Back to the Drawing Board
The Seattle Education Association is back at the table with the Seattle School District today trying to reach a contract agreement before next Wednesday, September 4, when 50,000 students are set to start the school year.
Last night, an estimated 1,800 union members—teachers, classroom aides, specialists such as therapists, and secretaries—voted down the district's initial contract offer by voice vote during a downtown meeting at Benaroya Hall (yellow school buses circled Benaroya Hall in the early evening, picking up defiant teachers after the vote, and shuttling them back to their respective schools.)
"We sent a strong message that this [offer] is not good for kids or for our members to do their jobs," Jonathan Knapp, the Seattle Education Association president, says.
Calling one sticking point "a longer day for less pay," Knapp said teachers objected to a district proposal to contractually increase the length of the school day for elementary school teachers from seven hours to seven-and-a-half hours without increasing pay, while simultaneously eliminating the weekly hour that's set aside for teacher planning and collaboration.
Calling one sticking point "a longer day for less pay," the union said teachers objected to a district proposal to increase the length of the school day for elementary school teachers without increasing pay.
The weekly planning hour is paid time, and eliminating it works out to an average 2.6 percent pay cut. Adding the daily half hour in its place is supposed to supplement teacher planning time, but in essence, it's mandating extra time without extra pay, replacing a paid hour per week with an unpaid two-and-a-half hours per week.
Knapp says the micro-managey proposal "is disrespectful" to teachers who are already working long hours and weekends, integrating their daily prep and planning into their schedules anyway. What's worse, the union says, is that the extra half hour isn't going to kids. "If they're going to add a half hour back," Knapp says, "add it to the curriculum for kids. Our real concern about this proposal is that there's nothing in it for kids."
Knapp is alluding to the fact that arts, music, and P.E.—which used to give teachers a built-in hour for planning during the day—were scaled back decades ago.
Seattle Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel says in order to meet teachers' requests for more collaborative planning time, the District initially tried to get a waiver from the state for three full paid days of professional development; the state rejected the plan. Their solution, Wippel says, was to add the extra half hour at the end of the day, when teachers would all be there at the same time, so they could collaborate on planning. As for the dock in pay, she says, "Yes, and that's why we're offering them a two percent salary increase. We value our teachers."
The teachers' other big objection involves teacher evaluations. At first, their objection seems odd because Seattle's union was a pioneer on teacher evaluations; their 2010 contract includes what, at the time (this was the anti-teacher backlash/"Waiting for Superman" era) seemed like a major precedent for a union: They worked with the district to have measures of student achievement included in their teacher evaluations. Now, they want it stricken from the contract they agreed to three years ago.
Here's why: In 2012, the state subsequently passed its own teacher evaluation guidelines that include assessments of student progress. The union says having both evaluation plans in place would be redundant and sometimes contradictory, and would add layers of unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy. Some teachers, they point out, would be subject to two completely different evaluation regimes.
Rich Wood, spokesman for the state teachers' union, the Washington Education Association, said in a statement today: "The Seattle School Board insists on outdated elements of the local teacher evaluation system that unnecessarily duplicates and conflicts with the state’s new teacher evaluation requirements and distracts from classroom learning. Seattle teachers want to focus on implementing the new state-mandated evaluation system and upcoming changes in academic standards."
Editorializing here, but it must be said: It's odd to hear the teachers' union hyping state rules over local control; in 2012, they fought against the statewide teacher evaluations in part because they said one size doesn't fit all, and they wanted local districts to determine evaluation criteria.
But there's a reason they're for state rules now—the state evaluations are less stringent when compared to the Seattle ones. While the state rules do apply to all teachers, not just teachers in "tested" subjects like math and reading in the Seattle model, the requirement that teacher evaluations must use student data is much looser at the state level.
Relying on lots of "mays," "cans," and "when the use of this data is relevant and appropriate," the state requirement (RWC here) for using student data in teacher evaluations, and more importantly, how to weigh the student data in the evaluations, remains non-specific. (The Obama administration, in fact, sent a letter to Washington schools Superintendent Randy Dorn earlier this month reprimanding Washington state for using the lenient word "can" when outlining the use of student data in teacher evaluations.)
By contrast, the 2010 Seattle Schools requirement for student data is specific. For example, it identifies specific ways to measure students' progress; under the current contract, they use the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test.
Confronted with this contradiction, WEA's Wood says the state rules leave "some elements of local control in place" and added: "That's what they [the Seattle union and the school district] are negotiating right now."
Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Wippel says the teachers' union and the District worked out the evaluation system "collaboratively" —and it was hailed as a national model. And, she says, their data indicates it's already helped, showing "significant gains" in student achievement. She also says the Seattle school districts stands to lose millions in grants, including Obama Race to the Top money, if they eliminated the 2010 teacher evaluation guidelines.
Finally, another major union objection to the contract involves Education Staff Associates—including therapists and psychologists—who, they say, need lower caseloads.
In a district-wide email to parents that went out this afternoon titled "Labor negotiations and the first day of school," Seattle Public Schools announced:
The Seattle Education Association (SEA), which represents teachers, rejected the district's latest contract proposal. They plan to meet again on September 3 to vote on whatever the proposal is at that time.
With the start of school on September 4, we are encouraging families to develop back up plans should Seattle Public Schools not open on time.
We realize the impact a labor strike would have on our families. We are working with child care providers and the City of Seattle to develop options for your students in the event school is not in session on September 4. Those resources, along with other information, will be posted tomorrow at www.seattleschools.org. We will send you additional messages as new information is available.
Again, we are working to reach an agreement with teachers, but it is possible that school will not start on September 4. Please visit www.seattleschools.org for additional information.
Thank you for your patience and support during this time.
Seattle Public Schools
Office of Public Affairs