Teacher strikes in Puyallup and Tukwila have ended after union members ratified contract agreements with their school districts. In Seattle, teachers and other school staff voted to accept a one-year contract that includes an average raise of 10.5 percent.
But strikes continue in other districts, including Tacoma, Tumwater and Centralia. In Tacoma, the school district has asked the state Public Employment Relations Commission to conduct fact-finding and arbitration, “due to the lack of progress on bargaining with a state mediator.”
Across the state, teachers’ unions have been bargaining with school districts after lawmakers approved a major change in the way the state funds public education to comply with a state Supreme Court order in the McCleary school-funding lawsuit. The legislature has added billions of dollars for schools by increasing the state property tax, and some districts have approved double-digit raises for teachers. But lawmakers also capped local tax levies, and districts such as Tacoma say that has limited their ability to match the increases in compensation approved elsewhere.
On Saturday evening, Tukwila educators voted to approve a contract that the school district said includes a 10 percent raise. The union said the pay scale for certificated staff now ranges from about $55,000 to $107,000, depending on their experience and education level.
“People are relieved. They want to get back to their classrooms,” said Debbie Aldous, a math and journalism teacher at Showalter Middle School and treasurer of the Tukwila Education Association. “They want to greet the kids. They want to make sure the meals are being served. We just want to get the school year started.”
Members of the Puyallup Education Association, which represents more than 1,300 teachers, speech language pathologists, counselors, librarians and other certificated staff, ratified a three-year agreement. The average raise is about 11 percent, said Karen McNamara, president of the union. Pay starts at about $52,000 and reaches about $102,000 at the top of the scale, she said.
McNamara said teachers had not gone on strike lightly.
“They wanted to be in the classroom last Sept. 5 and it didn’t work out that way,” she said. “But they were willing to walk the line because they wanted to ensure that we didn’t lose our teachers from our district. If we couldn’t have the same comparable salary to our neighbors, then we were not going to be able to keep and retain our teachers.”
In Seattle, educators had voted to authorize a strike but the union and district reached an agreement before school started. In addition to the increases in pay, the district has agreed to add secondary counselors and nurses and expand school-based race and equity teams. The district also agreed to provide health insurance to substitute teachers after they work in one position for 45 consecutive days instead of 60 days.
Superintendent Denise Juneau thanked the union members, their leadership and the joint bargaining team.
“We coalesced around common values, including racial equity, and crafted a contract that honors our educators and helps us advance our collective commitment to every student in the district,” Juneau said in a statement. “Seattle remains competitive with our neighboring districts while maintaining critical services for students and families.”