Seattle cancels first day of school as teachers allow strike

Seattle Public Schools canceled Wednesday’s first day of school after teachers voted overwhelmingly to allow a strike over issues including pay, mental health support and staffing ratios for the special education and multilingual students.

Seattle Education Association President Jennifer Matter announced Tuesday that 95% of ballots returned by union members were in favor of the strike in the absence of an agreement with Seattle Public Schools. Contract talks continued.

“Nobody wants to strike,” Matter said. “But SPS left us no choice. We can’t go back.”

The district said in an email to parents that it is “optimistic that the negotiating teams will reach a positive solution for students, staff and families.”

Districts across the country have faced labor challenges as the pandemic has placed extraordinary pressure on teachers and students. An injection of federal stimulus funds has helped stabilize school district budgets, and teachers’ unions have sought to improve salaries, resources and working conditions after a few tough years.

High inflation, a national teacher shortage and the goodwill of teachers through their pandemic schooling efforts bolster all union efforts, said Bradley Marianno, assistant professor of educational policy at the University of Nevada at Vegas.

“By all accounts, school budgets are actually looking pretty good right now,” Marianno said. “As teachers’ union contracts expire, they’re looking for new deals that essentially send more funding to teachers and more funding to students.”

School in the Kent suburb of Seattle was due to start on August 25 but was delayed due to the teachers’ strike.

Teachers in Columbus — Ohio’s largest school district — completed a brief strikeagreeing on a package including 4% raises, includes building improvement plans, reduced class sizes and innovative paid leave benefits.

In Denver, marathon bargaining sessions last week resulted in a tentative agreement for an 8.7% raise for educators, higher pay for first-grade teachers and more money from the district for fees. health insurance.

The teachers in Minneapolis, Chicago and Sacramento exited earlier this year before securing new contracts.

In Seattle, the school district has offered additional 1% wage increases over the 5.5% cost-of-living increase set by state lawmakers — far less than the union says it wants — plus one-time bonuses for select teachers, including $2,000 for Seattle third-grade teachers who earn an honors in English or dual language.

The union says it opposes the district’s efforts to eliminate staffing ratios for special education students, saying it will mean more work for general education teachers and teachers in special education. The union also says the district’s proposals would make general education teachers more responsible for supporting multilingual students.

In a video released by the union, speech therapist Julie Salazar said she voted to allow the strike because the workload for her and other special education staff was too high.

“We can’t serve our children well and everyone knows that,” she said.

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