Seattle teachers step up push for settlement of contract talks
With their contract set to expire Saturday, Seattle teachers remained at odds with the school district over a number of key issues.
Seattle Times education reporter
Seattle teachers contract
Contract talks are focusing on a variety of issues, including:
• How to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations. The union wants to suspend this use of test scores, saying it wants to work with the district to make changes required by new tests and new state and federal requirements. The district agrees changes are needed but doesn’t want to abandon what it’s doing in the meantime.
• Adding 30 minutes to the workday of elementary-school teachers. The teachers don’t oppose this move, but the two sides disagree about how that time should be spent. The district wants teachers to collaborate with each other and analyze student performance. The union wants the student school day to be increased by 30 minutes, too, by adding back art, music and PE classes that were cut years ago.
• Establishing limits to the caseloads of school employees such as therapists, psychologists and nurses.
• Teacher pay. The district has proposed 2 percent a year for each of the next two years. The union reportedly wants 2.5 percent.
The union’s next membership meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the day before school is to start.
Waving picket signs, about 60 Seattle teachers marched outside Eckstein Middle School in Northeast Seattle on Wednesday afternoon, their latest public appeal since they voted down a contract offer from the district Monday.
The teachers aren’t on strike. They haven’t even scheduled a strike vote.
But with just a week to go before classes are supposed to resume, the union and the district remain at odds on a number of issues — everything from teacher pay to the length of the school day for elementary teachers, and how test scores should be used in evaluating how well teachers do their jobs.
Both sides say they hope an agreement will be reached before next Wednesday.
Negotiators met all day Tuesday and Wednesday.
Teachers across the district, with their current contract still in force until Saturday, have been readying their classrooms for students.
District leaders say they are prepared to negotiate around the clock and through the weekend.
School Board member Sherry Carr said the district has compromised in a number of areas, and is willing to consider other changes.
Under the district’s offer, she said, Seattle teachers would remain some of the most highly paid in the state.
But union leaders said the district has not gone far enough in a number of areas, and they appealed to the public and the board to ramp up the pressure on teachers’ behalf.
“What we need now is for you to call the district,” Eckstein science teacher Teresa Alsept told the crowd at the rally, a message that seemed aimed more at the TV cameras than the teachers.
Teachers also plan to be out in force Thursday afternoon with pickets at four busy intersections across the city.
On Wednesday, teachers continued to raise the same issues they’ve been talking about all week.
One of the biggest seems to be the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. The union wants to suspend the use of the scores in evaluations, so that the district and union can jointly work out a better way to do so.
The union says the current method is outdated for a number of reasons, including the fact that Washington students soon will be taking a new set of tests.
The district acknowledges such changes are on the horizon, but it doesn’t want to stop using test scores in the meantime.
Carr said the new teacher-evaluation system, negotiated in the last contract, is helping teachers and students improve. “We need to stay the course,” she said.
Some teachers and community members also want test scores to continue to be a part of how teachers’ job performances are judged.
They include Teachers United, an independent teachers group, and a coalition of nearly three dozen community organizations that three years ago pushed the district and the union to adopt some of the evaluation changes that are part of the current contract.
“In any given industry, you’re always going to have change and innovation,” said Sara Morris of the Alliance for Education, a nonprofit group that’s part of the coalition. “But you don’t stop what you’re doing until the new thing comes.”
Other issues include extending the official workday of elementary-school teachers, which is 30 minutes shorter than that of middle- and high-school teachers, and elementary teachers in other districts.
“There are many complicated issues on the table that need to get resolved,” said Jonathan Knapp, the union president.
The district withdrew a proposal that union leaders earlier said was the most problematic — one that would have raised the limit on the number of students that could be in classes from grades 4-12 before the teacher would receive either extra pay or additional help from a classroom aide.
But that wasn’t enough to reach an agreement even after months of talks.
On Wednesday, some teachers scoffed at that gesture, saying the district knew that wasn’t a plausible proposal in the first place.
“We were shocked that they even brought it up,” said Noam Gundle, a science teacher at Ballard High.
If no agreement is reached soon, teachers could decide to work without a contract while negotiations continue.
But they could strike, too, as teachers have decided to do in the South Kitsap School District if they don’t have a contract agreement by Sunday. The issue there is class size.
But many Seattle parents are worried, and surprised by what seemed like a sudden turn of events.
“I’m exasperated,” said Geoff Patterson, who has a fifth-grader at Lafayette Elementary in West Seattle. He said he wished the school year could start calmly, without yet another controversy.
“It seems like there’s always something rocking the boat.”
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LShawST