School was scheduled to start Wednesday for more than 50,000 Seattle students, but they’re all staying home or heading back to day camps because Seattle Public Schools has asked teachers to work longer hours, with less recess, for a minimal increase in pay. The teachers, who have gone six years without even a cost-of-living increase, are not having it. They’re on strike for the first time in 30 years.
Here are around 2,000 members of the 5,000-member teachers’ union, the Seattle Education Association, voting unanimously in favor of the walkout last week:
The conflict between the underpaid teachers and the underfunded district was set in motion three years ago, when Washington State’s Supreme Court called out the state legislature for failing to provide “ample, stable, and dependable” funding for basic K-12 education, as constitutionally required.
Because Washington has no state income tax, its school districts—including Seattle—rely on voters to approve special local levies for education, which happen so often that calling them “special” is a joke. The state Supreme Court found that system—which is overreliant on local property values and the whims of voters—unconstitutional.
Since then, the legislature—with a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democrat-controlled house—has failed to provide a stable alternative system. The court held the state in contempt in August, and is now fining it $100,000 a day. (For a more detailed look at why this whole fiasco is the legislature’s fault, I’d refer you to Jen Graves in Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger.)
This puts the Seattle School District in the awkward position of making the teachers’ union an offer that’s almost three times lower than what they’re asking for: the teachers wanted $172 million, and they were offered $62 million late Sunday night.
The teachers’ other demands include 30 minutes of recess for every elementary school student (the district only wanted 15), and a 16.8 percent pay increase over the next two years (the district offered 10 percent, and that’s including the long-awaiting cost-of-living increase).
They also opposed the district’s mandate to add 30 minutes of instructional time to the school day, starting in 2017. They say it’s a demand for more work without an offer of additional pay.
According to a memo released Monday, the district is threatening to sue the teachers to stop the strike. The Seattle School Board voted 5-1 Tuesday night to allow the superintendent to take legal action. Similar lawsuits have already been filed against other districts around the state.
When will school start? Nobody knows. The teachers need more money, but the district doesn’t have much money to give because of state legislators. Meanwhile, it took a court order to stop a bunch of billionaires (including Bill Gates and the parents of Jeff Bezos) from channeling the state’s already strapped education budget toward privately controlled charter schools.
The entire system is busted as hell.
[Photo: AP Images]