OLYMPIA, Wash. – Negotiators reached a tentative agreement on a new contract for Tacoma teachers Wednesday night, providing a breakthrough that could end a strike that has forced the cancellation of more than a week of school.
Both sides said in a news conference late Wednesday that they were pleased with the deal. Teachers will have an opportunity to vote on the plan Thursday in hopes of restarting classes Friday.
The announcement came after more than seven hours of talks at the office of Gov. Chris Gregoire, who had asked negotiators to stay until the two sides could reconcile their differences. She has no direct control over Washington schools but stepped in to use her influence as a mediator.
"It was give and take. It was understanding," Gregoire said. "It was getting rid of misinformation and misunderstanding."
Negotiators declined to immediately discuss the details of the agreement, saying they wanted teachers to see it first. The two sides have been disputing issues including pay and class size, but the major sticking point is how the district handles teacher transfers. The district wants to consider some factors in addition to seniority.
The Tacoma Education Association, the union for 1,900 teachers, has been defying a court order for them to return to work. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff has said he's considering giving the district the option of replacing teachers who are on the picket line, and the next court hearing is set for Tuesday.
State and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike, according to a 2006 state attorney general's opinion. But that opinion also noted state law lacks specific penalties for striking public employees.
Jennifer Boutell, a mother to 8- and 10-year-old girls, said she's lucky to be able to stay at home and watch her daughters during the strike, but everyone's patience is running out. On Wednesday, she dropped of her daughters at a community center so they could be around other kids their age.
"Today I just couldn't take the bickering," said Boutell, who also writes on a local blog named Tacoma Mama. "It was an emotional necessity for everyone."
The strike has forced Boutell to delay freelance web development projects, and she said she knows of parents at her daughter's school who have skipped work. Day care centers around the city are charging $35 per day per child during the strike, she said.