Matt Mills McKnight / Reuters

Strike by Seattle teachers enters fourth day

The strike, over issues that include pay raises, is the first labor-related disruption of classes in 30 years

There's no school in Seattle for a fourth day Monday as a strike by teachers enters its second week.

The strike, over issues that include pay raises and the length of the school day, has delayed the start of the public school year for about 53,000 students.

The strike marked the first labor-related disruption of classes in three decades for the largest public education system in the Pacific Northwest. The action follows a series of strikes this spring, when thousands of Washington teachers in more than 60 school districts demanded better pay and benefits as well as reductions in class sizes. Unlike most of the other districts, teachers in Seattle and Pasco did not reach contract deals and went on strike. 

Representatives for both sides in the Seattle dispute met separately with state mediators during the first three days of the strike, which began on Sept. 9, but face-to-face talks between the parties did not resume until Saturday.

The two negotiating teams returned to the bargaining table on Sunday.

Seattle's teachers went six years without a cost-of-living raise after the Washington Legislature failed to come up with money for them, but the district said it provided raises totaling 8 percent out of local levy money. The paltry raises have made it tough to live in Seattle, where the cost of living has been rising due in part to the influx of highly paid tech workers, many teachers say.

Teacher salaries in Seattle range from about $44,000 to more than $86,000 for more experienced educators with advanced degrees.

The tech boom means the median price of King County single-family homes sold in June climbed to $500,000, up 10.3 percent from a year ago, according to figures released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service and reported by the Seattle Times.

The district says it has offered raises totaling 14 percent over three years, but it also wants to extend the school day by 20 minutes, arguing that Seattle has one of the shortest instructional days of any district in the state, at 6 hours and 10 minutes.

The Seattle Education Association faulted the district for waiting until mid-August to introduce the proposal and said it would essentially have forced the teachers to work that extra time for free.

Over the weekend, the district offered to pay teachers for the added instructional minutes, Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard said on Sunday. The sides could negotiate over how to use the extra 20 minutes, she added.

Neither the district nor the union released details on how much the additional pay would amount to, but at a news conference late Sunday afternoon, the union called it "not enough."

Across the state in Pasco, school officials on Sunday reached a tentative contract agreement with striking teachers, according to the Tri-City Herald newspaper, which reported district and union officials reached the deal about 3:30 a.m. Sunday. The details of the agreement were confidential pending a ratification vote by the Pasco Association of Educators on Monday. The union's 1,160 teachers walked off the job on Sept. 1, which would have been the first day of school for the district's 17,000 students.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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