The next two weeks will be suspenseful for teachers and families.
Seattle Public Schools and the union representing 6,000 of its educators reached the end of their scheduled bargaining days on Wednesday without producing a new contract.
They’re still divided on pay, according to the Seattle Education Association (SEA) union.
There’s still some time and a desire to work things out: Management and labor returned to the table Thursday. But they have just a couple of days to draft a new contract in time for the union’s general membership meeting on Aug. 27. Union bargaining member Kate Eads said she was “skeptical” the parties could pull things together that quickly.
If they don’t make that deadline, negotiations may continue well into the final week of summer break, as they did last year.
“I wouldn’t start worrying” unless there’s no deal by Sept. 1, said Eads, a teacher-librarian at Northgate Elementary School who has two kids in the district. Schools starts on Sept. 4.
In addition to compensation, bargaining teams must also agree on some other items. Teachers are asking for more counselors and nurses, the expansion of school-based teams that focus on racial equity issues and flexibility for personal leave.
Last year, an infusion of state money for teacher salaries opened bargaining in virtually all districts, leading to a chaotic summer with some strikes. Many districts with contracts expiring that summer signed three-year agreements, but others such as Seattle opted for one-year contracts.
When talks failed to produce a contract in time for the union-wide meeting last year, teachers voted to authorize a strike by the first day of school to speed up talks. School started on time after they agreed to a one-year contract granting 10.5% raises three days later.
The raises last year helped, teachers say, but they haven’t stopped people from leaving the district for higher salaries or more affordable places. Under the current contract, certificated teachers max out at around $111,000 — several thousand dollars less than Shoreline, Everett, Edmonds and Lake Washington school districts.
Statewide, there are still a good number of bargaining units, including in Spokane and Tacoma, that are negotiating contracts this summer. In Tacoma, though, the negotiations won’t touch on pay. So far, unions in three districts — Kennewick, Toutle Lake and La Center — have authorized strikes if their negotiations do not produce a contract before the first day of school, according to Rich Wood, spokesman for the statewide teachers union.
Seattle’s educators continued their public support of the union’s demands with a rally outside district headquarters Wednesday.
The union is asking for a two-year contract and raises beyond the 2% that the district budgeted for next year, though members would not specify the exact amount they were seeking.
“Both SPS and the SEA want competitive salaries for all of our staff,” wrote district spokesman Tim Robinson in an email Wednesday. “But any increase must be balanced with spending within our means.” He added that the district still has to bargain for contracts with other employee labor groups.
Last week, the union released its own audit of the district’s budget to bolster its demands for more compensation. It showed the district spent $167.8 million less on teaching costs than what it budgeted between the 2014-2015 and 2017-2018 school years, a figure that the state education department confirmed. The union’s audit also claims that when budgeting, the district overestimates its expenditures to build up its reserves.
Robinson disputed that claim.
“We have and will be spending most of these [reserve] funds on staff salaries, students and programming, and addressing unfunded mandates from the state like the new medical insurance changes,” he wrote.
School Board President Leslie Harris said last week that she could not comment because of a nondisclosure agreement. (The Board receives updates on bargaining in meetings that are closed to the public.)