'Hard-Fought Victory' in Sight As End to Historic Seattle Teachers Strike on Horizon

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'Hard-Fought Victory' in Sight As End to Historic Seattle Teachers Strike on Horizon

Union representatives say schools will open Thursday, but strike not officially over until members vote Sunday on tentative deal

A picket line of striking Seattle educators from September 10, 2015. (Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP)

A picket line of striking Seattle educators from September 10, 2015. (Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP)

The first Seattle teachers strike in 30 years has forced the district into a tentative contract agreement, union representatives announced Tuesday, following a 12-hour negotiation session and a week of picketing, protests, and school closures.

While union representatives say the city's schools will reopen Thursday, the strike will not officially be over until the 5,000 members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) vote on the deal Sunday. Some are urging caution, as the strike is not over until educators themselves say it is.

Already, the strike has provoked broad debate over fairness for workers and students, in a city where schools are plagued with racial and economic segregation and inequality—and rising living costs mean many teachers are no longer able to live where they work.

"We've negotiated a pro-student, pro-parent, pro-educator agreement."
—Jonathan Knapp, Seattle Education Association President

As labor reporter Sarah Jaffe recently argued, the Seattle strike is part of a growing nationwide education justice movement, from Chicago to New Jersey, in which parents, teachers, and community members are "schooling government on how to improve education."

And indeed, concerns over student-punishment practices and recess policies were central to the strike. In addition, teachers are calling for adequate psychological and specialist support at underprivileged schools; an end to over-testing; and fair teacher evaluation and compensation.

The draft agreement has not been released publicly, but the union outlined its key highlights:

  • Recess: Guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for all elementary students.     
  • Reasonable testing: New policies to reduce the over-testing of our students.     
  • Professional pay: Base salary increases of 3 percent, 2 percent and 4.5 percent, plus the state COLA of 4.8 percent     
  • Fair teacher and staff evaluations: Test scores will no longer be tied to teacher evaluations, plus there is new contract language that supports teachers' professional growth.     
  • Educator workload relief: Additional staff to reduce workloads and provide student services.     
  • Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap: Creating race and equity teams at 30 of the district's schools.     
  • The administration's proposal to lengthen the school day: Teachers will be compensated for additional work.

"This is a hard-fought victory for the kids of Seattle, and I am proud of SEA members and our incredible bargaining team," said Jonathan Knapp, SEA president. "This agreement signals a new era in bargaining in public education. We've negotiated a pro-student, pro-parent, pro-educator agreement. We really appreciate the strong support from parents and students."

In an article published Tuesday following the announcement of the tentative agreement, Seattle parent, musician, and activist Kimya Dawson declared, "This strike is teaching our kids about fighting for what's right, integrity, social justice, and solidarity."

"I will support this strike for as long or as little as it takes," she continued. "I hope the massive show of support inspires demands for public education reform far and wide. I hope the conversations keep on and folks continue to get to know their neighbors. To fight the disparities, we need to be united and keep sharing stories."

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