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Will Seattle Public School Teachers Strike?

Seattle Public Schools and local teacher unions discuss new contracts

Published on: August 31, 2018

Teachers rally in August 2018
Teachers gathered on August 15 for the “Fight for the Schools We Need: Rally for a Strong SEA Contract” rally at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence. Photo credit: Jenna Vandenberg

Update (8/31/2018): The Seattle Education Association voted on Tuesday, August 28, to give the bargaining team the authorization to strike if a tentative agreement isn't reached by the scheduled start of school on Sept. 5.

While teachers hit the picket lines, the bargaining team and the district went back to the table on Wednesday in hopes of coming up with a contract. Parents may want to plan tentative childcare arrangements in case of a strike.   

Original story (8/23/2018): Teachers across Washington state have spent the summer attending rallies and school board meetings as many — including educators for Seattle Public Schools (SPS) — review soon-to-expire contracts. 

While some districts have already agreed to contract changes that include wage increases, SPS is still at the bargaining table. If an agreement isn’t reached soon, the school year may start with a teachers' strike. 

The potential sticking point centers around one issue: While the McCleary decision gave districts in Washington an infusion of cash, there was a big caveat: Funding from local levies must be severely curtailed. 

What's at stake

For decades, school districts have relied on local levies to boost teacher salaries. Districts in more affluent areas relied heavily on levy money  while those serving communities with less property wealth had to make do with less. The McCleary decision intended to fix this inequality by capping local levies and equitably funding districts across Washington directly from the state coffers. 

Once that state money came through, union leaders got to work. Their biggest demand: Pay raises for teachers.

Some districts quickly agreed on wage increases. For this 2018–2019 school year, teachers in the Bellevue school district will likely see an average pay increase of 17 percent and teachers in the Lake Washington district a 12 percent increase. Edmonds, Mukilteo and several other districts also have tentative agreements with teachers’ unions for substantial raises. Contracts are expected to be approved by the end of August.

The situation is more complicated for SPS. Current teacher contracts expire on Aug. 31, there’s more than a potential bump in teacher pay on the table. Teachers' union Seattle Education Association (SEA) and SPS are negotiating an entirely new contract and salary structure. 

What's being discussed

According to SEA president Phyllis Campano, the union is advocating for more counselors and nurses, mental health support, special education resources and a strong investment in race and equity issues. “But the big issue is going to come down to compensation,” she says. 

And while surrounding districts have awarded large pay increases to teachers,  the same may not be true for SPS teachers. Earlier this month, SPS sent letters to families explaining that  there will be a budget surplus this year followed by a future of deficits. This is because the new state funding won't be enough to make up for lost local levy dollars.

SPS teachers read an implicit message: They shouldn't expect big raises. 

I already know three educators who are moving up to Edmonds where they can make $16,000 to $20,000 more.

Still, many are hopeful.

“We know that there is going to be a gap but’s it not as big as what they say,” Campano says. “The district is saying that they have no money and they’ll have to RIF [lay off] people next year. We don’t believe that.” 

Justin Vinson, a member of the SEA bargaining team and substitute teacher, also acknowledges that Seattle has historically drawn a lot of funding from the levies.

“We are going to fight for the legislature to raise that levy cap,” he says. But in the meantime, he says, pay raises are still in order. “We know that the district got a huge lump sum of money. We want to make sure that our members get what they deserve right now.” 

Some fear that if pay raises don’t come through, Seattle teachers will head for the exits.

“Our huge concern is that the other districts around us got significant raises,” says Campano. “I already know three educators who are moving up to Edmonds where they can make $16,000 to $20,000 more.”

What's next

As the new school year draws closer, time is running out for SPS and the teachers’ union to reach a tentative agreement. On Tuesday, Aug. 28, a general membership meeting will be held at Benaroya Hall where teachers and school staff will meet and vote on the tentative agreement, if one has been agreed on. If there is no agreement, then a strike authorization vote will be held, giving the bargaining team power to call for a strike. 

The bargaining team and the district are hoping to avoid that strike vote. According to Vinson: “We are scheduled to meet this week, through Friday and Saturday … most likely staying up the entire night until Sunday morning  because on Tuesday, that general meeting is happening whether we have a tentative agreement or not.” 

Keep tabs on the discussion at the Washington Education Association website, which includes an interactive map that shows districts across the state that have reached agreements. 

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