It wasn’t everything they wanted, but it was close enough.

Seattle educators approved their new contract with Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Tuesday evening, avoiding a drawn-out period of negotiations leading right up to the start of school Sept. 4. Eighty-eight percent of them voted yes.

The three-year agreement with the district, reached over the weekend, awards another round of double-digit raises to the union’s 6,000 members. By 2022, salaries will increase by 11.1% for certificated teachers and by 12.1% for classified employees, such as instructional assistants, who make significantly less on average.

To many of the Seattle Education Association members who filed into Benaroya Hall downtown to cast their vote, it was a surprisingly positive outcome — especially after hearing just last week that the union and district had trouble reaching agreement on pay.

“When I was on the bridge (waving signs), I didn’t think they would come to agreement,” said Gerald Donaldson, a longtime family support worker for the district.

Depending on their level of experience and education, teachers could make, roughly, between $63,000 and $124,000 by the end of the new contract. The current contract’s salary range is from $57,000 to $111,000. For paraeducators, just one category of classified employees, the minimum and maximum hourly pay would be between $30 and $41, up from the current pay of $27 to $38. The raises will be distributed gradually over contract’s duration.

The contract also includes:

  • $260,000 for costs and stipends related to expanding teams of educators that address racial bias
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  • Several provisions aimed at hiring and retaining teachers of color, including:

    • A requirement for administrators to factor a school’s racial demographics when making layoff decisions.
    • Mandatory professional development regarding diverse hiring for school administrators
    • Each school will receive data on its hiring trends.
  • Funding for 10 more school counselors, three nurses and two family-support workers across the district.
  • $5,000 for library materials distributed to higher-need schools, and a requirement that every school dedicate a portion of funds to their libraries.

When Donaldson learned of the contract last weekend on TV, it wasn’t the pay bump that stopped him in his tracks, he said, but the news that he would gain two more family-support colleagues under the deal.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Substitute teacher Francisca Zavala said she’s been waiting for a strong statement on hiring and retaining teachers of color since she began working at the district over four decades ago. “This is best contract I’ve seen,” she said.

The district declined to answer questions related to the contract before the vote. In a statement issued after the vote, Superintendent Denise Juneau said, “This was an important day and the approval of the contract was an important moment. … Now it’s time to get to the crucial work of educating our students.”

Before management and labor reached an agreement, some predicted negotiations would be as suspenseful as last year’s, when the two parties reached a one-year deal three days before the first day of school, averting the strike the union had authorized. Seattle teachers walked away with 10.5% raises tied to a one-year agreement that expires this fall.

The raises in this year’s deal are much higher than the district’s original offer of 2%, tied to inflation. But the district’s negotiators had an apparent change of heart: As recently as last Wednesday, union leadership said both parties were still far apart on compensation issues.

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Statewide, teacher contract bargaining was calmer compared to last summer, when an infusion of money from the state for teacher salaries opened up hundreds of contracts. State Supreme Court justices ordered lawmakers to release those funds to satisfy the ruling of the landmark McCleary v. Washington school-funding case. Dozens of districts, including Tacoma, went on strike.

While the SPS agreement gives relief to Seattle parents who can now expect to send their kids to school on time, that’s not the case everywhere. As of this week, which marks the start of school for many Washington districts, there were only two striking: Kennewick and Toutle Lake. La Center School District teachers authorized a strike but never walked out.

Standing just outside the auditorium’s doors, where educators voted electronically, Heather Cartner said this contract made her feel valued as a paraeducator, because it offers a pool of money for more professional development for special education instructional assistants. “Paraeducators are often pushed to be certificated teachers,” said Cartner, a paraeducator who works with students with disabilities at Lawton Elementary School. “But they should be valued for the role they’re doing right now — the contract should help with that.”

A smaller union caucus called Social Equity Educators advocated for a ‘no’ vote because members wanted the district to add more counselors and nurses.

“It’s not doing enough to stop the bleeding of these positions during layoffs,” said Matthew Haley, a member of the caucus and a long-term substitute at Nova High School.