Seattle Schools says strike could delay first day of school

Seattle Public Schools is warning parents the first day of school, set for Wednesday, could be delayed because of a possible teacher strike.

“We are optimistic an agreement will be reached,” says a statement posted Friday on the SPS website and sent to families across the district. But if school is delayed, SPS said, it is working on a plan to provide pickup meals for students and reaching out to community child care providers. After-school activities will continue even if the school start date is pushed back.

Members of the Seattle Education Association are voting through 9 am Tuesday on whether to authorize a strike. The union has about 6,000 members.

SPS posted a statement Friday saying the SEA has declined to enter into legal mediation to reach an agreement.

But Julie Popper, spokesperson for the SEA, said in a text message Saturday that “SPS did not show up for scheduled bargaining last night and refused to bargain today.”

Among other things, teachers are seeking more control over class sizes and more support for special education and multilingual programs. They also want higher pay for staff at the low end of the pay scale.

“We all hoped to return to school this fall in a different place — with more of the supports our students need, with workloads that are sustainable and give every student adequate attention, and with pay that meaningfully shows respect and recognition for the hard work we do,” says an update on the SEA website.

According to the recent email sent to families by SPS, the district’s proposal includes salary increases, additional social workers at high schools and middle schools, a more inclusive special education program and training for staff, staff support for students who are multilingual based on students’ needs per school, and professional development for educators. SPS is also proposing to maintain staff levels and minimize disruptions during holiday breaks.

The last Seattle teachers strike took place in 2015. In 2018, the union also voted to authorize a strike, but the contract was settled amicably.

Robert Cruickshank, who has three children in North Seattle schools, said the last thing he and many other parents want is a delayed opening. “We’ve seen the disruption from the pandemic and remote learning. We want our kids back in the classrooms.”

Cruickshank reached out to parent groups, getting, he said, 400 signatures — mostly from Seattle residents with schoolkids — urging the School Board and administration to reach an agreement with teachers.

“We support our teachers,” he said, adding that the union’s requests for more special education and multilingual staff seem reasonable. “We’re trying to push the district leaders to wrap this up so everybody can be back in school on Wednesday.”

Material from Seattle Times staff is included in this report.