Seattle schools, teachers’ union avoid strike

But new contract is less than what they bargained for

From staff reports

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Seattle students were able to return to school as scheduled this year after Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, reached a contract deal in early September with its teachers’ union.

SPS and the Seattle Education Association (SEA) spent the better part of the spring and summer trying to agree on a contract that would please both parties. SEA represents roughly 6,000 Seattle school teachers, instructional assistants and paraprofessionals, as well as substitutes and office professionals. Some of the major sticking points during negotiations included pay raises, health insurance for substitute teachers and efforts to increase racial equity in classrooms.

When teachers in surrounding areas were negotiating raises well above 20 percent, Seattle teachers were hoping for something comparable. On Sept. 7, a new contract was passed, but its updates did not satisfy as many teachers as the district hoped it would. Teachers walked away with a 10.5 percent wage increase. The deal also included five additional days of paid parental leave for teachers and substitutes, classified staff and office personnel.

“I think a lot of teachers are disappointed that they didn’t get more raise,” said long-term substitute teacher Peter Henry. He also served on SEA’s bargaining committee.

“10.5 percent is a good raise, but over the last 20 years or so, teachers’ income has basically – if you account for inflation – it’s basically been decreasing.”

Henry has been a familiar face around Cleveland for quite some time now, filling in for long stretches that sometimes last the entire school year. But under the previous contract, substitute teachers had to work for 60 consecutive days in the same job before they could qualify for health benefits.

Henry believes the new contract benefits long-term substitutes over those who are only around for a shorter amount of time.

“They only made it easier for subs in long-term positions,” Henry said. “So, now I don’t have to [work] 60 days; I only have to be here for 45 days, but if I’m here for 35 days, then too bad, so sad.”

Although teachers don’t seem satisfied with the new contract, asking for more than what was provided would be a bit of a stretch for the school district. SPS relies heavily on levy funding, millions of dollars provided to schools through taxes.

“[The raise] is not as big an increase as some other districts had, but because of the [SPS] budget that … was all we could get,” Henry explained. “Some of it depends on events that are not under our control or under the district’s control such as what happens in the state legislature. So, it’s complicated, very complicated.”

Staff reporter Francis Nguyen contributed
to this story.