SEATTLE – Yellow school buses rolled through Seattle’s streets and noisy schoolchildren packed playgrounds again as thousands of students started the school year Thursday that was delayed by a weeklong teachers strike.
The walkout began Sept. 9 in Washington state’s largest school district, its first in three decades, and was put on hold after the union and Seattle Public Schools reached a tentative contract agreement. The full union membership will vote on the deal Sunday.
The contract dispute marked a strategy shift by teachers nationwide to take on broader issues that promote the public interest, experts have said. The Seattle teachers union tapped into community protests over too much testing, not enough recess and concerns about racial disparity in discipline and student performance.
Educators also complained that the city’s high-paid technology industry had priced them out of living in the city where they teach, especially since they had gone six years without a state cost-of-living adjustment. The district provided raises totalling 8 per cent out of local levy money.
An overnight bargaining session earlier this week found compromise, allowing 53,000 students to begin their first day of school Thursday. Kids huddled with their friends, parents to helped younger children find new classrooms and many pulled out cameras to snap selfies.
Alissa Bugge, who dropped her second-grader at Daniel Bagley Elementary, said she and her son were excited and relieved about the start of school. But she’s also worried about how they will have to make up the missed days.
Six days of school will have to be rescheduled, which the district said could extend the school year or shorten midyear vacation breaks. Graduation dates for seniors will likely change as well.
Bugge had mixed feelings about the strike, saying, “It’s hard to say. There are two sides to a story and not everybody knows it.”
The strike forced thousands of parents to juggle schedules. Some brought children to work, while others used city community centres that offered free care during extended hours or other programs.
The teachers union and school district hammered out a deal early Tuesday that gave teachers a 9.5 per cent pay raise over three years, guaranteed 30-minute recesses for elementary students, a longer school day and more teacher input over standardized tests.
Michael Muto, a parent of two kids at Daniel Bagley Elementary, including one in special education, said he supported the strike because the teachers’ issues resonated with him. He backed their demand for a cap on caseloads for special education teachers, psychologists and other specialists.
“A lot of us (parents) are trying to take the energy from the strike and turn it toward Olympia,” he said of the state capitol, adding that they want to pressure lawmakers to find a consistent revenue stream.
Matt Johnson and his daughter planned to ride bikes to school Thursday, when she starts kindergarten at North Beach Elementary.
“She is very excited to start school. It’ll be great to have her back in school,” said Johnson, a massage therapist who patched together child care in the past week by using a community centre and alternating schedules with his wife.
The union leadership voted Tuesday to suspend the strike and recommended that the union’s 5,000 members approve the deal.
Johnson said he was a little nervous about school starting because the full union membership was not voting until Sunday. “What if things don’t pan out?” he said.
Muto said he’s watching the vote, too.
“We would be willing to be back out here if they say no,” he said of returning to the picket lines.
Associated Press photographer Ted S. Warren contributed to this report.