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.
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Will Seattle teachers have a contract on the first day of school?

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.

"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.

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"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?

  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Alison Krupnick

Alison Krupnick

Alison Krupnick, longtime Crosscut contributor, is the author of "Ruminations from the Minivan" and the blog "Slice of Mid-Life."