Seattle teachers strike for “real education reform;” tentative agreement announced 9/15

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) at about 9:30 on the morning of September 15 announced that after an all night bargaining session it had reached a tentative agreement with the Seattle School Board on a new collective bargaining agreement.

But in its message to members, SEA said that “the strike (which began September 9) will continue until the SEA board and representative assembly review the agreement later today and decide whether to recommend approval to the SEA membership or continue striking.”

The tentative agreement was announced one day after the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Seattle’s public school teachers and education professionals who belong to SEA.

The resolution also urged the Seattle school board to bargain in good faith to end the strike and for the State of Washington to ” take the necessary actions to fully fund education throughout the state.”

You might think that a strike delaying the start of the school year for 53,000 children might trigger a backlash of opposition against the strikers, but as the Seattle City Council’s resolution and other evidence suggests there was widespread support for the strikers among parents, students, and the community at large.

ABC News reports that “As tough as the strike has been on (Seattle) parents counting on having their kids in school, many still support the teachers.”

In a guest editorial appearing in The Stranger, Seattle’s weekly alternative newspaper, Sarah Lang, Jana Robbins, and Naomi Wilson, whose children attend Seattle schools, wrote, “We will stand firmly with our teachers who are fighting to provide a high quality education for all kids.”

Nearly 2,000 parents and SEA supporters emailed the Seattle School Board urging it to reach a fair settlement with the teachers.

This strong show of support is likely the result of the stance that the teachers and their union have taken at the bargaining table. Common Dreams calls the SEA’s bargaining proposals “real education reform.”

Topping SEA’s list of bargaining proposals, is a demand for a pay increase that makes up for the last six years when Seattle’s educators have not received a cost of living raise.

“We need professional compensation that will make it possible to attract great teachers and keep them here in Seattle because we know how expensive it is to live here,” said Andy Russell, an SEA bargaining team member at a September 14 media conference.

Attracting and retaining great teachers can only do so much to improve education if there are flaws in the system that are holding back student learning, which why SEA asked for more than a fair pay increase.

For example, SEA proposed that the school district take a more reasonable approach toward standardized testing. According to a post on SEA’s website, “Too much standardized testing is stealing time away from classroom learning.”

The union also wants a more equitable approach to discipline and education opportunities in Seattle’s schools, where students of color are more likely to be punished for disciplinary reasons and less likely to have access to equal education opportunities.

To deal with this problem, SEA wants to create 30 equity teams in targeted schools that will study equity issues and recommend action that can remedy inequalities in Seattle’s schools.

Other SEA proposals include:

  • Guaranteed recess time. Recess policy varies from school to school, and many students have either no or limited recess time. “Students learn better when they have breaks for play and exercise,”reads SEA’s explanation of this proposal.
  • More manageable caseloads for support staff such as counselors and paraprofessionals. These employees provide valuable support for student learning, but their growing workloads are making it harder for them to keep up with the growing demand for their services.
  • Fair teacher and staff evaluations. “Educators should be evaluated fairly and consistently, and the focus should be on providing the support all educators need to be successful,” explains SEA.
  • The school board proposed extending the school day without additional compensation. Teachers already spend many hours away from the job doing work such as making lesson plans and grading. According to SEA, any extension of the school day should be done in a way that benefits students and fairly compensates teachers.

The SEA bargaining team worked hard to end the strike.

“There’s nothing more that we want more than to be back in our classrooms with our kids,” said  Phyllis Campano, an SEA bargaining team member.”

But there were factors beyond their control that hampered efforts to reach a fair agreement.

The main problem was that the state legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee, both of whom recently awarded the global airline corporation Boeing $8.7 billion in tax breaks and other incentives, have refused to fully fund public education in Washington.

The problem is so bad that the Washington Supreme Court held the state government in contempt for not funding education and fined it $100,000 a day until it does so.

The Seattle Times reports that “The court said (in its ruling that) lawmakers had again failed to live up to what the state constitution calls the state’s ‘paramount’ duty — amply funding schools.”

“We have a terrible problem here (in Washington),” said a mother of a student at View Ridge elementary on the SEA Facebook page. “There’s not enough funding (for our schools). Going on strike is a tough thing, but it needed to happen because we need to change the way we’re supporting education in our state.”