Seattle voters will have to choose between two measures on the November ballot that would affect the care and education of the city’s preschool-age children, a King County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Judge Helen Halpert decided that Initiative 107, which seeks better wages and training for child-care workers, and a $58 million property-tax levy proposed by the City of Seattle for its preschool plan, both address the same subject.
Both sides argued their case in court Friday morning.
Halpert said a quick decision was required to allow time for an appeal before the Sept. 5 deadline to submit the final form of the ballot to the printer.
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Under state law, when there are two alternative measures on the same subject, voters must answer two questions on the ballot.
First they have to decide whether either alternative should pass.
Then, no matter how they vote on the first question, they must choose between the alternatives.
The ruling marks a defeat for the two unions backing I-107: Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925 and the American Federation of Teachers-Washington (AFT), which sued the city last month, hoping to give voters the chance to weigh in on each measure separately and possibly approve both.
The two unions, which together represent about 1,500 of the city’s 4,500 child-care workers, lobbied city leaders for months to include in their plan better pay and training opportunities for all child-care workers in a variety of settings — not just at the centers the city determines to be high quality.
When the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, the unions spearheaded a coalition called Yes for Early Success, which collected more than 30,000 signatures to put I-107 on the ballot.
The City Council put both proposals on the ballot, but also took a position against I-107 and voted to consider I-107 as a competing, rather than complementary, measure to the levy request.
The unions also accused the City Council of discussing and carrying out legislative duties related to I-107 in closed-door sessions that violated open-meetings laws.
Halpert declined to rule specifically on whether there was a violation, but noted that the subsequent discussion and vote that took place in open session “cured any violation.”
The Yes for Early Success Coalition is considering whether to appeal.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Council President Tim Burgess have led the city’s yearlong effort to create a narrowly tailored, high-quality preschool plan for 3- and 4-year-olds attending programs that received high-quality ratings from the state.
Lead teachers would be required to have, or be working toward, a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education. They would be paid on par with kindergarten teachers in Seattle Public Schools.
The city’s measure would fund voluntary preschool for 2,000 children ages 3 and 4 in 100 classrooms by 2018.
I-107, on the other hand, would set city policy on how much parents should pay for child care (no more than 10 percent of family income) and how much child-care workers should earn ($15 an hour), but it doesn’t specify how the city would pay for that policy.
It would also require child-care teachers and staff members to obtain training and certification through a center jointly operated by the city and a provider hired by the city.
The initiative doesn’t say the provider must be a union, but to qualify, the provider must have existed more than five years and have successfully negotiated a contract for child-care workers that increased wages and benefits.
Halpert ruled that while the two approaches have their differences, they address the same subject of improving early childhood education, boosting pay and training for teachers and making preschool more affordable for parents.