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Seattle Schools To Remain Closed Thursday As Teacher Strike Continues

Kyle Stokes
Picketers supporting the striking Seattle Education Association march in front of Garfield High School in Seattle's Central District neighborhood. The teachers strike will stretch into at least a second day, the district announced Wednesday.

  Seattle's teachers strike will cancel classes for a second day on Thursday, and it remains unclear when union and district teams will return to negotiations on a new teacher contract.

Both sides expressed a desire to resume talks as teachers walked picket lines in front of school buildings across Seattle, which were closed to the district's 53,000 students on what was supposed to be the first regular day of classes Wednesday.

But union officials disputed Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard's characterization that "all indicators show negotiations will resume" on Thursday.

According to a union spokesman, the Seattle Education Association's vice president and executive director will meet with the state mediator Thursday morning, but the union will not send the union's entire bargaining team, saying they were looking to the district to bring a new offer before fully returning to the bargaining table.

Though school board members have authorized Seattle Public Schools superintendent Larry Nyland to take legal actions aimed at cutting the work stoppage short, Howard said the district has no immediate plans to bring the strike before a judge, citing their desire for a "swift resolution."

"The [Seattle Public Schools] bargaining team is ready and willing to continue talks day, night, weekends — anytime, as we have been throughout the entire bargaining process," Howard said Wednesday.

At an afternoon press conference, two district negotiating team members echoed statements union leaders had made earlier: the two sides have been closing in on agreements on a range of issues, such as standardized testing, teacher evaluations, guaranteeing recess time and addressing equity problems students face.

But on areas where the two sides have remained far apart, such as on teacher salary increases, union negotiators said the district hasn't bent.

"We were there every single day over the holiday weekend waiting on a decent, respectful proposal," said Gary Thomas, a union bargaining team member who teaches marketing and economics at Garfield High School, as he walked the picket lines Wednesday.

Credit Kyle Stokes / KPLU
Seattle Education Association members and supportive picketers get organized before marching outside Garfield High School on the first day of the teachers strike Wednesday.

The two sides have yet to even agree on the length of the contract they're pursuing — a difference Ballard High School principal and district negotiator Kevin Wynkoop acknowledged was "pretty basic."

Seattle Public Schools bargaining team members said they're seeking a three-year deal including raises for teachers of 2 percent the first year, 3.2 percent the second year and 4 percent in the third year. Union leaders have sought a two-year deal and have most recently proposed pay increases of 5 percent the first year and 5.5 percent in the second year.

District officials have also dialed back a proposal to lengthen the time students are in classes. They have now proposed adding just 20 minutes to the student instructional day, down from their earlier 30. Teachers would still have to give up 20 minutes of their before- or after-school prep time, a proposal that union leaders have said they can't support without an appropriate pay increase.

Wynkoop said high schools have to offer longer instructional days because the state now will require high school students to earn a greater number of credits — 24, up from the original 20 —to graduate.

"And right now we only offer 24 credits to our high school students," Wynkoop said. "The ninth graders, in two years, we're going to need to offer them more, because it's not okay for us to only have a situation where they're only able to earn 24 credits in four years and losing one class would cause them to be off-track."

Howard, the district spokeswoman, said Seattle Public Schools' current three-year offer would cost $29.4 million over its first two years. By contrast, she said the union's latest proposal would cost roughly $84.3 million over the same timeframe.

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