Seattle Teachers Poised to Strike on First Day of School


In Seattle, educators voted this week to strike if the school district and teachers union cannot reach a contract agreement, meaning school would not open as planned next week.

Paige Cornwell of The Seattle Times writes that school is scheduled to start on Wednesday, which is the day the strike will begin if an agreement is not made. The voice-vote of 2,000 educators at the union meeting was a unanimous “aye.”

“This should let the School Board know we are serious, and they need to get serious,” Seattle Education Association vice president and bargaining team chair Phyllis Campano said.

Although the two sides have met over 20 times since May, the groups remain far apart on a number of issues. Negotiations ended Tuesday, but there is a chance of making an agreement before school starts.

A raise of 18% over three years was proposed by the Seattle Education Association (SEA), which was down from the original proposal of 21%  over the same amount of time. The requested increase for K-12 employees would be in addition to the normal state-authorized 3% cost-of-living raise to employees over the next two years, along with an additional temporary 1.8% increase that is in place until 2017.

The district’s proposal of 8.2% increase over the same time period does not include the cost-of-living raise. And the increase would require that teachers provide more instructional time with students, said Superintendent Larry Nyland. But teachers responded by pointing out that adding 30 minutes to the school day is just another way to make teachers “work more for free.”

First-year instructors in Seattle receive a base salary which was $44,372 last year, according to district data. For a veteran teacher with a master’s degree and in his or her 15th year in the classroom, and who has earned 45 additional credits, the average salary was $79,788.

In the spring, legislators increased school funding statewide by almost $1.3 billion over the next two years. Seattle Public Schools will receive a $40 million boost.

“…Their [Seattle Public Schools’] wage proposal looks very similar to what was offered in the last contract two years ago, when funding from the state was less robust and we were still feeling the effects of the Great Recession,” the Seattle Education Association wrote in a member newsletter.

Another potential deal-breaker is children’s recess time. Teachers proposed a guaranteed 45 minute recess originally, but now are in favor of 30 to 45 minutes of guaranteed recess, which they declared at Monday’s negotiations. Some schools have only 15 minute recesses, while others have 30 minutes. Educators insist that playtime is absolutely essential for student success.

Student equity continues to be discussed in negotiations. According to a study, students of color are disciplined at a higher rate than other students in Seattle Public Schools. Although the District has approved the addition of “equity teams” in six Seattle schools beginning in the fall of 2016 to ensure that all students are treated equally, the union wants more from the District, including the deployment of at least 30 teams.

“We are willing to go to jail for the kids of Seattle,” says Seattle World School teacher Cynthia Nkeze. “We are willing to do whatever it takes to get whatever the students of Seattle need.”

Third grade teacher Luke Runnoe told KIRO-TV Seattle’s Natasha Chen there were other issues at stake such as length of the school day, fair teacher evaluations, and standardized testing. And high school math teacher Kate Erickson was worried that her child would need daycare if there is a strike.

I’m a parent too,” she said. “I have a 9-year-old son, and I’m also thinking as a teacher, by going on strike, I’m going to be working later into the summer probably, and I’m going to have to find child care for my son. But it’s for the good of the entire community.”