With two up for grabs vacant positions on the Seattle School Board filled following November’s election, new leadership at Seattle Public Schools is gearing up for a jam-packed 2018 with contentious issues such as contract negotiations with the teacher’s union.
“It’s never a dull moment [in Seattle public school news],” said Melissa Westbrook, a longtime watchdog of Seattle schools who blogs regularly at Seattle Public Schools Community Blog. “It’s become much more political and it’s become much larger than one district.”
Funding and teacher union contract bargaining: An overarching issue for Seattle public schools in recent years has been a lack of adequate funding: In 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn’t spending enough money to fully fund k-12 public schools across Washington and was forcing school district to rely on local property tax levies—otherwise known as the McCleary order. As a result, local levies and Parent Teacher Association fundraising have long tried to fill the funding gap, and the union representing Seattle Teachers, the Washington Education Association, went on strike demanding higher wages and other investments during the 2015 contract negotiations.
While the state legislature passed a tax and spend plan last legislative session that uses a statewide property tax to fund education, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the state needed to speed up its funding allocation to meet their imposed September 2018 deadline. (In response, Governor Jay Inslee announced that he will tap state reserves and seek to impose a carbon tax to appease the ruling.)
However, the new spending plan creates its own issues for the district, according to Westbrook. “One of the pressing issues is how much money are they actually going to get from state … all the districts have been complaining about how they are lowering their ability to access local levy money, and that may offset the state gains,” she said.
Jesse Hagopian, a social studies teacher at Garfield High School in the Central District and longtime progressive education activist, said that while the union hasn’t set their bargaining priorities for the upcoming contract negotiations, that wage increases for teachers and other staff (such as counselors) will surely be on the table. “All of these people, [including] our lunch staff, are underpaid and have an extremely hard time making ends meet in this city,” he said. “I would hope that the union’s ready for an all out struggle for a living wage for teachers.” Continue reading