After months of negotiations, Seattle teachers resume collective bargaining talks Tuesday with Seattle Public Schools.
Teachers demand that the school district:
• increase teacher pay
• guarantee student recess
• improve teacher evaluations
• de-emphasize student testing
• address disproportionate discipline
Thousands of teachers met at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle Monday night for a membership meeting.
Among the top priorities for teachers is a pay increase.
Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp says teachers deserve to be able to live in the city they work. He says the system, as it is now, is not viable.
“We’re not currently able to hire and retain teachers based on the salaries that they make,” he says. “The economy is recovering and people have more options for work and it’s getting harder and harder to attract and retain teachers.”
The Seattle Education Association (SEA) represents about 5,000 district employees, including teachers and other education staff like nurses, counselors, and substitute teachers.
The union is also demanding guaranteed recess. Knapp says it’s essential for kids to have unstructured play time, yet many kids in Seattle Public Schools are forced to choose between lunch and recess.
“It’s stressful. Kids need that release time, that unstructured play time,” Knapp said. “It helps them develop their neurological structures in their brain. It helps get them ready to focus in the classroom when they get back in the classroom.”
Knapp says it’s unfair across the district. Often, he says, it’s low-income students who don’t get a recess.
Another top demand from the SEA has to do with disproportionate discipline. The district’s own data has shown that African-American students are suspended from school at a rate three times higher that that of white students. The district has put some measures into place, but Knapp says teachers want more help.
SEA suggests the district put equity teams in each school to look at data, talk about it across departments and grade levels, and create new plans.
“It’s one of those issues that we don’t think is going to cost our district a whole lot of money, but is going to have a huge impact on our parent community and on our kids and on achievement,” Knapp said.
Other demands include fair teacher evaluations and less emphasis on testing.
Seattle Public Schools isn’t commenting on the negotiations, but has released a statement. It implies that it’s inappropriate for either side to discuss details.
The statement says “the district and SEA are prohibited from engaging in public dialogue about proposals in order to respect the confidentiality of the bargaining process.”
“We will not participate in dialogue, questions and conversations about negotiations at the present time,” it states.
The current contract ends Aug. 31. The first day of school is Sept. 9.