The Seattle School Board put the final stamp of approval on its long-anticipated, multimillion-dollar collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union Wednesday night. 

The board unanimously approved the three-year contract at its regular board meeting. The contract is slightly more expensive than Seattle Public Schools staff anticipated two weeks ago, when rough estimates were presented to the school board. 

District officials have already projected budget shortfalls for the next three school years, and the union contract is adding about $94 million to that shortfall. The contract, which expires on Aug. 31, 2025, will cost $231.18 million. 

Seattle Schools and Seattle Education Association leaders were bargaining for more than a month. Negotiations hit a wall and educators voted to go on strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached by Sept. 7, which would have been the first day of school. 

The strike lasted five days. The union ratified the contract last week, and students started classes on Sept. 14.

More pay, manageable caseloads and smaller student-to-teacher ratios in the special education and multilingual programs were among the top issues that led to a strike authorization. 

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Seattle Schools’ finance office estimates the contract will cost $51.9 million for the current school year. About $39.4 million will be funded through state revenue increases, pandemic relief dollars, capital funds and levy dollars. But that still leaves SPS about $12.5 million short.

District staff has said they are confident there will be enough funds to keep the district afloat during the first year of the contract. Officials did not present any information on how they would balance the budget for the next two years of the contract Wednesday night, but have said dipping into the district’s rainy day fund could cover some costs in the second year of the contract.

If SPS uses its emergency funds to pay for the second year, the district will not have that pot of money available for the third year. The board would also need to replenish its rainy day fund, per board policy. 

The contract’s cost will increase to about $79.3 million in the second year, putting the district about $33.5 million over budget for the 2023-24 school year.

The 2024-25 school year will be the most expensive year of the contract. The cost will be about $99.9 million, which will add about $48 million to budget shortfalls. 

Of the Seattle Education Association’s 6,000 members, 4,143 educators voted on their respective contracts. For the contract covering certificated staff or classroom teachers, 71% voted in favor. The contract covering paraprofessionals passed with 66% in favor. And educational office professionals voted 82% in favor of their contract.

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Classified and certified staff will receive a 14% pay increase over the next three years. SEA members will receive a 7% pay increase this school year, which includes a state-funded 5.5% inflationary adjustment. Employees will receive a 4% salary increase in the second year of the contract for inflation and a 3% raise the following year. 

Under the new contract, teacher-to-student ratios in special education were maintained, but the union considered it a win because district officials wanted to move away from that model and create a workload calculator model instead. 

Details must still be ironed out. The new contract appoints the district’s Special Education Taskforce to develop a workload calculator to be used by the 2023-24 school year at a select number of schools.

But union leadership has said the teacher-to-student ratios are now stronger because instructional aides will be added to classrooms to support students with individualized education programs (or IEPs). Seattle Schools is transitioning into a more inclusionary model of education for students so kids with IEPs can spend more time in general education classes.

Educators on the picket lines spoke about the importance of having more support staff in classrooms to make the special education program in schools more inclusive. But that won’t happen right away, because it hinges on how fast SPS can hire support staff.