As school was canceled for a second day Thursday, negotiators for the Seattle school district and its teachers union remained far apart on teacher pay.
As Seattle teachers walked the picket lines for a second day Thursday, district officials are saying they don’t have enough money to pay educators as much as they’re asking.
And although the Seattle School Board has authorized Superintendent Larry Nyland to take legal action, the district has no immediate plans to seek a court order to try to force teachers and other school employees back to work. It is hoping, instead, for a swift resolution.
At 3:30 p.m., the district announced that school would be closed again Friday for the third day. Spokeswoman Stacy Howard said district officials plan to continue to meet with mediators, and is waiting for a counteroffer from the union.
“We feel like we’ve made a very fair offering and now we’re just waiting for a response,” she said.
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But the union says it wants something new from the district before its bargaining team returns to the table.
Around 2 p.m. Thursday, Seattle Education Association Jonathan Knapp said union leaders had a good conversation with a mediator in the morning and “anything can happen” this evening as far as meeting again.
“The school board needs to come forward with some new ideas,” he said. “Until we have something new from the district, we don’t see why we would go back to the bargaining table.”
Knapp said union members will continue picketing Friday and beyond until the two sides agree on a contract.
On Wednesday, district officials say the Seattle Education Association’s proposal would cost $84.3 million over two years, more than twice as much as the $29.4 million the district says it can afford.
“The district’s offer is very competitive,” said Ballard High School Principal Keven Wynkoop, a member of the district’s bargaining team, at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. He said Seattle has been one of the top three highest-paying districts in the state, adding, “We expect to stay in that ballpark.”
The district’s latest offer would raise teachers’ salaries by 2 percent this year, 3.2 percent next year and 4 percent in 2017-18. When a state-approved cost-of-living adjustment is included (3 percent this year and 1.8 percent the following year), teachers would receive a 14 percent pay bump over three years.
The Seattle Education Association is asking for a 5 percent raise this year and 5.5 percent next year. With the cost-of-living adjustment, the raise would total 15.3 percent over two years.
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Throughout the district Wednesday and Thursday, teachers walked the picket lines in front of their schools and said they had no plans to back down.
It is the first time in 30 years that Seattle teachers have gone on strike over contract issues. (Teachers have participated in one-day walkouts to protest state funding, including one this year.)
Engineering instructor Doug Hartley was among dozens of Cleveland High School employees Wednesday morning who cheered for honking cars and waved signs saying “On Strike!” at South Lucile Street and 15th Avenue South.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re getting much respect from the district. It isn’t about the money or anything else; it’s respect,” he said.
Raw video: Watch the voteSeattle educators have voted to strike on Sept. 9 if an agreement isn't reached. (Paige Cornwell / The Seattle Times)
Hartley has been a Seattle Public Schools employee for more than two decades. And after years of settling for what he called subpar contracts, he said teachers aren’t going to roll over anymore.
“We’ve been putting up for so much for so long. At some point, it’s the tipping point,” he said.
Despite strong emotions on the picket lines, district negotiator Jon Halfaker — a school administrator and former principal of Washington Middle School — said the negotiations have been relatively cordial.
“We believe we have made strong gains in reaching agreement on all of the major issues that have been put to us so far,” said Halfaker, adding, later, “It’s not as if we’re sitting there in an adversarial relationship.”
He said the district was taken aback late Tuesday when union officials broke off negotiations and announced they were going on strike.
Seattle’s latest salary offer is in line with, or even more generous, than the size of raises in other districts where teachers have negotiated new contracts this year.
For example, Everett will raise salaries by 7.75 percent over the next three years — a 2.25 raise this school year, a 2.5 percent raise the next year and 3 percent raise in 2017-18. When the state’s cost-of-living adjustment is included, teachers will get a pay increase of 12.55 percent.
In Spokane, teachers will receive a 7 percent raise this year, including the state cost-of-living increase. Some of that increase is in the form of benefits.
Shoreline teachers will get an especially generous increase of 17.1 to 20.1 percent over a three-year contract, but that’s because the district was “at the very bottom” in terms of compensation when compared with its neighbors, said David Guthrie, president of the Shoreline Education Association.
Shoreline will give an 8.3 percent raise this year (not including the cost-of-living adjustment), a 3 percent raise next year and a raise of 1 to 4 percent in 2017-18.
Guthrie said the contract will help Shoreline teachers catch up. “It didn’t come easy, though,” he said. “There was a very real chance we could have been on the picket lines as well.”
Some Seattle parents said they were disappointed that the district and union leaders didn’t do a better job of signaling a strike was imminent.
Stephanie Jones, executive director of Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, said the “crisis” strike situation came fast, leading to a sense of confusion among parents.
District and union leaders should have made it clear this summer that tensions were high enough to cause a walkout, she said.
“If you’re going to hold the community hostage in the effect of your impact, you need to include the community in your conversations,” she said.
The two sides have been in contract talks for months. They reached agreement on a number of issues over the Labor Day weekend, including a guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for elementary students and increased pay for certified and classified substitute teachers.
The district has also scrapped a proposal to extend the teacher workday. But district officials think they can still add 20 minutes to the school day, allowing more time for physical education, arts and music.
This year, a beginning teacher in Seattle earned a base salary of $44,372. Teachers with a bachelor’s degree, eight years of experience and 90 credits beyond a B.A. received $59,444, and those with 15 years’ experience, a master’s degree and 45 credits received $79,788.
Negotiations are under way for school secretaries and librarians and instructional assistants as well as teachers. Overall, the union represents about 5,000 school employees.
At Thurgood Marshall Elementary on Wednesday, about 35 teachers and other workers marched down Martin Luther King Jr. Way South with music blasting and drum beats echoing.
Samantha Egelhoff, a fifth-grade teacher, said she wishes the school year could have begun as scheduled.
“We would rather be at work,” she said. “It’s not fun; nobody wants to do this.”
Clarification: The original version of this story, published Sept. 8th, has been clarified. Teachers with a bachelor’s degree, eight years of experience and 90 credits beyond a B.A. earn $59,444. The story left out the credit requirement for that salary.