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Robocalls warn Seattle parents school might get late start if teachers strike

As Seattle teachers continue pressing for changes to the district’s latest contract offer, parents are being warned to be ready for a strike.

Thousands of phone calls went out Tuesday night to Seattle parents to tell them that while the school calendar lists the first day of school on Sept. 4, the reality is kids may have to wait.

The teachers union will be voting on Sept. 3 on a possible strike. The district called families to let them know they may need a contingency plan.

It’s not unusual for contract negotiations between teachers and school districts to go right up until just a few days before school starts and even for Puget Sound teachers to go on strike. The last major teachers strike happened just two years ago in Tacoma.

Tacoma kids missed nearly two weeks of school before classes resumed in the state’s third-largest district. A judge ordered the teachers to go back to work, even before a contract was worked out but teachers refused. Some parents joined them on the picket lines until the governor stepped in to play referee and an agreement was finally figured out.

In 2009, teachers in Kent refused to start the school year over a contract disagreement. A strike in that district lasted 17 days before an agreement was reached and classes resumed.

But state employees, including teachers, do not have a legal right to strike. The Washington state attorney general issued an opinion on that in 2006 – saying that the sticking point is that there’s no penalty written into state law. Judges do have the authority to impose a fine or, in the case of the Tacoma teachers strike, give the district the authority to hire new permanent teacher replacements. Fortunately, it didn’t end up getting to that point in Tacoma.

Now, we’re looking at a disagreement in Seattle that covers about a half-dozen issues, from teacher pay and staffing issues to length of the teacher’s day and testing standards. The district says it’s fully prepared to continue negotiating as long as it takes but it is possible school will not start on September 4.

While Seattle’s getting a lot of attention, they’re not alone. The South Kitsap Education Association has voted to allow their members to strike if a contract isn’t reached by the end of this week. The Snoqualmie Valley teacher’s union has also failed to come to terms with that school district.

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