The public relations battle over bitter Tacoma teachers strike

Bitter and acrimonious are starting to become understatements when it comes to describing the current Tacoma teachers strike, now entering its 7th day. KVI's John Carlson talks about why teachers have so much good will from the public right now during their strike and whether or not all that good will is justified. (photo: KOMO News).{ }

Now entering its second week, the Tacoma school teachers strike continues with no clear sign that it will be solved before early next week. And that's being optimistic.

In an interview with Tacoma School District spokesman, Dan Voelpel, KVI's John Carlson said bluntly, "It seems to me you guys are losing the P.R. (public relations) battle. And one of the reasons why is that I don't think the general public has a clear understanding of the compensation of Tacoma teachers."

According to Voelpel, Tacoma teachers are currently being offered an average salary of $76,000 per year plus benefits.

"A lot of people who are on the teachers side right now probably haven't heard that $76,000 figure," said Carlson. "They probably don't know they have a defined benefit plan. They probably don't know about their health care plan," Carlson added saying, "and the union certainly doesn't want them (the public) to know this. Why aren't you telling them (the public)?"

Voelpel laughed nervously and responded, "Well that's a good question. We love our teachers. And we're trying to give them a fair contract. We're not trying to make out teachers out to be the bad people here."

Carlson fumed, "How is simply telling the taxpayers of Tacoma how much they're (teachers) getting (in pay) or will get, how does that make them the bad guys? They've made you (the school district) out to be the bad guys."

Carlson noted that Tacoma school teachers have received pay raises in each of the last five years.

"We have to look at the long game, here. We have relationships to rebuild with our teachers here whenever this (strike) is over", Voelpel offered. Carlson pointed out, "Why is this just one way? I haven't heard anyone with the teachers union or any of the Tacoma Education Association representatives say 'well we wanna make sure we can repair our relationship with the district after this'. They don't talk that way."

Diplomatically, Voelpel said, "Each side has their own approach."

The KVI interview also included questions and answers about why the district has declined to pursue a court injection declaring the teacher's strike illegal and some explanations about how the Tacoma School District will likely face a budget deficit in the very near future. The potential budgetary red ink is based on the changes to school funding under the McCleary decision in the Washington Supreme Court and the likelihood that any new teachers contract to end the strike will cost the district more money than it has available in the future.

Listen to the above interview segment for all the questions and answers.

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