Contract negotiations could get tense this year, but both the teachers union and district officials are trying to avoid a repeat of 2015, when teachers struck for five days.
With Seattle Public Schools projecting a nearly $50 million budget surplus for the upcoming school year, thanks largely to an infusion of state money for teacher salaries, new Superintendent Denise Juneau said August will be a “hot and heavy” month for teacher contract negotiations.
Seattle Education Association President Phyllis Campano said, among the union’s top concerns are a new salary schedule for the more than 3,000 teachers working in the district and maintaining services and class-size ratios for special education. District officials declined to say their top concerns.
Campano said both sides took a different approach to bargaining this year, with the aim of lowering some of the tension that eventually led to a five-day teacher strike and an all-night bargaining discussion in 2015. About 120 district and union representatives have been meeting since May.
“In the past, you literally take a piece of paper, say what you want and then slide it across the (negotiating) table,” Campano said. “Then they go behind closed doors and decide yes, yes or no, no … It’s a lot of that, back and forth.”
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This year, committees of teachers and district officials have met to lay out their main issues while trying to find a common solution.
“My hope is that there’s a successful resolution, and that we come out with an agreement [and] understanding of where our dollars are and aren’t,” Juneau said during a meeting with The Seattle Times editorial board on Thursday.
The union has not yet finalized its proposal to raise teachers’ salaries. But Campano said both sides seem to agree on finding a way to attract and retain more teachers of color. Teachers in the district currently make between $50,000 to $100,000.
“We will not get done before the end of August. I don’t think so,” said Campano. “We definitely don’t want to go into a strike,” she added. “We want to go into our classrooms the first day of school in September. That’s our goal.”
The district and union have not decided how long this contract will last, according to Campano. The expiring contract lasted three years.
Adding to the complexity of this year’s negotiations is the Washington Legislature’s decision, as part of a fix to the landmark school-funding case known as McCleary, to provide additional money for teachers and other school staff salaries in districts where housing costs are high. Seattle, for example, will receive from the state an 18 percent boost on top of an average base salary for teachers. And for the 2018-2019 school year, the district is projecting a $45.4 million surplus in its general fund, much of which is expected to be spent on additional costs, like salary raises, over the lifetime of a new collective bargaining agreement with educators.
But Deputy Superintendent Stephen Nielsen noted that teachers shouldn’t expect an 18 percent raise. After this school year, the district is predicting multi-million dollar deficits because revenue from its local property tax levy will decrease after January 2019, even if it is re-approved by Seattle voters.
“We don’t have the money to do that,” Nielsen said. “Bargaining this year is a wild, wild west.”