The Seattle Public Schools teachers’ strike will continue through this week, with Tuesday constituting the fifth day of the strike and forcing district officials to talk about delaying graduation.
The school district and the Seattle Education Association (SEA) continued with negotiations through Sunday night, but did not make enough progress to end the teacher walkout. Nina Shapiro and Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times write that at an evening news conference on Sunday, union officials said there were too many barriers still in place concerning teacher pay, student testing, and the length of the school day.
Teachers asked for a two year deal with a 4.5% raise in the first year and a 5% raise in the second, plus a 4.8% cost-of-living raise offered already by the state. This was lower than the the previous offer of 15.3% over two years, along with the 4.8% COLA.
“We want to be there. We want to be there now,” said Phyllis Campano, bargaining chairwoman for striking Seattle teachers, speaking to reporters at the Neptune Theatre before a benefit concert for the striking teachers.
The district did not report the details of the offer to compensate teachers for the addition of 20 minutes to the school day. They did circulate a handout showing how teachers’ pay would have improved with the implementation of a previous proposal by the district. Seattle has one of the shortest instructional days in the state at 6 hours and 10 minutes.
If the district has its way, a starting teacher’s salary at the end of three years would come to $51,881, while a veteran teacher would make a maximum of $99,762. These numbers represent a 14% increase over three years based on contributions by the district and the state. District spokeswoman Stacy Howard said it is not what the district would like to do, but it is all it can afford to do.
The union says the strike is not just about money, but includes issues such as teacher evaluations, caseloads for school psychologists and other specialists, and the amount of student testing and how test results are used. The union adds it is receiving strong support from nationally and globally.
Howard said the strike will affect the school calendar, having already taken away three snow days. The results will be shortening of holidays and adding days at the end of the school year. She added that graduation could also be delayed, reports Gene Johnson of the Associated Press.
Washington state lawmakers have had to come up with money for new teachers and supplies per a court order to increase spending on education. The Washington Supreme Court fined the state $100,000 for every day it failed to present a court-ordered plan for fully funding public schools. Of that money, approximately $37 million is coming to Seattle.
One of the most pressing issues is that teachers have not received a cost-of-living raise in six years – years during which living expenses have surged in Seattle, says Reuters’ Mike Rosenberg. Housing in particular has become more expensive, largely because of the city’s technology sector.
This strike is the first labor-related class disruption in 30 years for Seattle Public Schools, the largest public education system in the Pacific Northwest.
Jake Whittenberg of KING 5 quoted Howard:
“This is going to impact a lot of this district and operations,” said district spokeswoman Stacy Howard. “This is costing the district $100,000 a day.”