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Originally published Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 7:28 PM

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Seattle Schools teachers OK new contract, vote 'no confidence' in superintendent

Seattle Public Schools teachers approved a new three-year contract Thursday, clearing the way for school to start on time Wednesday and ending rancorous negotiations over the use of test scores in evaluating how well teachers do their jobs.

Seattle Times education reporter

Seattle's public-school teachers approved a new contract Thursday, clearing the way for school to start on time Wednesday and ending rancorous negotiations over the use of test scores in evaluating how well teachers do their jobs.

Within minutes of that vote, nearly all the teachers and other Seattle School District employees at the meeting approved a no-confidence vote in Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson — a symbolic move that reflects deep dissatisfaction with the superintendent's style and agenda.

In a flier handed out before the meeting, the union listed eight complaints — everything from budget cuts she's recommended, to the addition of new tests for students, to a state audit that found a number of problems with the district's control over its finances.

The vote was another sign that Goodloe-Johnson hasn't developed strong support among teachers in her three years on the job.

"We feel like we're engaged in a battle for our students and against our superintendent," said Aimee Hall, who teaches math at Orca K-8, an alternative school.

Goodloe-Johnson, reached after the vote, said she has and will continue to work with teachers to make changes that will help students.

"Change is hard, and it's difficult," she said. "The bottom line is: Our children can't wait. Our children need us to do a better job. The data is clear about that."

The vote on the three-year contract was taken by asking teachers to stand up if they were in favor or opposed. Union President Olga Addae estimated that two-thirds voted in favor.

The no-confidence vote was nearly unanimous, teachers and union leaders said, with teacher aides and other school employees voting, too.

The meeting at Seattle Pacific University was closed to the public.

Addae said the two votes may seem incongruous, but union members wanted to send a message that they want Goodloe-Johnson to work with them "instead of mandating everything that should happen."

When it came to the new contract, both sides said they were happy.

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The agreement struck some middle ground in a growing national debate about whether student test scores can help determine which teachers are providing high-quality instruction, and which ones are not.

Under Seattle's new contract, test scores will be one piece of a new teacher-evaluation system, but in a much more limited way than district administrators first wanted.

Student growth, measured by test scores, won't be part of all teachers' evaluations, as the district had originally proposed. And the district won't limit raises to teachers who volunteer to sign up for the new evaluation system.

Instead, as the union suggested a few weeks ago, low student growth scores will only be used to trigger a closer look at teachers, even if principals otherwise have decided they're doing a competent job.

The contract also calls for that growth measure to come into play for teachers with high ratings who want to apply for one of the new jobs in the contract — so-called "career ladder" positions that give teachers more responsibilities to mentor or assist their peers, and a stipend to do so.

Many teachers said they got most of what they wanted.

"When you get 90 percent of something, you can't be greedy," said Krista Keller, a teacher at Orca K-8.

The negotiations encompassed a lot more than test scores. The new contract will usher in the teacher-evaluation system, in which teachers will be rated as innovative, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory, rather than satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Its provisions also include more planning time for staff, 1 percent raises in the contract's final two years and $2,000 stipends for teachers who work in the lowest-performing schools as long as they're not on improvement plans.

The contract also relies on the passage of a property-tax levy in November. If the levy fails, and grants don't come through, only parts of the new contract will be put in place.

But test scores emerged as the biggest issue by far, mirroring similar fights cross the country.

"When the president of the United States is having this conversation, then we have to be having this conversation," said Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, a nonprofit that works to build a strong teaching force in Washington state.

The district's classified staff members, such as teacher aides and school secretaries, were supposed to vote on their two contracts as well, but, failing a quorum, no votes were taken.

But there were enough teachers, who spent several hours in a hot auditorium discussing the details of the contract before they voted.

George Griffin III, chairman of the board of the Alliance for Education, the district's fundraising and advocacy partner, said the contract sends an important message.

"This is clearly not status quo, and I think that's pretty significant," he said.

Glenn Bafia, the union's executive director, said the way the contract handles teacher evaluations may get traction beyond Seattle.

"I believe this is going to be looked at as a new day among unions across the country," he said.

"We're definitely willing to talk about education reform, but it doesn't have to be an either/or type of situation — either you do nothing or you go down the road of unresearched, untested reform."

Linda Shaw can be reached at

206-464-2359

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