It takes competitive pay to attract and keep caring, qualified teachers and support staff.

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AS an auto-shop teacher, I’m a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. I know firsthand that educators put students at the center of everything we do — including contract negotiations.

Thursday night, thousands of Seattle Education Association members voted to strike if the Seattle School Board fails to negotiate a tentative agreement with us by the scheduled start of school on Wednesday. It’s worth noting that this vote was unanimous.

We’ve been negotiating since May. Even though Seattle educators set an Aug. 24 goal for voting on a contract, we’ve been frustrated by the lack of movement by the school board.

No teacher wants to go on strike, which is why strikes by educators are relatively rare. We want school to start on time; we want to be with our students. Our goal is a fair contract settlement. But as professional educators, we also have an obligation to make sure our kids have what they need to be great learners.

This year, in Seattle, educators’ priorities include guaranteed recess for elementary students, more time for learning (and less for unnecessary testing) and a focus on equity — making sure all children have equal opportunity for success, regardless of their race, gender, language or socio-economic background.

It also takes professional, competitive pay to attract and keep caring, qualified teachers and support staff. Many wonderful educators leave education because they can’t make it work financially for their own families.

While the state provides most of the funding for K-12 public schools, local school boards — including here in Seattle — are the ones who make budget and policy decisions. Collective bargaining gives educators a voice in how those local decisions are made.

In more than 140 school districts this year, teachers and support professionals have been negotiating new contracts with their employers — their local school boards. Over the years, contracts in the Puget Sound area have mostly been settled amicably, with a united focus on meeting students’ needs.

In just a few places, including Prosser and Seattle, educators have voted to strike if their school boards fail to offer an acceptable contract settlement soon. In Pasco and South Whidbey school districts, teachers are already on strike.

In each of those school districts, school boards have been unwilling to invest in the priorities that educators need to be successful with students. Professional, competitive salaries are needed to attract and keep caring, qualified educators, but that is just part of the story. These school boards apparently have other budget priorities they think are more important than teachers — they’d rather spend their money on overhead costs or stockpile it in reserves.

When school boards ignore the needs of their students, and absolutely refuse to act in the best interest of their students, sometimes all educators can do is to withhold their services.

When that happens, I am proud that educators have the strength to stand in unity and solidarity with the children they serve.