Even with the limited information offered so far, some Seattle educators expressed the deal has fallen short of their expectations.
On Wednesday, Seattle Public Schools’ teachers return to their classrooms as originally scheduled — no longer on the brink of a potential strike.
The district and its teachers union came to terms on a tentative deal late Friday, narrowly averting a walkout educators voted to authorize this past Tuesday. Still, at the start of another new school year, teachers wondered what their new one-year contract — which promised a 10.5 percent raise at the estimated cost of over $55 million — really meant for them.
Educators received emailed copies of the contract late Tuesday. But even before seeing it, some worried that it fell short of their expectations. They likely won’t have complete answers until Saturday, when thousands of Seattle Public Schools employees will gather in Benaroya Hall downtown to evaluate and vote on the tentative agreement between their union and their employer.
Ahead of the deal, many in the union had wanted to see a 15 percent increase. “Nobody is doing this because of the money,” said Holly Lafferty, a substitute teacher who said she has worked for the district since 2008. “But it’s not enough.”
The district and the Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union representing 6,000 public-school employees, finished drawing up the agreement Aug. 31, the day the previous contract was initially set to expire. Among other details the union shared with union members, such as more health-insurance options for substitute teachers and expanded racial-equity teams for schools, Seattle teachers would earn $55,984 to $111,343. JoLynn Berge, assistant superintendent of business and finance for the district, estimated that the contract would cost about $57.6 million.
It might seem like a lot, especially considering the most recent contract, signed in 2015, called for a 9.5 percent raise over three years plus a cost-of-living adjustment. For many Seattle educators, the number is less important than the need for Seattle to stay competitive with other districts.
At least four neighboring districts top the maximum salary offered by Seattle’s contract, with Shoreline and Everett topping out at $120,000. Teachers in Bellevue, Lake Washington, and Snoqualmie Valley schools soon will see their paychecks increase by as much as 14 percent to 25 percent. (On minimum pay, however, Seattle beats most of these districts.)
Tom Nolet, a longtime teacher in the district, said, “10.5 percent seemed like a slap in the face after seeing what Shoreline got.
“We’re going to lose teachers,” he added, “especially those who commute.”
Some districts awarded the hefty raises during a hectic season of contract negotiations. A $1 billion boost to teacher salaries from the Legislature meant to satisfy McCleary, a long-running school-finance lawsuit, gave school districts a one-time windfall this year — and reopened teacher contracts statewide.
Newly minted Seattle schools chief Denise Juneau said she wanted to wait until after the union’s general membership meeting to respond to teachers’ criticism about the pay hike. “A one-year contract was important moving forward,” she said. “It’s what the team could get to this year, and we’ll start [again] in the spring.”
Seattle struck its deal just a few days shy of a Sept. 5 deadline, dodging a work stoppage that has disrupted several districts around the state that were still negotiating their contracts.
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Nolet and other teachers have their theories as to why labor and management arrived at the terms they did. Some suspect the union didn’t push as hard as it could have for higher raises; others still thought the state was not sufficiently funding education.
Berge said it’s important to remember that Seattle’s 10.5 percent increase isn’t just for classroom teachers, but also paraeducators and office professionals.
“That’s not the same necessarily in all districts,” she said. “This is everyone getting that raise.”
Berge said Tuesday that the district’s general fund is financed by a mixture of state money and revenue from the local operations levy. The levy is up for renewal in February 2019. SEA president Phyllis Campano did not return requests for comment Tuesday.
Some teachers were more optimistic about the outcome of the bargaining sessions. Mia Richkind, a speech and language pathologist, said she was pleasantly surprised the numbers came out so high and thinks opting for a one-year contract is a smart decision.
“We might not get everything we need in the same year, but it’s important that we keep trying,” she said. Richkind said she hopes the short-term contract will allow the district to mobilize with others and lobby the Legislature for more money.
It’s unclear what union members will decide this weekend. Nolet has taught in the district for around three decades, and he said he can’t recall a time when the general membership has voted against ratifying a contract. But when one union represents 6,000 people from varying professions, socioeconomic conditions and opinions on education funding, one thing is guaranteed: there will be feverish debate at Benaroya Hall.
Seattle Times staff reporter Neal Morton contributed to this story.