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Seattle Educators Vote To Authorize A Strike, Kent Reaches A Tentative Deal

Ashley Gross
Teachers, counselors and other school staff held an informational picket outside Ballard High School in North Seattle Wednesday morning.

 (Updated at 10:43 am on Aug. 29, 2018, to add that the Tacoma Education Association says the raise the district is offering is 0.6 percent above what's in the current contract.)

Just a day before school is set to start in Kent, the Kent Education Association said on Facebook it has reached a tentative agreement with the school district.

The teachers' union had been at odds with district administration and said the district was trying to use money from the state intended for teacher salaries to plug budget holes. 

Strike Authorized In Seattle

In Seattle, teachers and other school staff voted to authorize a strike if they don't reach an agreement with the district by the start of school on Sept. 5.

While many teachers said they hope to avert a strike, they said their pay hasn't kept pace with the high cost of living in Seattle, where the median home costs $753,600, according to Zillow.

Seattle teachers went on strike in 2015, delaying the start of school by about a week. The memory of that walkout is still fresh for people who participated.

Cathy Schmider teaches Spanish at Ballard High School and has been there for about 15 years. She joined other teachers and school staff for an informational picket line outside the school early Wednesday morning.

Schmider said it's frustrating that the union and the district have been negotiating since spring and still haven't reached an agreement.

"For me the reason to be out here is to kind of put pressure on the process and say, 'Let's get this done,'" she said. "Because I don't think anyone really relishes the thought of going on strike again."

Tacoma Teachers To Vote Wednesday

The Tacoma Education Association will hold a general membership meeting Wednesday evening "to vote on a new compensation model, or in lieu of a new model, discuss possible actions," according to the union's Facebook page. The school district has requested a mediator to assist with negotiations.

In a statement on the Tacoma Public Schools website, Superintendent Carla Santorno said the district has been hurt by the shift in the way the state funds schools and that it's not able to match double-digit pay increases offered by other school systems.

Tacoma has offered teachers a 3.1 percent raise for the coming school year. Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton said that translates to just 0.6 percent above the raise already included in the current contract for this school year.

"We don't want to jeopardize the district's financial future and create a budget that isn't sustainable this academic year or in the years to come," Santorno said. "Even with that 3.1 percent increase, our projections show we will face an estimated $25 million budget deficit for the 2019-2020 school year due to the state's new funding formula." 

McCleary Fix Brings Complications

The state established a new education funding system last year to comply with a state Supreme Court order in the McCleary school funding lawsuit. Lawmakers also approved an extra $1 billion this spring.

That prompted districts around the state to reopen their contracts with unions to negotiate pay increases.

In some places, such as Shoreline and Bellevue, negotiations resulted in double-digit raises. But other districts have said they can't afford those kinds of hikes.

That's led to strike authorization votes and even walkouts in Vancouver and Longview.

The legislature voted to increase the state property tax after the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state had failed to adequately fund public education. Lawmakers also set limits on how much districts can raise through local levies.

The Seattle and Tacoma school districts have said they're disproportionately hurt by that change and that they face shortfalls in future years.

There are also concerns that teachers can commute to other districts that pay more. The pay increases reached in some areas have led teachers to seek similar compensation hikes.

Stan Strasner is a substitute teacher in Seattle and a member of the union's bargaining team.

"All these other districts around us are getting huge pay increases and 25 percent of Seattle educators don’t live in Seattle and they’re seeing all these pay increases all over," Strasner said. "I’m not sure we’ll be able to keep Seattle educators here.”

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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