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Unions Sue City Leaders, Hoping To Give Seattle Voters A Second Early Ed. Option

Kyle Stokes
Supporters of I-107 silently protest a Seattle City Council vote to pit the initiative they favor against a city-endorsed preschool pilot proposal at a meeting in June 2014.

Seattle voters might not have to choose between the two early childhood education programs slated for the November ballot despite city leaders' warnings that the two questions are incompatible and contradictory.

Union leaders backing Initiative 107, a ballot initiative that would hike wages and mandate training for the Seattle's 4,000 early childhood workers, filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to allow voters to give separate up-or-down votes on their measure as well as on a second, city-backed proposal to create a preschool pilot program.

"I-107 and the preschool measure provide different solutions to different problems," the initiative's primary supporters wrote in their court filing Wednesday.

Do The Two Proposals Conflict?

I-107 mandates an immediate rise in the minimum wage for childcare workers to $15 an hour. It also sets goals to drastically decrease the amount of money parents would have to spend on early education and childcare.

Negotiations to fold pieces of I-107 into the city's preschool pilot proposal broke down. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the initiative's pay hikes run counter to the deal he struck with business leaders to hike the city's minimum wage. City council leaders point out I-107 doesn't include a plan to pay for the programming, unlike the $58 million property tax increase that would come if voters approved the city-backed preschool program.

In June, the city council, with a 6-to-3 vote, ruled the two measures conflict each other. Council President Tim Burgess says state law allows the city to present conflicting ballot measures to voters as an either-or choice. (On the ballot, a voter would first select whether to pass any preschool initiative at all, and second, which preschool initiative he or she prefers.)

"I know the proponents of 107 don't like that approach, but we felt pretty strongly we needed to adhere to the state statute," Burgess said in June.

'Unlawfully And Beyond Its Authority'

I-107's court filing contends that stance  violates the Seattle city charter.

"The [Seattle] City Council acted unlawfully and beyond its authority," reads the lawsuit, filed by a group of I-107 supporters called Yes for Early Success, which is primarily backed by the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union.

"Under the Seattle city charter," the filing continues, "both matters are entitled to a fair and independent vote and the City Council has no authority to pre-judge the validity of these measures under the hypothetical scenario that voters support both."

The union's lawsuit comes barely two days after current and former city leaders, including former mayor Norm Rice, spoke publicly at the launch of an electoral campaign to promote their proposed pilot program, which would cover preschool tuition for up to 2,000 low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, and allow middle-income families to pay on a sliding scale to participate as well.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.