Seattle School District Concedes to Union, 53,000 Kids Return to School

Kelsey Harkness /

After a two-week standoff, Seattle Public Schools and the teachers union reached an agreement on a contract, putting an end to a strike that left 53,000 students out of class for six days.

“This agreement signals a new era in bargaining in public education,” Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association, said in a press release. “We’ve negotiated a pro-student, pro-parents, pro-educator agreement.”

Under the agreement, test scores will no longer be tied to teacher evaluations, and salaries will increase 9.5 percent over three years, paid for by the district. Teachers will also receive a 4.8-percent cost-of-living adjustment over two years from the state.

According to the non-profit education news site The Seventy Four, Seattle teachers’ median pay is $60,400, not including benefits, which exceeds the city’s median income of $43,200.

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Currently, teachers are paid through a combination of state and district funding. A 2012 state Supreme Court decision mandates that by 2018, the state must pick up the entire tab of teacher salaries.

Teachers in Seattle hadn’t received a cost-of-living raise from the state in in six years. But some say their message on that fact is misleading, because teachers received pay increases in other forms.

“They say the state hasn’t given us a state increase, but they don’t mention the local levies have given pay increases,” said Liv Finne, director of education for the Washington Policy Center, which advocates for charter schools in the state. “They’re only telling half the story.”

Local levies are property taxes raised by school districts.

Some believe that the unions were incentivized to fight for higher salaries in their local districts because it will give them a bargaining chip when they negotiate with the state, as required under the state Supreme Court decision McCleary v. Washington.

By negotiating more money paid for by local levies early on, critics believe that it will be easier for the unions to negotiate higher salaries once the state takes over.

“It’s like a Ponzi scheme,” said Finne, who supports merit-based teacher pay reform. “The more that local levies provide for pay, the more the state is required to pay when they take over.”

Washington’s largest teachers union, the Washington Education Association, which represents the Seattle Educators Association, denied the accusation.

A spokesman told the Seattle Times the union was fighting for “other issues specific to their districts that addressed far more than money.”

Other highlights of the agreement include a guaranteed 30-minute recess for all elementary students, additional staff to reduce workloads and provide student services, the establishment of “race and equity teams” in 30 of the district’s schools, and compensation for a proposal to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes.

According to the Seattle Times, more than 3,000 teachers and school employees voted “overwhelmingly” to approve the three-year contract.

The Seattle Education Association represents 5,000 teachers and employees in the school district.