Teacher strikes threaten to delay first day of school around Washington

In yesterday’s newsletter, we wrote about the issues clouding the beginning of the new school year, particularly unsustainable double-digit teacher salary increases and the likelihood of strikes. These issues were also the subject of our poll and issue roundup last Friday.

Uncertainty continues to plague negotiations and confound planning for parents, students and educators. Today, Seattle teachers will take a strike vote. The Seattle Times reports,

The union’s bylaws require that members have at least 72 hours to review any tentative deal on a new contract before voting to approve it.

But without a deal in place, the union instead will ask members to authorize a strike when it holds a general meeting Tuesday evening.

They’ve done it before.

Teachers in Seattle last staged a walkout in 2015, when the union and district couldn’t reach an agreement on salary increases. This year, the two sides appear deadlocked in a dispute over how much money the new state budget provided to pay for teacher raises and whether funding will remain sustainable to afford them over the next few years.

KOMO News reports,

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) said late Monday its representative assembly has unanimously recommended its members authorize a strike if a tentative agreement is not reached by the start of school. A vote is set for Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Benaroya hall.

As we’ve written previously, sustainability is a key issue, with several editorial boards urging fiscal restraint. Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal’s recent guidance to school administrators says that, while the McCleary legislation adopted in the 2018 sessions does not limit districts to 3.1 percent increases, “You are limited by what you can afford and what you can sustain.” (Emphasis in the memo.)

He notes that not all districts will be able to “provide compensation increases with double-digit percentages.” (We suspect that’s an understatement.)

In a brief story on the McCleary decision, which resulted in the hefty compensation funding passed by lawmakers last session, KING5 reports,

Roughly 200 unions that represent Washington teachers and school staff are still negotiating for more pay, some arguing for double-digit raises.

So why are they striking now, and why are they asking for such large increases?

According to a spokesperson with WEA, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to ask for a big pay increase and retain qualified teachers after years of underfunding by Washington state.

The Washington Education Association advises its members that school districts have the money.

School administrators who say they can’t afford to give educators substantial pay raises aren’t telling the truth.

They have the money…

(Despite what some administrators are claiming, districts will see a net increase in funding, even after local levy reductions.)

Pay raises must be negotiated locally, of course. Responsible school boards in more than 30 districts have worked with their local unions to negotiate double-digit percentage pay raises for teachers and support staff. Read the pay raise map.

The WEA also provides a list (lengthy) of districts that had not yet reached a contract agreement as of last night. The Washington State Labor Council this morning also provided links to news reports on the teacher salary negotiations.

Again, let us know what you think about this uncertainty at the beginning of the school year.