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Seattle Public Schools To Start On Time After Union And District Reach An Agreement

Ashley Gross
Teachers and school staff picketed outside Ballard High School on Wednesday morning

School in Seattle will start on time after the union that represents about 6,000 teachers and other school staff reached a tentative contract agreement with the state's largest school district, averting a strike.

That will come as welcome news to families who were starting to try to make alternate plans as concerns mounted that members of the Seattle Education Association would walk out. They had taken a strike authorization vote on Tuesday, but the district and the union continued bargaining since then before announcing Friday evening that they had struck a deal. 

SEA members will vote on the contract agreement on Saturday, Sept. 8, according to a statement on the Seattle Public Schools web site. 

"One priority issue during negotiations has been educator compensation," the district said in the statement. "We believe our educators and support staff deserve a competitive, fair salary package and as a district we want to be able to attract and retain the very best educators for our students. Our bargaining team has worked hard to provide the best compensation package we can possibly afford while maintaining critical services and programs for students." 

Teacher contract bargaining has been unusually active this year after the state legislature pumped additional dollars into public education to satisfy the McCleary school-funding lawsuit. That led to some districts such as Shoreline, Bellevue and Bainbridge Island agreeing to double-digit pay increases, heightening expectations for teachers in other districts trying to negotiate similar raises.

At the same time, the legislature capped the amount of money districts can raise through local levies, which the Seattle and Tacoma school districts have said creates budget problems in the future. They said the levy cap hindered their ability to match the percentage increases teachers in some other places have secured.

The district updated its statement soon after posting it, including fewer details in the newer version. According to the initial version, the tentative agreement includes "enhanced" health benefits for substitute teachers. Previously, substitutes had to work 60 consecutive days in one position in order to qualify for health insurance, which was hard for many to achieve given the nature of the job. 

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.