Tonight is the eve of the first day of school! This is one of the most exciting yet nervous days of the year. I've always loved school and thankfully, so does Zoey. She is going into the first grade this year and is so excited to see her teacher and friends again.
However, she might not start school tomorrow.
There are unresolved issues in Washington State, even on the eve of the start of school, that have driven our teachers to overwhelmingly vote to go on strike if negotiations are not complete by the beginning of school on Wednesday, September 9, 2016.
I have said several times that I love this city because they stand up and fight for their rights. I will stand by them now, even though I really just want to be excited about school starting.
After researching the topic, I realized the issues go much further down the rabbit hole than I originally anticipated.
Last May, our teachers had a one-day walk-out to emphasize the need for appropriate funding in the state. It is clear from this response that the teachers are already prepared to make a stand for their own livlihood and the sincere education of their students.
On August 13 of this year, all nine Washington Supreme Court judges signed an order issuing contempt of court sanctions against the State for failing to comply with the Court's orders in the McCleary case (a landmark case for Washington's school children which concluded in an unprecedented step of retaining jurisdiction over the case to ensure the Legistlature met the court's mandate for increased funding by 2018). Because of the Legislature's failure to make "real and measurable progress" towards a plan to fully fund basic education, the Washington Supreme Court imposes a fine of $100,000 a day until the matter is resolved.
Although the legistration did add some funding to this school year it is sadly lacking in it's progress to meet the constitutional obligation for Washington's school children. The goal for Seattle Public Schools is to drastically reduce class size, increasing teacher-student ratios for grades K-3 and keep it permantently funded. Ideally this would mean 1 teacher for every 17 students by 2018 with the funding to keep the ratio steady long term.
The Seattle Public School District (SPS) and Seattle's Education Association (SEA), the local teacher's union, has been in negotiations since this past May. The two parties have still not reached a tentative agreement, which could mean school will not start as scheduled tomorrow, Wednesday, Septemeber 9.
Last Thursday, Seattle Public School teachers overwhelmingly voted to go on strike if the SPS and SEA did not come up with a tentative contract before the start of school. Several issues have been discussed heavily over labor day weekend; however, only a very few have been settled.
- Salary Increase
The starting salary for SPS teachers is approximately $44,000. However, they have now gone six years with no state cost of living increase and five years without a state increase in healthcare.
The District proposed a 13% increase across 3 years, which includes a state-approved cost-of-living adjustment. The Union countered with a 22.8% over the same amount of time. As negotiations progress, the numbers continue to change. However, teacher's salary continues to be one of the most negotiated issues.
This spring state budget passed a boost in school funding across the state by about $1.3 billion over the next two years. In reality, that gives Seattle Public Schools roughly $40 million over the same amount of time. The Washington State Supreme Court agrees, "teacher pay is key" (Seattle Times).
- Increased Instructional Time
The District has proposed an additional 30 minutes of teacher instructional time claiming kids need more time with the teacher to significatly advance student potential and extend P.E. and arts music opportunities aiding to meet state requirements. The teachers, who are already unsettled by the lack of salary increase, are reluctant to this new district proposal of more hours without proper compensation.
- Guarenteed Recess of 30-45 Minutes Per Day
Time alloted for recess in elementary schools varies wildly across the state. Some schools get as little as 15 mins and other as much as 45 minutes per day. The District currently has no requirements for daily recess although the district wellness policy recommends 30 minutes per day.
This issue is one of the few where negotiations have prevailed. On Saturday, the district and teachers union agreed on a guaranteed minimum of 30 minutes a day of recess for elementary-school students, a compromise from the SEA original proposal of 45 minutes.
- Increase in Educational Staff Associates
The teacher's union requested more instructional assistants, teacher's aids and an increase for certified substitute teachers. This is another area that has seen progress in negotiations. On Sunday, an agreement to increase pay for certified substitute teachers was reached. This includes an attempt to address the general shortages of substitutes throughout the state.
There are also several issues that have yet to release negotiation details including:
- Fair and consistent teacher/staff evaluations with focus on successful education (not the results of stantardized tests).
- More responsible standardized testing (especially in elementary schools), specifically less of it.
- Caseload caps and workload relief for office professionals (i.e. physical, speech and occupational therapists and school psychologists) in order to deliever required services to each child.
And wait, there's more!
The Seattle School Board is considering legal action if teacher's decide to strike on Wednesday morning. In addition to legal action against teachers and other school employee who strike, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Larry Nyland, can also limit or close off educator's access to the school building and suspend the use of employee's sick leave.
The action report states, "The District considers a strike or the concerted refusal to provide contract for services to be unlawful. Such actions causes irreparable harm and disrupts the education program of the District, students, families and others" (Seattle Times).
The Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp responds, "It's disappointing that the school board is grasping at legalistic straws rather than focusing on ways to provide the supports that educators need to be successful with students. We won't be scared into abandoning our commitment to winning a fair contract" (Seattle Times).
The last time Seattle teachers struck was thirty years ago in 1985; school was cancelled for three weeks.
I have shared all the facts. (In fact, I remember how much I loved investigative journalism.) However, this is my blog and this affects my family directly. That means I get to share my opinion as well.
First of all, I love Zoey's school. I as a parent and she as a student, had an amazing year last year. That being said, Zoey was in a kindergarten class with 26 other children and no teacher's aid. There was a brief few months where her class had a student teacher; you could see over his time in the classroom how much her teacher and the students benefited from having a second person in the classroom. There should be a teacher's aid in every Kindergarten class.
I would also advacate strongly for smaller class sizes. Zoey was extremely lucky to have a teacher with a gift of controling a classroom; however, not every class was so lucky. One friend was sad throughout much of the year because the classroom was bordering on chaos. That is not an appropriate enviornment for our children to learn in.
Zoey also attends a school that gives considerable recess time. In addition, Zoey's teacher often rewarded good class behavior with extra free time. This was a huge benefit to her learning because it allowed time for play, which resulted in more focus within the classroom during instructional time.
I also support the need for more substitutes with cerdifications because one lovely lady made half of Zoey's class cry last year as a subsitute. As a parent, I would appreciate more options in substitutes and ones that are trained, at least mininumally, in how to handle a classroom of young children.
I am so excited for the beginning of school; however, I stand by our school and our teachers and their protests. I hope that negotiations will work out to benefit both teacher and students. I know Zoey's teacher deserves a lot more than she currently receives.
The thing I don't understand is this. We pay tax dollars and millions to support politicians, big business and war, why do we resist so much when it comes to education? These are our children. They are going to grow up one day to rule this world. Why would we not give them every advantage, every opportunity and every ounce of support to build them up every step of the way. I know it seems like "only recess," but the future president is in a school right now kicking a soccer ball at recess. Let's give he or she every chance to be a kid, to learn more about the world we live in from amazing teachers who really care about our kids and allow them all grow into greatness!
That's all I want for my daughter. To learn, to have fun and to become who she is meant to be. It starts here, even if here only looks like school politics. Our children will be great...let's give them the opportunity to show us that greatness.