This November, Seattle voters will vote on a new education levy hoped to open the “school to opportunity pipeline” with more than $600 million in local funding. It will be a crucial vote for spending and maintenance at Seattle Public Schools — and it is likely to shape negotiations that are all but guaranteed to be contentious after the union representing Seattle’s public school educators voted Saturday to approve a new one-year contract.
Saturday’s vote followed the tentative agreement on a new deal based around a 10.5% raise and paid five days of family leave that averted a Seattle teacher strike last week.
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With state money allowing the district to plan for a $45.4 million budget surplus in the 2018-2019 school year, teachers had hoped to secure a major increase in pay as housing costs in the city soar. Teachers in Seattle currently earn between $50,000 and $100,000.
While a state-fueled temporary bump in funding is coming, officials say the district must prepare for “the realities of the district’s significant revenue shortfall in 2019-20.”
“I want to thank our educators, the joint bargaining team, and SEA leadership for their hard work throughout the bargaining process. I am proud of the interest-based bargaining process we engaged in with SEA,” new schools superintendent Denise Juneau said in a statement following the vote. “We coalesced around common values, including racial equity, and crafted a contract that honors our educators and helps us advance our collective commitment to every student in the district. Seattle remains competitive with our neighboring districts while maintaining critical services for students and families.”
Attention now shifts to the summer of 2019 and the next deadline to pound out a new deal. But before then, voters must also decide on Seattle’s renewal of property taxes on an expanded education levy.
Under the plan, Seattle would replace two expiring levies with a new tax that would raise around $250 million for kindergarten through high schools to buttress state funding, around $340 million for Seattle’s growing preschool programs, and around $30 million for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Seattle Promise program under which she hopes to make college universal for city’s students by offering two years of free tuition to eligible seniors. Durkan also said money from the levy will be specifically targeted to help homeless students and that this will be the first levy that allows breaks for low income, veteran, and disabled households under a new state law.
In June, the Seattle City Council shuffled about $33 million of the plan into elementary school spending to further insulate the schools from the coming district budget gap.