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Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Seattle teachers to vote onfive -year contract

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Seattle School District and the union representing teachers and support staff have reached a tentative agreement on a five-year contract that would boost teachers' pay, focus district resources on struggling schools and give instructional aides a chance to obtain teaching certificates.

Members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) will vote Friday on the proposed contract, which would replace one that expires today. Certificated staff members would receive a 9 percent raise in their supplemental pay over four years.

Seattle's compensation would move from last among surrounding school districts to fifth-highest. Other districts that offer higher supplemental pay are Everett, Tacoma, Bellevue and Mercer Island, union officials said.

The union's board of directors on Sunday and school-building representatives yesterday each passed resolutions recommending that members ratify the proposed contract. But a significant minority is unhappy with it: Among school-building representatives, 55 voted for it while 37 voted against it. There were four abstentions.

For the first time, the contract contains a section on eliminating the racial achievement gap, including designating certain schools or groups of schools as priorities for improvement, based on the turnover of their students and staff members, student poverty levels and other factors.

Schools already receive extra district dollars for each low-income student they enroll, but the proposed contract would make working in the designated schools more attractive to teachers through various perks:

• Exemption from mass layoffs for a year. If the district needs to lay off staff members in the following year, staff in these designated schools would not be laid off at a higher rate than the overall district average.

• Eligibility for incentive pay after working three years in a difficult school. Currently, teachers receive the same pay regardless of where they work in the district.

• Hiring incentives, such as bonus pay, to woo candidates for hard-to-fill slots, such as teaching science and math. Teachers hired with these incentives would be obligated to work in a difficult school for three years.

• Allocating up to two-thirds of the money now set aside for sabbaticals to support school aides and office staff members interested in obtaining teaching certificates.

Money for incentive pay and hiring bonuses would have to be raised from sources other than the district's budget. But the agreement gives the district flexibility in rewarding teachers who work in the schools designated as needing special attention, a reform that teachers strongly supported in an SEA survey.
 
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About 2,400 teachers who live in Seattle work in surrounding districts rather than in Seattle, said Steve Pulkkinen, SEA executive director and chief negotiator. By contrast, only 800 teachers living in outlying areas commute to work in the Seattle School District, he said.

In the first two years of the contract, the raises would be paid for with money now set aside to reimburse teachers for classroom supplies. In the third and fourth years, the district would need $5 million to cover the 3.5 and 3 percent raises, Pulkkinen said.

Yesterday, union leaders said it will be the district's responsibility to find a way to come up with that money. For months, the School Board has been discussing how to create a more financially sustainable operation, perhaps by closing schools or consolidating programs. Another possibility, returning to a neighborhood-based student-assignment plan, could create roughly $7 million in transportation savings, according to one staff estimate.

Leaders on both sides yesterday were celebrating the successful end of six months of negotiations.

"This tentative agreement puts students first," Superintendent Raj Manhas said in a statement. "In addition to providing compensation increases that will help us attract and retain qualified staff, this contract establishes a commitment to work effectively together, and with parents and community members, to address the achievement gap."

SEA President Wendy Kimball echoed Manhas' sentiments. "The compensation package will make us competitive with the surrounding school districts," she said in a statement. "We currently are losing a lot of talented people to the suburbs. This is a key ingredient to attracting and retaining qualified educators."

Some building representatives said a few of the contract provisions could rankle teachers — such as the virtual halt to sabbaticals and the end to studying abroad. "I learned about China by teaching there," said Ingraham High School librarian Edith Ruby. "Now I [would] have to go to the University of Washington to study about China."

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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