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‘Technically, negotiations have not resumed’ — Day three of Seattle teacher strike will bring public service, not pickets

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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:

Contribute Supplies

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.

 

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23 thoughts on “‘Technically, negotiations have not resumed’ — Day three of Seattle teacher strike will bring public service, not pickets

  1. I’ve been trying to understand the district’s budget. Is there money in the budget to make the pay changes SEA is asking for? or do they need to take money from some other budget item? Is there a tradeoff that would have to happen. Or does SPS have a bunch of cash laying around?

  2. You can check out the SPS budget here (PDF).

    Part of the fight is over state funding but the district contends the current revenue is already tied to specific “obligations” — cuts would have to be made, SPS says:

    The district would need to use money now earmarked for:

    New textbooks that are current and up to date
    Instructional supports aimed at closing the achievement gap
    Student support services for Special Education students
    Student support services for ELL parents

    • Thanks that helps a little. The lack of clear information is frustrating. I believe the raises being discussed are only the SPS portion of teacher salaries not the state’s portion but see very little clarification on that point. Also any idea if the COLA applies to total salary or just the state’s portion?

      • Also would love to see more discussion on the trade offs highlighted above. It seems obvious schools will have to give something up in order to increase teacher pay, question is how much we value those things vs. a pay increase. Very little discussion on this though.

      • Great question, David! There has been a serious lack of information, as well as misinformation, in the news and on the SPS website. The state COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) only applies to the state’s portion of teacher’s salaries. Thus, a 5th-year teacher with a Masters Degree, who made $42,618 in the 2014-2015 school year, would receive a raise of $1278.54 this year pursuant to the state COLA, or about $100 per month before taxes. The district receives all of that money from the state, so their budget is not impacted by that. Moreover, you are correct that teachers are asking for the district to increase the TRI (supplemental pay). However, the district is now taking credit for the state COLA when it tells reporters, as it told Justin, here, that it is offering 14% over three years. Even according to SPS’s own website, it’s latest offer is 2% this year, 3.2% next year, and 3.75% the year after that. That’s 8.95%, not 14%, if I am adding correctly ;-)

    • One would think that, if the district has received additional state money tied to certain items/areas, then the local funds it possesses which it would have used for those things would now be freed up.

  3. Gee, I wish my college grad kid made $44,000 out of the gate with 2+months off (good time to supplement income), 2 weeks at Christmas, 5 days at Thanksgiving, 10 days at Spring Break, all federal holidays and “teacher enrichment days.” Oh and don’t forget the great health benefits. The teacher’s union is like the mob.

    • Or your college grad is making $120k + right out of school working in the tech industry, skyrocketing the cost of living in Seattle to well above what can be afforded on that $44k teacher’s salary

      • The tech kid is super smart and probably has an engineering degree..not an “education” degree. Have you ever compared the requirements? It’s not the job of the tech kid to make less so a $44,000 yr. teacher with all the time off/benefits feels better.

    • It sounds like these measures aren’t just a teachers-wanting-more-pay concern, but a concern for the quality of the education we’re providing kids.

      And what’s with all this jealousy? Your college grad kid can surely find a job that pays better if they want to. But do they want to?

    • 44K is only 65% of the median Seattle income. Try renting or buying a home in the city with that salary. You don’t say what your kid studied, but maybe teaching would be a better field than English or art history.

      • Here’s what really happens. In their first couple or few years, teachers enter the classroom and feel completely overwhelmed. Aside from trying to figure out how to prioritize the seemingly endless series of responsibilities. They also face the daunting task of trying to learn how to manage the behavior, etc. of a full class of students, with varying degrees of support or the lack thereof by administration.

        I moved from another profession into teaching, and I can say that I struggled immensely my first three years. So, please don’t dismiss my experience and my observations of other new teachers as being from the perspective a teacher with no other experience. I had nine years of experience in a different, challenging (although less so) profession.

        In the face of all of this stress, teachers think about how little they are earning. Although many decide to stick with it, many understandably choose to leave for other, less stressful, more lucrative jobs. Those jobs are available to people with their levels of education and experience, and the pay received by people holding those jobs in Seattle is what teacher-pay should be compared to. Losing these talented individuals adversely impacts the education which Washington’s students receive.

    • You must never have actually met a teacher if you think the time school kids have off, is actually time teachers have off instead of in seminars and meetings (those are teacher enrichment days) or developing lesson plans.

      My mother taught school in another state and put in hours well over the time actually spent in the class room. She also put her own money into supplies for that classroom.

      It fascinates me how many people a)know nothing about teaching as a field and b)seem to resent the fact that teachers need to eat and pay bills like the rest of us, but are willing to trust their children to them while they are overworked, underpaid, and want to improve the schools the children they teach go to. It’s not a system that leads to good education, though I suppose it does say something about people’s priorities.

    • In addition to what has already been said, what you call “teacher enrichment” days are really professional development days which teachers are required to work. One would think that, since the district determines what they are used for, if they are doing a good job determining what types of professional development the teacher attends, then this would improve a teacher’s professional practice and would be something that everyone views as beneficial and necessary. Did you know that teachers have to pay to get credit (called “clock hours”) when they attend district-sponsored training?

  4. Maybe it’s not about what a teacher can “get by on.” Maybe it’s about offering competitive salaries to attract the most qualified, talented teachers to educate YOUR CHILDREN. Do you not want that? Honestly people, you get what you pay for.

  5. As a parent with two kids in the district, I’m frustrated by the low information quality coming from both sides.

    No cost of living increase in 6 years? That’s a red herring – the teachers are talking about the state’s funding, and the state has obviously shit the bed (see the Supreme Court ordered fines to the state until it gets its education funding house in order). But SPS has given the teachers increases over the last few years – and is it fair to ask Seattle to shoulder the load for the state failing to do its job?

    14% vs. 18% raises – this makes it seem like an issue of competing elites; I mean, how many of us get a locked-in 5-6% raise every year? But we’re talking about the SPS portion of the funding, which is only one-quarter of a teacher’s salary. I imagine this part is “lumpy” from year to year, but what does it look like, historically? What should be expected? Neither side is telling us.

    “It’s about the kids” – no it’s not, it’s about the money. According to the SPS website, SPS and SEA have reached agreement on the “for the kids” issues: Student Equity and Opportunity Gap, Student Recess, Student Testing. All that remains are the wage and hour issues. And that’s OK; strikes these days should be about money, as most of the battles over working conditions have already been fought and won. But quit blowing smoke up our asses and tell us why you deserve the money, and where it’s going to come from.

    What do these proposals look like to the district’s budget over the next three years? The numbers that keep getting thrown around have the whiff of specificity, but they aren’t put into context, and are often comparing annual to multi-year figures. Would it crush the district’s budget if they agreed with SEA? Then show us how, and tell us what some of the tradeoffs would be, specifically (i.e. XX million less dollars for special ed, no textbooks, teacher layoffs, etc.).

    It’s hard to take either side seriously when they’re relying so heavily on posturing, shaded information and outright distortions. Meanwhile, like all Seattle parents, I’d just like to have my kids back in school.

    In any event, thanks for the great work you’re doing on covering this in depth.

    • Have you checked out the Stranger’s blog lately? They have been interviewing actual school staff who are on the picket lines and you can see what their concerns are. I don’t know who you think is ‘blowing smoke,’ but it’s pretty interesting to hear what these folks who are working with our kids every day have to say about their class sizes, caseloads, and number of hours worked.

    • Sorry, but a lot of what you said is just incorrect, although it’s easy to misunderstand because of all of the misinformation. The district is not offering 14% over three years on top of the state cost of living increase. It is offering 2% the first year, 3.2% the second year, and 3.75% the third year. Next, an obvious question is 2%, 3.2%, and 3.75% of what? It’s of the amounts set forth in the state salary schedule (the part the state pays for, and has no impact on the district). As an example, let’s take a 5th-year teacher after the increases in salary from this year’s state COLA. If he or she has a bachelor’s, we’re talking about 2% of $36,909 the first year. If he or she has a master’s, we’re talking about 2% of $43,896 the first year. If he or she has a doctorate, we’re talking about 2% of $49,197 the first year. The Union’s last request was 5% in year one and 5.5% in year two. In other words, under the Union’s offer, the 5th-year teacher with the master’s would receive an additional $2195 the first year, as opposed to the $878 increase being offered by the district. I think meeting somewhere towards the middle of that would be reasonable, although the Union has already come down much more than the district has come up.

  6. Is it required for teachers to picket or attend sessions? I know many teachers that just stayed home or went hiking. I don’t think changing your grindr and scruff pic to red should be considered participating, just sayin… Are they getting paid for these days or have to use sick days?

    • Teachers are neither being paid nor using sick days for the time spent striking. Because students must be in school a certain number of days, we will all be working later into the summer. Many teachers live paycheck to paycheck because of who badly they are underpaid, so this is very scary for those individuals. The decision to strike was not taken lightly because teachers are taking risks of their own, and are sensitive to issues affecting students’ families. One thing that will not happen, however, is that students will miss any school. They will have the same number of school days this school year once an agreement is reached.

  7. I would like to respond to the claim that this is all about teacher pay. Although teachers deserve the salary increases they are requesting, this strike, is about much, much more. Here is the Seattle Public Schools (“SPS”) website regarding the current status of negotations: http://www.seattleschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=627&pageId=1975167

    I am not saying that SPS’s account of the status of each issue is objective and correct. For example, it contains the teachers union’s initial offer for a 21% salary increase over three years, while the union’s current offer is actually 5% in year one and 5.5% in year two. (See my earlier comments for an explanation of what the percentages are being taken of, and what the district’s latest offer is).

    I was actually disheartened by the number of issues that have not been resolved. According to SPS, they include, among other things, “Partnership Committee: Committee that will monitor the work of the Equity Teams,” “Special Education Staffing Ratios, Relief, and Workload Related to the number of students a specific special education program might serve,” and “National Board certification assistance: Provided a process to support teachers with the process of National Board and Professional Certificate work,” and “Nursing updates: SEA proposed to add additional days for nurses to prepare sites. Also deals with disposal of medications. SPS approves of disposal language.”

    To give you an idea of the types of things still being disputed, let’s consider the issue about nursing. Our school only has a nurse 1-2 days out of the week (I believe it’s one day). That means that students have no access to a nurse at school four days per week.

    Next, let’s consider a small part of what SPS rejected under “Partnership Committee: Committee that will monitor the work of the Equity Teams.” The Union asked for language in the contract stating that the “purpose of the committee will be to address the issue of the achievement gap.” That sounds like a pretty simple thing to agree upon, right? Have a committee figure out why there is such a huge achievement gap among students in different Seattle schools, and then try to fix those problems. The district crossed out the words “achievement gap,” and proposed limiting the committees to the following work: “The purpose of the committee will be to address the issues of disproportionate discipline.” Why would the district fight the union on this? Disproportionate discipline is a real issue, but isn’t having a committee study discrepancies in student achievement at least as important? Why not both? Imagine being a teacher on the union’s bargaining team, and seeing that the district is going to fight you on everything, no matter how reasonable.