Seattle Schools Education Union to Vote on a Strike
By Monica Velez
The Seattle Education Association’s board of directors is recommending that its members authorize a strike, a vote that could happen this week.
A strike authorization does not mean a strike will happen, but it gives the union’s leaders the power to call one if the union and the school district cannot come to an agreement at the bargaining table.
Seattle Public Schools and the union, which has about 6,000 members, have been in negotiations since June, district officials said. SEA is focused on higher pay, as well as changing the special education and multilingual program models.
“The SEA board of directors did not make this decision lightly,” said Jennifer Matter, union president. “I think the SEA board of directors saw that the choice is to either accept what the district has been offering, which is basically lack of student support, lack of workload release, and lack of respectful wages, or stand united for what we know students and educators need.”
The Seattle contract expires Friday, and the first day of school is Sept. 7. If SEA and Seattle Schools can’t come to an agreement before school starts, educators could strike. SEA has a membership meeting Wednesday night and voting on the strike could begin as early as Thursday, Matter said.
In an email to families, SPS said negotiations about the special education and multilingual programs have caused delays.
The decision to seek a strike authorization came as a strike in the Kent School District entered its second week. Teachers in King County’s third-largest school district are calling for higher pay and a manageable caseload for staff working with English learners and students in special education.
According to the email sent to families by SPS, the district’s proposal includes salary increases, additional social workers at high schools and middle schools, a more inclusive special education program and training for staff, and staff support for students who are multilingual based on students’ needs per school, professional development for educators. SPS is also proposing to maintain staff levels and minimize disruptions during holiday breaks.
“The SPS proposals outline a plan that is aligned to our district’s instructional philosophy that puts students first, creates inclusive learning spaces, and provides educators and staff with generous compensation, including professional development, career opportunities and benefits,” said Beverly Redmond, spokesperson for the district.
The goal for the union and district is to make the special education program more inclusive, Matter said. SEA is pushing for students receiving special education services to spend more time in general education classrooms, but she said that takes more staff — something the district doesn’t currently have. SEA wants to include teacher-to-student ratios in the contract, Matter said, and the district disagrees.
“We are committed to improving the levels of service and inclusion for students receiving special education, by focusing on student needs rather than fixed staff ratios,” a statement on the district’s website says. “We importantly want to increase training for teachers, so they can effectively integrate special education students in their classrooms.”
Education for multilingual and English learners is also up for negotiation. Currently, students who need these supports have to go to specific schools that provide language services. SEA’s goal is for English learner and multilingual services to be expanded to more schools so students who need these services can attend their neighborhood schools.
Matter said the union is also negotiating for competitive pay and livable wages for teachers living in Seattle. Under the current contract, Seattle teachers make base pay that ranges between $63,000 and $123,000, depending on experience and degrees held. The last Seattle teachers strike took place in 2015. In 2018, the union also voted to authorize a strike, but the contract was settled amicably.