday morning. The two district officials discussed the newest teacher pay increase proposal.

Tacoma teachers went on strike on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 5. Teachers say the district does not pay them a livable wage and, following the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision and the Legislature's passage of a bill to fully fund education, are looking for the district to increase their salaries.

Voelpel says this newest offer from the district is keeping in line with school districts around Tacoma.

“We proposed a competitive offer that keeps us right near the top in the region, and we will continue to attract and retain the best teachers in Tacoma Public Schools.

The district says they’ve increased their offer by nearly four times, but teachers say that number is misleading.

“The district says it’s 12 percent plus that’s not true. They’re taking money we’ve already made and rolling it into our base salary and calling it a raise,” said Angel Morton, president of the Tacoma Education Association.

Morton says the district is taking money that was associated with optional teacher work days, and instead rolling it into the base salary.

She says the union got the district’s proposal on Tuesday and presented a counter-offer around 10 p.m. Tuesday, hours before the district’s press conference.

Morton says the district is risking burning bridges with its teachers

“The teachers are feeling very disrespected by the district,” she said.

During the press conference, hundreds of teachers on strike chanted while school officials spoke. The chants were so loud they could be heard inside during the press conference and interviews with the district officials.

“It’s just telling us to go on to another district, that, obviously, our TPS district doesn’t care for our teachers and don’t value us,” said Sunny Perez, a teacher striking outside during the district press conference.

Voelpel says with a teacher pay increase or not, the school district is already in a multimillion-dollar deficit and will have to lay off hundreds of teachers and cut programs in the 2019-2020 school year if they are not able to get more money.