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Seattle educators and the school district try to reach a new contract; Tacoma also bargaining

In this photo from August 2018, Seattle educators held an informational picket outside of Ballard High School.
Ashley Gross
In this photo from August 2018, Seattle educators held an informational picket outside of Ballard High School.

UPDATE, 4:30 p.m.: Adds information about educator contract negotiations in Tacoma.

This is a big week for the state's largest school district as it tries to reach a contract agreement with teachers and other school staff.

The Seattle Education Association set a deadline of this Wednesday to reach a tentative agreement. The union represents almost 6,000 teachers, counselors, office professionals and other school employees.

Michael Tamayo, vice president of the labor group, said members want to receive pay that's similar to districts north of Seattle, such as Mukilteo and Northshore.

“Our primary interest is to remain competitive with our neighboring districts, and we don’t feel that we are,” Tamayo said.

Mukilteo teachers recently approved a three-year agreement with base pay thousands of dollars higher than Seattle teachers currently receive. Mukilteo’s contract sets minimum base pay of $57,000 for a certificated teacher for the coming school year. Seattle’s contract for the 2018-19 school year included minimum base pay of $48,000.

Teachers across the state negotiated sizable bumps in pay last year after the state boosted education funding, and a number of unions went on strike, including in Tacoma, Puyallup and Tukwila.

Seattle's agreement was just for one year, which is why they're back at the bargaining table now. Last year, educators in Seattle received a 10.5 percent pay increase.

Seattle Public Schools spokesman Tim Robinson said the district wants to reach an agreement in time for school to start as scheduled in early September.

“We are actively comparing our salaries to neighboring districts and have every intention of remaining competitive, but we have to balance that against what we can afford and our fiscal responsibility,” he said in an emailed statement.

In Tacoma, both sides said they're making progress and that negotiations have gone smoothly. Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton said the union already agreed last year on a raise of 3 percent for this coming school year. 

"We're not bargaining this coming year's compensation, but we have been talking with the district about what next year and the year after will look like," she said.

The union also has brought up a number of issues unrelated to compensation, including ways to make school buildings safer in the case of possible gun violence, Morton said. And she said they're asking for smaller class sizes and reduced caseloads for nurses, counselors and psychologists.

The union hopes to have an agreement ready to present to members at a meeting planned for Aug. 28, she said.

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.