Three school districts agree on contracts; four still on strike.

The Seattle Times reports teachers reached agreement on contracts in three districts over the weekend.

Students in Tukwila,  Puyallup and the Evergreen public schools are set to return to classes after their teachers agreed to new contract agreements this weekend.

But, four districts remain on strike, according to MyNorthwest.com.

Teachers in Tacoma will be on strike Monday and school remains closed. The district offered teachers a 7.5 percent pay raise. School officials argue that the district already faces at least a $25 million deficit — before bargaining began. That may result in layoffs next year; and more layoffs if the raises are approved…

Teachers in Centralia started their strike on Thursday and are striking on Monday…

TheTumwater School District and teachers have not reached an agreement, which means there is no school on Monday. The district took the Tumwater Education Association to court on Friday. A judge ruled the strike illegal, but without penalty. The district and the union will return to court on Wednesday…

Schools are closed in Battle Ground on Monday.

A pair of judicial rulings underscored the toothlessness of the state’s strike prohibition.

Judges in Washington state ruled against teacher unions for striking, though no penalties were imposed.

School district leaders in Tumwater in Thurston County and Longview in Cowlitz County both filed injunctions after their respective teacher unions went on strike over pay raises…

Both county judges on Friday sided with the districts, saying the teacher strikes are illegal but neither imposed any penalties.

The Tacoma Public Schools opted for a different strategy last Friday, according to The News Tribune. 

In a new and unusual effort to end a continuing teacher strike, Tacoma School District leaders announced Friday they would ask a state agency with expertise in labor relations to conduct a fact-finding hearing that would lead to non-binding arbitration.

The district’s decision means weekend negotiations with teachers are on hold, makes it almost certain that school will not resume Monday in Tacoma and seemingly hands off the entire dispute to the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).

As we’ve written previously, many districts have provided double-digit salary increases in their new contracts. The large increase in pay may not be sustainable in the future, with some districts already expressing concerns about layoffs. Yet, Northwest Public Radio quotes a union leader contending failure to provide such settlements amounts to “wage theft.”

As teachers in a record number of Washington school districts strike this week, a top official with their union says the unwillingness of superintendents and school boards to negotiate higher pay raises for teachers is a crime. 

“It’s wage theft,” said Stephen Miller, vice president of the Washington Education Association (WEA), Thursday in an interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program. “They are taking wages away from public employees.”

Lawmakers worry that the salary increases jeopardize other education priorities.

Some state lawmakers are already voicing concern about the sustainability of the large double-digit increases in many districts. 

“I think they’ve totally erred in what they’ve done,” said Sen. Mark Mullett, D-Issaquah, a member of the Senate K-12 committee. Mullett said he’s worried the pay raises will come at the expense of other McCleary priorities, including K-3 class size reduction, the hiring of more paraeducators, and the addition of a seventh period to the high school day. “Now all the money’s gone,” Mullett said. 

The Spokesman-Review reports the tensions will likely extend to the 2019 legislative session.

The irony isn’t lost on the state’s school districts, teachers and the public they serve: that the $2 billion windfall created by the landmark McCleary court decision has reaped a whirlwind of contention, a chaotic summer of salary negotiations and an uncertain future for everyone.

The only certainty is higher taxes, as districts will look to Olympia for even greater support of public education.

We recommend the S-R story; it’s a good explainer. 

Oh, a final note on teacher strikes, from New York via Governing magazine.

In August, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Democratic opponent in the Sept. 13 primary, Cynthia Nixon, fiercely debated whether public employees should have the right to strike. For Cuomo, the answer was an emphatic no.

“If you allow the public-sector unions to strike … there would be no school! Children wouldn’t be educated! It would clearly be mayhem,” he said.

To Nixon, the ability to strike is a fundamental tool that’s needed at a time when unions are under continuous attacks. Referencing the strikes this year, she said, “Those teachers needed to be allowed to strike not only to feed their families and to get health benefits” but also to help schools that were so “deeply underfunded.”

That debate could be coming here, as lawmakers consider how effective a strike prohibition without consequences really is.