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Seattle teachers reject contract, consider strike

It's back to the bargaining table for Seattle's teachers and school district. Next vote: September 3, the day before school starts. Or not.
Will Seattle teachers have a contract on the first day of school?

Will Seattle teachers have a contract on the first day of school? Credit: cdsessums/Flickr

"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 from Seattle Public Schools (SPS).

A little more than an hour later, the proposal was 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 in the current proposal is SPS's desire to to tie teacher evaluations to standardized tests at a time when the District is preparing to implement Common Core standards, without having adapted curriculum for these new standards.

According to SEA leadership, other unresolved issues 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; the 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," Gundle continued. He and Franklin High School teacher Matt Carter (left) are "Social Equality Educators." The group, led by Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian, actively opposed the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Social Equity Educators currently represents the wing of the union that 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," she said.

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, they plan to hand out leaflets and wear red in solidarity. There's also talk of picketing and of training 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.

The SEA meets again on September 3, the night before school starts. Will they have a new contract proposal? If so, will they vote to support it – or to strike?

Alison Krupnick, longtime Crosscut contributor, is the Education Editor for Parent Map. She is the author of "Ruminations from the Minivan: Musings from a World Grown Large, Then Small" and the blog "Slice of Mid-Life." You can read her coverage of the latest education news, trends and innovations on Parent Map's Education Page.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Aug 27, 7:56 a.m. Inappropriate

This is typical union gamesmanship, and not very well played. Only a couple of weeks ago, the union was praising the district for giving in to the union's rejection of increasing class sizes for aides, calling it "key to moving the discussion," according to the Seattle Times. The union hasn't laid the political groundwork for a strike, particularly with parents just now getting their children ready for the next school year, and so it's a bluff, and a transparent one at that. And for Heaven's sake, please don't give us "we're doing it for the kids" BS. No one believes you.

Posted Tue, Aug 27, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

If the teachers are not doing it for the kids, then what are they doing it for? The money? If they were in it for the money, they wouldn't be teachers. They would be mercenary union busters like Chris Eide.

ivan

Posted Tue, Aug 27, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Unions exist to protect and further the interests of their members, full stop. So unless "the children" are members, any claim by the union to be "doing it for the kids" is empty rhetoric bordering on manipulation. Individual teachers may claim they have the kids' interests at heart, but I'd bet that an independent poll would find that they are in the minority.

Posted Tue, Aug 27, 4:13 p.m. Inappropriate

If this is what you believe about unions, then you have no basis for criticizing them for doing anything else. So please stop doing that. Please stop demeaning them for failing to do something that you clearly believe it outside their purpose and function.

However... the union is the teachers. There is no dichotomy. So whatever you're saying about the union you're saying about the teachers. And to say that teachers don't care about children's education is just goofy. No one cares more than the people who work at it full time and have dedicated their lives to that work. Most teachers could easily find more lucrative work, but they choose teaching - no path to riches or honor - because they have the kids' interest at heart.

coolpapa

Posted Sun, Sep 1, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Since you say you are an expert in the field of bargaining, you should recognize that compliments are better to begin negotiations then insults. As for laying the ground for a possible strike, a key foundation for moving in that direction is to make public the key points that are your priorities. Most contracts, it seems, are negotiated at the end of August. It is very difficult to set the stage in June if you don't even go to the table until August. Since our legislature decided not to accomplish what they needed to do during the regular session, and waited until the end of the second special session, most districts and associations didn't know what they were going to have to begin with.

You could be correct that it is a bluff, but you need to reexamine your reasons.

Posted Tue, Aug 27, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Ms Krupnik, for a balanced report about the broad-based rejection of the District's contract offer.

"Different wings within the union have different agendas. Yet all agree that this contract proposal is unacceptable."

The District's long-term and continuing disrespect for teachers will cost them. It is costing them. The District's long-term and continuing disrespect for the community will cost them. It is difficult for the District to do anything because they don't partner well. They don't even partner well with other senior staff in the JSCEE.

coolpapa

Posted Wed, Aug 28, 6:08 a.m. Inappropriate

"'We are going to organize and pressure the District to bargain for a fair contract to benefit our kids,' Gundle continued."

Oh, brother...can we PLEASE unload that tired "for the kids" canard once and for all? This is about money and job security. Period. The kids are nothing more than pawns on the chessboard, so spare us the phony altruisms.

Posted Thu, Aug 29, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't like the "..for the kids thing either". On the other hand we always rave that we want a world class school system, but we get what we plan for - and are willing to pay for.

The issues for this round are pretty straightforward. The district wants teacher evaluation tided to the standardized test scores. The teachers are saying - this is just the latest in a number of attempts at a stadardized score system - let's let it shake out for year, reevaluate, and see where we're at. In the US it seems we have a different agenda on scoring every five years. The teachers are willing to have it be PART of their evaluation but not all. It's especially hard in some of the south end schools where kids are struggling with little suupport at home, a higer proportion of learning disabilities, and ESL issues. Is it all on the teachers to deal with larger social issues? AND there is no cirriculum yet for the Common Core standards so how the heck are the teachers supposed to be evaluated against this? Very odd.

The next issue is the time - the district proposes to add 30 minutes (or so) to the day for the K-5, which they took away several years ago to save money. The teachers say let's then reinstate the music, art, and PE cuts that were instuted then - the district doesn't want to do that. Why not?

Class sizes. The district wants to increase some class sizes - well, becuase they blew it a few years ago when they started closing some schools in anticipation of a drop in the kid population. 2 years later, whoops! we were mistaken. Come on, get organized already.

And lastly the district has proposed a 2.0% increase over the next two years, the Union has proposed 2.5%

Treker

Posted Fri, Aug 30, 11:13 p.m. Inappropriate

GuiltyBystander wrote: "This is about money and job security. Period."

Hmmm. Then there's no dispute over the case loads for non-teaching staff? They agreed on that, did they?

coolpapa

Posted Sat, Aug 31, 11:37 p.m. Inappropriate

"Most teachers could easily find more lucrative work, but they choose teaching…"

Given the amount of pressure on them to perform and given their lack of performance to meet expectations, teachers would be leaving in droves if the above was true. Plainly it's not. There are very few teachers that could leave the profession and receive equal or better wages, benefits, and hours. Probably one or two/school. The rest are forever grateful that they have union to protect them because without it they'd be down the road and the road is not very forgiving for those with limited skill sets.

So yes it will always be about more pay with very little in the way of student improvement. Been that way for decades and will continue that way until we start hiring only the brightest and best to be teachers and we pay them accordingly.

Djinn

Posted Sun, Sep 1, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

Djinn wrote: "given their lack of performance to meet expectations", but I can't imagine what this means. Very few teachers get poor evaluations. Clearly, the vast majority of teachers ARE meeting expectations. Djinn's statement is false.

"There are very few teachers that could leave the profession and receive equal or better wages, benefits, and hours." And the evidence to support this claim? Doesn't exist. It's pure invention.

Djinn also claims to know the hearts of thousands of teachers without ever having met them "The rest are forever grateful..." Again, pure invention.

But it isn't until the final paragraph that we get to read the funniest, most self-contradictory, and weakest element of Djinn's twisted thinking - the labor struggle is only about pay, and it will always be about only pay - until we pay the teachers the much higher salaries that they truly deserve. Djinn both supports and opposes higher salaries for teachers.

coolpapa

Posted Sun, Sep 1, 7:27 a.m. Inappropriate

"Given the amount of pressure on them to perform and given their lack of performance to meet expectations, teachers would be leaving in droves if the above was true. Plainly it's not. There are very few teachers that could leave the profession and receive equal or better wages, benefits, and hours. Probably one or two/school. The rest are forever grateful that they have union to protect them because without it they'd be down the road and the road is not very forgiving for those with limited skill sets." Djinn

So given the fact that there is a nearly 50% attrition rate of teachers leaving the profession before their 5th year all of these people join the unemployment line? I seriously doubt it. Apparently, they leave the profession, find other lines of employment and flourish in the private sector. Case in point, I left the private sector to teach. Even though that was 22 years ago, I'm sure that my experience and background in a high demand field (software) would still land me a job. Most of these people you say are unmarketable are college graduates, and though that doesn't guarantee one employment, it is a strong feather in their cap. Tie that into the fact that most are very dependable, mature and outgoing; leads me to believe that they possess the traits many employers are looking for.

Posted Sun, Sep 1, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

The district and the union have reached a tentative agreement

coolpapa

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