Cynthia Nkeze: “A lot of the information out there is about pay, while we want fair pay for the work we do, that’s not what our greatest problem is. There’s issues around teacher evaluations, student testing, around caseloads for our ESA’s. These people, psychologists, nursers, mental health counselors, there’s not enough in our schools. They’re overworked and underpaid and the students end up not getting services. ESA caseloads are a really important issue that needs to be dealt with. Student testing is crazy. You would think that as teachers, of course we want our students to be tested to know what our students know, but the tests have nothing to do with what we teach the students. If we don’t teach the students to the test then they don’t past the test and when we teach to the test then we don’t actually impart knowledge on those kids. We are not saying students should not be tested, but the district should not add on to the required test that the state is already given. Many districts are not doing the extra tests but Seattle is insisting on having these extra tests. They then have those test results tied to teacher evaluations which is also part of the problem. We want these kids to get knowledge, not just be tested. We don’t want our students to be tested so much. Teaching is not a job, it’s a vocation. You can’t be in this profession because you want to make money.”
On day two of the first teacher strike in Seattle since 1985, CHS talked with the educators from the World School
at 20th and Thomas’s Meany campus about their hopes — and fears. Meanwhile, the district and teachers union reportedly have made only small steps toward bridging the $90 million gap
in contract proposals between the two sides.
Wednesday, Seattle Public Schools officials said the district currently had no plans to turn to the courts to end the strike and the bargaining team was expecting to resume negotiations on Thursday. While the two sides didn’t come together for a full session, representatives for the district and the Seattle Education Association union representing around 5,000 educators in the city said progress was made as new proposals are being evaluated.
The district said both sides are meeting with mediators and that there will be no school again on Friday. “Technically, negotiations have not resumed,” a schools spokesperson said.
The district said it has upped its offer to raise salaries to 14% over three years — the union has been asking for 18%. District officials said the union has not presented a counter offer.
The raise negotiations are for teachers’ “supplemental pay” which comes from the district. One teacher told CHS that supplemental pay only represents about one quarter of her salary — the rest is controlled by the state. Teachers say they are struggling with no cost of living increases in six years and soaring housing costs in the area.
Teachers have also held up the early victory on winning a guarantee of 30 minutes recess for students as an example of the larger fight they are waging for a better education for Seattle schoolchildren.
Svetlana Mamedova: “I do 12 or 13 hour days. Last year my workload was 150 kids I make contact with every day. So imagine 150 papers to grade and then enter them into the computer. Even if I give 5 minutes to each paper, how many more hours do I need to work to have this done. What do I get in return? Shingles. We are the PTA, we donate money, clothes, we buy food. I run the drama program, I buy all the costumes, I buy the food, paint, cardboard, everything we need I pay for it out of my pocket. I’ve had one school board member walk though my classroom in 18 years. Also, look and see who gave money for election campaigns on the school board members who sit there now. Bill Gates and a member of the Wal Mart family.”
SEA says its demands include:
- Professional pay: We need to attract and keep caring, qualified educators in Seattle, which is one of the most expensive cities in the United States. We’ve gone six years with no state COLA and five years with no state increase in funding for educator health care.
- Fair teacher and staff evaluations: Educators should be evaluated fairly and consistently, and the focus should be on providing the support all educators need to be successful
- Reasonable testing: Too much standardized testing is stealing time away from classroom learning.
- Educator workload relief: Current workloads mean many students aren’t getting the help they need.
- Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap:We need to focus on equity issues in every school, not just some.
- The administration’s proposal to make teachers work more for free: It is unrealistic to expect teachers to work more hours without additional pay, and the district administration has been unable to explain how their proposal would help students.
Officials also say the district is not yet willing to take the matter to court to force teachers back into the classroom. A “hotline” has been set up for parents to call with questions — (206) 252-0207 — answers will then be posted to the SPS site.
Parents and guardians continue to weather the challenge of what to do with the district’s more than 52,000 kids. On Capitol Hill Wednesday, 47 of 60 slots at Miller Community Center were registered for a special strike day cam while the other central city location on Queen Anne saw all 50 spots claimed plus a handful of students on the waitlist.
Michael Perara: “The way we have to get things done is through unity. I’ve only been teaching for 3 years, but all these other teachers have put in their time and the district has continued inch by inch to increase workload or make people change tests they have to teach to and put in all this extra time. They’ve continued to push teachers to the side and make it a more and more difficult job to stay in. Over 50% of people quit their job in Seattle’s Title 1 schools after 5 years.
Do I choose a career that I can make more money and live in Seattle and own a home while supporting a family or do I stay in a profession that the pay isn’t progressing and the workload is increasing? Right now I love it and this is where I want to be.
I feel like there’s this idea that we strike for ourselves but really it’s for our community, our students, our city and the people at this school are so passionate about what they do or else they wouldn’t be here. I think that’s true for the vast majority of teachers. An experienced teacher told me once that after 5 years you realize how much more you can improve and she’s still learning more and more and has been teaching for 20 years. I hope that some day I can get to that point as well to have this hunger to be the best teacher I can be and that I’m supported though my district, my staff, and my union to do that to educate kids the best that I can. Right now it doesn’t feel that way.”
Regardless of any progress on the contract, there will be no picket lines on Friday. Educators are planning a day of service in honor of the 9/11 anniversary. Here is a message sent to parents at Stevens Elementary about how to get involved:
With no contract in place yet, Stevens educators plan to spend tomorrow as a Day of Service, making and delivering lunches to homeless youth in our community through the teen shelter at 19th and Madison: psks.org.
There are two ways you can help:
If you’d like to help by contributing supplies (so teachers aren’t spending their own money while they are on strike without pay), please sign up via this Google doc: http://bit.ly/1LZX25Z (Note that to edit from a smart phone, one has to first install the “google sheets” app. This applies to both android and iPhone, not sure about windows phones. No app is needed to edit from a computer.)
If you can contribute supplies, please deliver them to Stevens between 8:30 and 10 a.m.
If you’d like to contribute money to be spent on lunch supplies, just let me know the amount and I’ll go shopping in the morning for anything that isn’t signed up for yet.
Come to Stevens
For food safety reasons, the grown-ups (Stevens educators) will be making the sandwiches and assembling the lunches this time. But it would be great to have kids come make cards to put in the lunches and grown-ups to help with that project or just lend moral support. If you’re available, come to Stevens any time between 8:30 and 11:30. (Lunch assembly will start around 10 and then people will walk to deliver the lunches; you’re welcome to join for that walk as well.)
Finally, it’s never too late to call Superintendant Nyland (206-252-0180). :) Today my message to him is that my family strongly supports SEA’s proposals and we hope the District will make every effort to accommodate them and get our kids back to school.
Here’s hoping to see you back at school on Monday if not sooner.
Others are rallying for schools across the city including Sunday’s benefit to support teachers at the Neptune. Meanwhile, Thursday night brings “a community Meeting with the Coalition for the Schools Seattle Deserves” at City Hall.
The strike comes during a challenging period for education funding in the state. Washington’s Supreme Court began to fine the state $100,000 for every day the legislature fails to meet court-ordered requirements for fully funding public schools. Increased state funding or not, a larger chunk will eventually head to Seattle teachers.
Classes will again be canceled Friday in all of the system’s nearly 100 public schools — “no school until further notice,” the SPS web site reads.
Irene Rodriquez: “The thing about pay always bothers me because people don’t understand how teachers get paid. Summers are not a vacation. Most of the time teachers are taking classes or working on curriculum and lesson plans. For the district to say work for free, it’s kind of a slap in the face. Teachers work for free a lot. We do it because we have a passion for, it really isn’t for the pay. At the same time, it’s nice to get pay that makes you feel like you have worth.”
Diane Howerton: “A lot of these test hit in March, so the instructional time until march is not even a full year and we’re being held accountable for that. You’re looking at 4 or 5 months of actual instruction time. There are 17 tests that kids have to take in this school district. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to be tested, just choose one and stick to it. The other problem right now is evaluations. Seattle School district has their evaluation and have meshed it with the state evaluation for teachers. That evaluation is a mess. The problem is, it takes hours and hours of teachers personal time and principle time to compile this throughout the year and we’re not paid extra for this. That evaluation is tied to test scores, but it’s not like we get instructional feedback. They need to choose one test and one evaluation. This issue of yeah, we’ll raise your pay but in exchange you give us some free time and minimize your prep time. You know we’re already giving lots of free time. Can we knock this off?”