Seattle teachers are ready to be leaders in our classrooms, in our schools and in our community. We just need a fair contract.

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ON Tuesday, like every day before the first day of school, there was great joy at Lawton Elementary. Teachers, administrators, office staff, support personnel, parents and kids were all buzzing with anticipation. As we prepared classrooms, worked on lessons, solved last-minute issues and talked with families, there was eagerness and happiness in the air.

The school was abuzz. And then it wasn’t. At 4 p.m., we began our strike against Seattle Public Schools. It was sad. We left the building with our personal belongings, resolute in our fight for a fair contract.

Educators want to work. We want to greet new students, build relationships and begin the complex job of teaching kids how to read, write and solve problems. Teachers want to watch friendships form, begin establishing routines and help kids grow. We want all this and more. Yet for now, we walk picket lines. This was not necessary. It could have been avoided.

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) began bargaining with Seattle Public Schools (SPS) in May. I was at the bargaining table. We put forth proposals that we know would benefit our students: equitable recess time, caseload caps for educational-service providers, special-education reforms, fair staff evaluations, and plans to address the disgraceful disproportionalities in our school district. Thousands of SEA members signed a petition in June, with a desire to achieve a new contract by Aug. 24.

We knew it would take a long time, and we were ready. The district was not. This was disappointing. The district’s first proposal was presented Aug. 17 and included an ill-defined longer school day and no plan for compensating the people responsible for making it happen.

I don’t know the specific details of the bargaining at this point. Both sides are keeping their bottom lines mostly concealed. One would think they could be close, and that with some give-and-take from both sides, we could start classes. But, at 11 p.m. on Labor Day, 32 hours before the start of school, SPS put a proposal on the table that still included uncompensated extra work time for teachers and an increase that is less than what teachers deserve. Again, disappointing.

Where was this proposal in May or June? If increased seat time is important to the district, then we should work together on this. Teachers have shown a willingness to engage in good-faith negotiations. Thirty-two hours is obviously not enough time.

This example highlights some of the challenge of this bargain. There are smart, dedicated educators on both sides of the table who I know and respect. SEA wanted to finalize a contract by Aug. 24. SPS seems to have gotten serious only in the last 10 days. Now is past time to get serious.

The educators are frustrated but we remain strong, steadfast, and unified. We should be. The cost of rent, mortgage, health care, and most other items have gone up. Teacher pay has not kept pace with Seattle’s rising cost of living, which makes it impossible for us to attract and retain the amazing educators our children deserve.

We must be shown the respect of a reasonable compensatory raise in our salary. So far in this bargain we have not been shown this respect.

We very much want to welcome students to our prepared but sadly empty classrooms. We are ready to teach. We are ready to be leaders in our classrooms, in our schools and in our community. SPS, please bring us a fair and respectful proposal. The joy, laughter and learning must return to the classrooms of our wonderful city.