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Washington governor meets with striking teachers, school officials

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Wed September 21, 2011
Gov. Christine Gregoire said she has ordered talks to resume between the school district and striking teachers.
Gov. Christine Gregoire said she has ordered talks to resume between the school district and striking teachers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gov. Christine Gregoire: The strike "has continued far too long"
  • Governor says she'll take over mediating negotiations if a deal isn't reached
  • She says she has ordered talks, which ended abruptly Tuesday, to be resumed
  • Judge has set hearing for Tuesday to determine penalties for continued strike

(CNN) -- Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire is wading into the feud between the Tacoma school district and striking teachers that has kept thousands of students from classrooms for seven days.

Gregoire called the two sides to her office and said she would take over mediating negotiations if a deal hadn't been reached by Wednesday afternoon, according to a statement released by the governor's office.

"There is no question that the Tacoma teacher strike has continued for far too long -- disrupting the lives of families and the 28,000 students who need to be in school," Gregoire said in the statement. Both sides, the statement read, will remain in the governor's office "until their differences are reconciled and the school doors reopen."

Gregoire also said in the statement that she had ordered the union that represents nearly 2,000 striking teachers and the school district to resume talks Wednesday morning. Negotiations ended abruptly Tuesday.

"We were close last night to a settlement and we hope to have one today," Union spokesman Rich Woods said. Talks broke down late Tuesday, Woods, said after school district negotiators walked away from the bargaining table.

Woods said any deal that is brokered would still have to be approved by union members.

Dan Voelpel, a spokesman for the school district, did not return CNN's calls for comment.

Last week, a state judge ordered the teacher's union and school district to restart stalled negotiations and told striking teachers to get back into the classroom. But the teachers, who have rejected school district proposals for a new three-year contract, continued their protests.

Bryan Chushcoff, the judge hearing the case, said teachers and the union are defying his order. A hearing has been scheduled for next Tuesday to determine what penalties the teachers and union could face.

Contract talks between the school district and union fractured over teacher pay, class size and how educators are transferred between schools.

Across Washington, state services cuts are in the works after the governor's office last week said the state is expected to collect $1.4 billion less in revenue between now and June 2013 than previously forecast.

On a Facebook site for Tacoma's public schools, many parents applauded the governor's increased role in negotiations while sharing suggestions of what to do with their children.

"Went out to Borders yesterday," one woman wrote, "Got my son some flash cards and spelling workbooks. Homeschooling may be an option."

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