Strikes Hit Two Washington State Districts

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Teachers in two school districts in Washington state were on strike last week, with the prospect of more strikes to come in the state.

Since the start of the school year, teachers in at least a dozen districts across the country have walked out, demanding, in most cases, higher pay and increased health benefits.

Teachers in Washington state are particularly unhappy with their compensation, said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

"Teacher pay and benefits are not competitive with the private sector or with schools in other states," he said, adding that the disparity exists "at a time when we have higher academic standards and expectations [in the state] than ever before."

In the 8,200-student Snohomish and the 14,000-student Issaquah districts, strikes began on Sept. 4. Both districts have held a series of talks with little progress.

Teachers in at least three more districts including Bellevue, Puyallup, and Tacomaare working under the terms of expired contracts and are scheduled to take strike votes by the end of the month, Mr. Wood said.

At a recent negotiation meeting in Issaquah, the teachers' union slightly reduced its demands, after seven months of bargaining, said Superintendent Janet Barry.

"Their demand is still so far above the district's ability to pay that we're not truly bargaining," she said. "I see no signals that the union really intends to achieve a negotiated agreement that would settle this strike."

The district planned last week to ask for an injunction in King County Superior Court against the teachers' union.

The strikes were the first in memory for both Snohomish and Issaquah.

In addition to Washington state, Pennsylvania also had multiple strikes in small districts, including Perkiome Valley, Avington Heights, and North Schuylkill.

"It's certainly more labor strikes than we'd like to see," said Lynn Ohman, the director of collective bargaining and member advocacy at the National Education Association. "But I don't believe this is indicative of any major labor strife. I think if the economy continues to make it difficult for state and local governments to collect revenue, we'd see an even more difficult situation in coming months."

N.J. Strike Resolved

Teachers in the 3,300-student Princeton Regional School District in New Jersey staged a two-day strike on Sept. 4 and 5. Under a new agreement, they will receive salary increases of 4.5 percent, 4.7 percent, and 4.6 percent in each of the three years of the contract, said Karen Joseph, a New Jersey Education Association spokeswoman.

The teachers' union, which had been negotiating with the district since January, walked out over salaries, health benefits, and extra pay for extra work, she said.

While teachers in the district earn an average of $58,376—just above the state average of $56,000—the 1998 per-capita income for surrounding Princeton Township, one of the communities the district serves, was $76,000, Ms. Joseph said. "The community clearly had the ability to pay," she said.

Another point of contention was whether principals could assign teachers to playground duty, said Charlotte Bialek, the Princeton board president. Under state law, it is illegal for school boards to negotiate away that prerogative of principals, Ms. Bialek said, although the teachers' union had sought such a change.

So, "in order to soften the blow from that one, we negotiated on pay," she said.

In Delran, N.J., teachers at the 950-student Holy Cross High School last week staged their fifth strike in 24 years.

The sticking points were issues of internal management of classrooms, including the process of teacher evaluation and how students are added to classrooms, said Steven Emery, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, which runs the school.

Mr. Emery characterized the negotiation progress as "steady, but slow."

Vol. 22, Issue 3, Page 3

Published in Print: September 18, 2002, as Strikes Hit Two Washington State Districts
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