More than a hundred Seattle educators gathered on Labor Day at Judkins Park, stapling and taping signs to wooden pickets in preparation for a potential strike.
“Liberation through Public Education,” read one sign in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Another read, “Listen to educators and students.”
On Tuesday, Seattle teachers will find out if they have enough votes to authorize a strike. Then it comes down to whether the Seattle Education Association and Seattle Public Schools can strike a deal before Wednesday, the expected first day of classes.
If the impasse remains, Seattle be the second large K-12 school district in the area to be mired in a strike.
The Kent School District was supposed to start classes on Aug. 25, but a strike stretches on as the Kent Education Association demands more pay, smaller class sizes, a more manageable staff-to-student ratio in special education and English language learner programs, as well as more staffing for student mental health support.
Kent school district officials and the teacher’s association met with a mediator on Labor Day, but still did not reach an agreement, said Timothy Martin, the union’s president.
“Once we do, it will require a vote of our members before school can resume,” Martin said in an email. “We will continue to work to reach an agreement and would love to see our students and teachers in school soon.”
The Seattle teachers union is negotiating for similar changes to working conditions. Its union members and district officials also met with a mediator Monday, but have yet to come to terms on a new contract.
Jennifer Matter, the president of the Seattle teachers union, said classes would begin Wednesday as expected if district officials recognize what students and teachers require.
“They’re so disconnected that they have no idea that our proposal is exactly what our students need,” Matter said on a megaphone to a crowd of educators at Judkins Park on Monday afternoon.
SEA members have until 9 a.m. Tuesday to vote on authorizing a strike. Matter said the ballots need to be certified, so results should be available shortly after the deadline.
On Friday, Seattle district officials said they were optimistic an agreement would be reached before Wednesday, according to the district’s website.
Then on Sunday, Seattle school district officials asked union negotiators — in a memorandum of understanding — to agree to start school Wednesday as planned and extend current terms and conditions in collective bargaining agreements until a new contract is negotiated.
The teachers rejected the proposal. Matter called it a distraction from improving support for students and teachers.
SPS Assistant Superintendent of Public Affairs Beverly Redmond said Sunday that district officials understand “the uncertainty about the delay is difficult and unsettling for our students, staff and families.”
On Aug. 7, the district shared an update on negotiation proposals, which included a retention bonus for classified employees and one-time incentives for some teachers working with English language learners. The most recent contract between district officials and the teachers union expired Aug. 31.