Seattle Teacher Strike Cancels Students’ First Day of School


Teachers in Seattle were absent on the first day of school after contract negotiations with the city’s school district stalled.

Paige Cornwall reports for The Seattle Times that after the the Seattle Education Association bargaining team made the announcement that the strike would commence, the Seattle School Board voted that the superintendent should seek legal action to pressure teachers and school employees to get back to work. In the opinion of Board President Sherry Carr, such a move could shorten the length of the strike.

Wednesday was the scheduled day for school to begin, but Monday night, the district proposed a counter offer of $62 million to the $172 million union demand. The union made a counteroffer on Tuesday and the district considered the proposal. At about 6 p.m. the district made another offer, after which the union announced that its 5,000 members would be going on strike.

“We didn’t think it was a serious proposal,” said Phyllis Campano, Seattle Education Association vice president and bargaining chair.

If the district is granted legal action by the court, the union will vote on whether to advance the strike, according to Campano, and will continue actions toward receiving what they consider to be a fair contract.  Campano said the strike will continue until the contract is right.

Over the weekend, there were some agreements between the two sides including a guaranteed 30 minute recess for elementary students and higher pay for certified and classified substitute teachers. Still unresolved are pay increases and increased instructional time.

The latest salary increase offer by the district is a 10% increase over a two year period and a state-approved cost of living adjustment. Over the weekend, the union countered with a proposal of 16.8% increase over the same time period. No competitive pay increases were included in the district’s offer, said Campano.

Seattle’s share of the state’s $1.3 billion for school funding over the next two years is about $40 million, of which the union wanted a portion for teacher raises.

According to NPR’s Marie Andrusewicz, teachers in Seattle have not gone on strike since 1985. This strike is because of pay, but KPLU’s Kyle Stokes said it was “pay with a twist.”

“The school district wants to increase the length of the instructional day for students and the way that they propose to do this is to take away some of the time that teachers get currently to prepare for school before or after classes and use that to help lengthen the school day.”

The district’s standardized test schedule has also been an issue. Teachers want to see the amount of testing reduced and want a say in which tests are selected. Educators have gone six years without a cost-of-living increase, making it difficult for some to afford housing in a city with rising living expenses.

“It’s really the younger generation that is having issues with having a place to live in the city,” said teacher Janine Magidman, who was walking the picket line at Roosevelt High School. “The cost of living is just ridiculous.”

The state of Washington overall has faced difficulty after the state Supreme Court said lawmakers had not adequately paid for the schooling of 1 million children. Until the state can come up with a way to solve this problem, justices are fining the state of Washington $100,000 a day, reports Martha Bellisle of the Associated Press.

Teachers in Pasco, Washington, in the southeast of the state, voted to strike despite a court order to stop the action. The dispute is over pay and curriculum in the 17,000-student district.

The debate over charter schools also presents a divide. State Supreme Court justices ruled that Washington’s charters are unconstitutional because they are not “common” schools according to the state Constitution and therefore cannot receive local funding. The state teachers union challenged charter schools because they are given money that they say belongs to the traditional public schools.

The strikes wreak havoc with parents’ work schedules and has them scrambling to find daycare for their children. City parks have offered some solutions for parents, while moms and dads are also working from home, swapping childcare with other parents, or finding other programs for day-care services, writes Henry Austin, reporting for NBC News.