Seattle Teachers Reject Contract, Consider Strike

teacher-strike"This proposal will not be accepted," said McClure Middle School teacher Jan Robbins. The 22-year teaching veteran said she's never seen the contract bargaining process go this far.

Still dressed in summer clothes, some with children in tow, some fresh from setting up classrooms and attending school meetings, Robbins and other members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA), came to this union advisory meeting to vote on the most recent contract proposal put forth by Seattle Public Schools (SPS).

test-scoreA little more than an hour later, the proposal had been almost unanimously rejected by union members, who represented virtually every one of Seattle's 95 public schools.

For Robbins and nearly every teacher interviewed, a key sticking point is SPS's desire to tie teacher evaluations to standardized tests, at a time when the District is preparing to implement Common Core standards, without having adapted curricula for these new standards.

According to SEA leadership, other issues still unresolved include SPS's proposal to extend the elementary school workday for teachers; its refusal to reduce caseloads for school psychologists and other specialized support providers; lack of professional development for classroom assistants and office administrative staff; and teacher pay.

The union is not a monolith. In addition to teachers, it also represents instructional assistants and non-supervisory administrative staff.  Different wings within the union have different agendas. Yet all agree that this contract proposal is unacceptable.

Christopher Eide, executive director of Teachers United, which represents reform-minded teachers, and Whitman Middle School math teacher William Harris, a member of that group, voted no on the current contract proposal because it offers no effective means of evaluating and compensating teachers."I want all partners, including community members, to push hard to fix our broken education system," Harris said.

Ballard High School teacher Noam Gundle called the evening's proceedings "an outstanding example of our collective solidarity."

"We are going to organize and pressure the District to bargain for a fair contract to benefit our kids," he said. Gundle and Franklin High School teacher Matt Carter are Social Equality Educators. This group, led by Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian, actively opposed the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Social Equality Educators currently represents the wing of the union which is leaning towards a strike.

National Board-certified teacher Marian Wagner, who teaches elementary school at Salmon Bay K–8, is disappointed that SPS does not put faith in its teachers. "The District does not look to teachers for solutions, except during contract negotiations."

On Tuesday, SEA members will deliver signed messages about the contract vote to Schools Superintendent Jose Banda. On Wednesday, the union will hold a press conference at Eckstein Middle School. Throughout the week, members plan to hand out leaflets and wear red in solidarity.

There's also talk of picketing and of training for strike captains.

In a statement released after the meeting, SPS said it remains committed to the negotiation process and is confident that the bargaining team will be able to craft solutions.

SEA meets again on September 3, the night before school starts (or not). Will they have a new contract proposal they can support or will they strike?

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