The Seattle Education Association’s board of directors and its representative assembly both voted to recommend approval of a tentative agreement.
After four months of negotiations, a five-day strike and one final all-night talk, the Seattle teachers union and Seattle Public Schools reached a tentative contract agreement early Tuesday, and school is scheduled to start Thursday for the city’s 53,000 students.
The Seattle Education Association’s board of directors and its elected building representatives both voted Tuesday afternoon to suspend the strike, recommending the union’s membership approve the deal. The agreement will go to a full vote of the union’s 5,000 members at a Sunday meeting.
The building-representative vote came after hours of deliberation, where cheers and fervent discussion could be heard outside a packed room at the Machinists Hall in South Seattle.
Highlights of tentative 3-year contract:
Raises: 3 percent in first year; 2 percent in second; 4.5 percent in third (state cost-of-living raise is additional). More in 2017-18 for some teachers for collaboration, and eight hours of “tech pay” for all school employees.
Discipline: Half day of training on reducing disproportionate discipline for all school employees. Equity committees launched in 30 schools.
Testing: New joint union-district committee to review and recommend testing and testing schedule.
Teacher evaluations: Test scores will no longer play any role.
School day: Will be longer, but not much for students, and teachers will be paid for the additional time.
Specialist caseloads: Sets limits, which union says is a first, for physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and audiologists.
Source: Seattle Education Association
Union bargaining chair Phyllis Campano, exhausted after one hour of sleep after the marathon negotiation session, declared victory.
“Let’s be clear,” she said. “We won the fight on this contract agreement.”
District officials celebrated earlier, saying they were elated an agreement had finally been reached.
“The parties were far apart for a long time, but in the end we found common ground, wanting to make sure our children get the best education that they can,” said Geoff Miller, the district’s lead negotiator, in announcing the tentative agreement at about 8 a.m. Tuesday.
The union publicly released many details about the tentative agreement, even after the district would not, saying it was under an embargo.
If the contract is approved, teachers and other school employees will receive pay increases of 9.5 percent over three years, in addition to the state cost-of-living adjustment of 4.8 percent over two years.
Test scores no longer will play any role in teacher evaluations, and teachers will have more of a say in how often students are tested.
Teachers will be paid for a longer school day, and special-education student-teacher ratios, as well as specialists’ caseloads, will be lowered.
Earlier, union President Jonathan Knapp called some elements of the tentative contract “groundbreaking.”
“Our bargaining team put in a heroic effort,” he said.
Campano and others cited multiple issues as successes, like the two sides agreeing to 30 minutes of guaranteed recess daily for all elementary students, and new committees at 30 schools to address problems of racially skewed discipline and other equity issues.
The agreement covers teachers and other school employees such as office staff, specialists and instructional assistants.
Yet as the teachers celebrated, some said they didn’t win every argument.
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Andy Russell, a teacher at Dearborn Park International School, said he was excited about guaranteed recess, the new equity committees and the change to teacher evaluations, but that salaries must continue to be a priority in the future.
The raises in the tentative agreement were lower than the 21 percent the union had proposed over three years at one point, and less than the 9.75 over two years it had asked for Sunday.
The district’s last-known proposal was for 9.2 percent over three years.
In actuality, teachers’ effective raises are lower than it appears because the increases are applied to just a portion of their salaries.
Tuesday’s union votes followed a day when teachers, even after they learned a tentative agreement had been reached, continued to picket.
And a previously scheduled march to support teachers went forward.
Hundreds of union members, parents and students walked from Pioneer Square to district headquarters, dressed in red and carrying signs with phrases such as “I want to go back to school” and “Kids need more recess.”
“We are ready to get back to school,” Madison Middle School teacher Shana Norton said as she marched. “I’m ready to see my fresh faces.”
Henry Lehman, 8, carried a yellow sign with “We support our teachers” written in marker. He said he was excited to start second grade at McDonald International Elementary School, while his mother, Megan Lehman, said she used the strike as an opportunity to teach her children about fair contracts and their teachers’ salaries.
“When school starts, it’s going to be a much more powerful start,” Lehman said. “It’s gone from being a conflict between the district and the teachers to galvanizing the community to address what we need for education.”
Mayor Ed Murray said the city will continue to offer free drop-in activities for up to 3,000 children at community centers Wednesday. He called the tentative accord “welcome news for Seattle families and students.”
Teachers will report to work Wednesday, a day before classes start.
Cassandra Johnston, president of the Seattle Council of Parent, Teacher and Student Associations, said family responses to the strike were all over the map. Some thought the district hadn’t offered teachers enough money, and others thought the strike was too disruptive.
“The PTSA has always supported our teachers, and always will,” she said. “But we also can’t deny that it’s super disruptive to all families.”
Before union leaders voted Tuesday, Erin Okuno, executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, said a lot of people would be relieved if the strike was indeed over.
She said that while many supported the teachers, “I also know there was frustration with having to scramble to piece together child care.”
Stephanie Jones, executive director of the nonprofit Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, said she was left wondering which programs might get cut if teachers are getting raises.
“We know the pot of money is finite,” she said. “Something’s getting cut somewhere, and we don’t know what.”
She said the strike might send a stronger message to state legislators that education needs more funding. But she added she is skeptical the Seattle strike will have a decisive effect beyond what the state Supreme Court has already achieved.
In 2012, the court ruled that state funding of public schools is unconstitutionally low, which the Legislature has yet to remedy.
Seattle teachers last went on strike over failed contract negotiations in 1985. That walkout lasted 19 days.
Though this strike wasn’t as long, Knapp said this year’s agreement represents a new era for the Seattle teachers union and public education in general.
“Teachers have realized they need to step up and be advocates for public education,” Knapp said.
The agreement was the culmination of a very long process.
Miller, the district’s lead negotiator, said bargaining began in May, and the two sides’ teams met more than 25 times.
The strike began officially the evening of Sept. 8, the day before school was scheduled to start.
After several days where both sides talked separately with negotiators, the talks resumed last weekend, then continued through Monday and into Tuesday morning.
Some members of the bargaining teams were in the headquarters building for nearly 24 hours.
“My face shows it,” Miller said Tuesday morning.
Keven Wyncoop, a district bargaining-committee member and Ballard High principal, asked that parents help students with the healing process after the strike. “It’s really important for our community to continue to come back together,” he said.
Even with Seattle’s tentative settlement, at least one Washington teachers union is still on strike. School in Kelso was canceled for Wednesday after the teachers union there rejected the Cowlitz County school district’s latest proposal.