Elaine Thompson / AP

Seattle teachers to strike on first day of school

Walkout over wages means Seattle teachers will join other Washington teachers on strike since Sept. 1

Thousands of Seattle public school teachers will strike on the first day of school Wednesday, joining teachers in southeastern Washington state who have been striking since their school year began on Sept. 1, local media reported.

The Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union representing the teachers, announced the strike at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, as the Seattle School Board met to discuss potential legal action against strikers, The Seattle Times reported. 

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. Although contracts were eventually reached in most districts, teachers in the cities of Seattle and Pasco have not yet reached a deal.

Last week about 5,000 Seattle teachers and support staffers voted to strike after failing to reach a tentative agreement with Seattle Public Schools. Public schools in the city are scheduled to begin classes on Wednesday. The Seattle Public School District has approximately 52,000 students enrolled in its schools.

The state’s legislature hasn’t given teachers a cost-of-living raise in six years, according to the SEA. Lawmakers approved a 3 percent raise this year, followed by a 1.8 percent raise next year, according to local station KIRO TV.

The union asked for a 6 percent pay raise every year for three years, in addition to the 3 percent cost of living increase, the SEA said in a bargaining update on its website Tuesday. It added that the district’s wage proposal barely budged from previous offers and that staffers would work 30 minutes longer each day without additional compensation.

Seattle Public Schools board director Marty McLaren said that although she was a “strong advocate for our teachers,” the district would not be able to afford larger raises, KIRO reported.

Over the weekend, the SEA secured a 30-minute recess for elementary school students but had yet to agree on compensation, length of school days, standardized testing or how to address the disparity in discipline and achievement among students of different backgrounds, KIRO said.

Dan Trocolli, a teacher and a member of the SEA board of directors, said the mood in the union was “angry and defiant,” The Socialist Worker reported Tuesday. “The SEA hasn’t been on strike in 30 years. The problem with that is that people forget. We forget about the power we have to change these things, and our employers forget too,” he said.

The SEA said school district authorities were planning to take the union to court.

“It’s disappointing that the school board is grasping at legalistic straws rather than focusing on ways to provide the supports that educators need to be successful with students,” SEA President Jonathan Knapp said in the update.

“We won’t be scared into abandoning our commitment to winning a fair contract,” he said, adding that such tactics have not worked elsewhere.

In Pasco, about 230 miles southeast of Seattle, the school district’s nearly 1,100 teachers remained defiant despite a court order to end their strike, local news website The Tri-City Herald reported.

The Pasco School District serves over 17,000 students in one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation.

Teachers in the district have been on strike since Sept. 1, when the school year was scheduled to begin. Their strike entered its second week after they voted on Monday against returning to class without a new contract, Pasco Association of Educators (PAE) President Greg Olson told reporters.

Teachers are advocating for more inclusion for themselves and parents in decisions on curriculum and standardized testing requirements, according to the PAE’s website. Washington teachers have complained that they spend too many school days preparing for standardized tests instead of teaching.

The Pasco School District said it was “very disappointed” with the teachers’ decision not to comply with a court order to return to class, spokeswoman Leslee Caul said in a statement, according to the Herald.

Franklin County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom permitted the district’s appeal on Friday for an initial injunction to end the strike, according to the Herald.

Despite the district’s complaints, teachers said that they have received a lot of support from parents and that they are focused on curriculum rather than penalties.

“It’s a moral issue. We’re going to get the kids the curriculum they need,” Olson told the Herald.

Like Seattle teachers, Pasco educators are demanding better pay.

The Pasco School District on Monday released a three-year proposal, which teachers rejected, that would have given them a 10 percent raise over three years — including a 3.5 percent raise in the 2015–16 school year, according to the district’s website.

Starting annual pay in Pasco for public school teachers is $34,046, and the top salary is $64,174, according to the PAE. In the new contract for Everett, a city near Seattle that is similar in size to Pasco, those numbers are $47,130 and $102,453, the PAE said.

“Veteran educators and newcomers are leaving Pasco in droves. The reasons? Low pay [and] a lack of curriculum, supplies and materials,” the PAE said on its website.

“The budget facts are clear,” the union added. “Educators are told to try to teach without enough basic supplies: white board markers, textbooks, curriculum and computers, in part because district leaders tell the community they will spend millions of dollars more on teaching and teaching support than they actually do.”

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