Striking Seattle teachers, district reach tentative deal; school to start Thursday

SEATTLE – Seattle teachers ended a weeklong strike and headed to their classrooms Wednesday after winning a 9.5 per cent pay raise over three years, mandatory 30-minute recesses for elementary students, a longer school day and more say over standardized tests.

The union’s board of directors and representative assembly voted Tuesday evening to suspend the strike and urged the 5,000 members to approve the three-year deal. The union’s full membership votes on the contract Sunday.

School won’t start until Thursday because officials need a day to get ready for the district’s 53,000 students, Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard said.

Teacher salaries in Seattle range now from about $44,000 to more than $86,000, depending on experience and education. Union President Jonathan Knapp said salaries would increase a total of 14.3 per cent, including cost-of-living raises from the state.

The walkout that began Sept. 9 delayed the start of school in Washington state’s largest district. The sides hammered out a deal early Tuesday following an overnight bargaining session, but teachers remained on the picket line as they waited to learn specifics.

“We are eager to open schools, welcome students and begin learning,” district Superintendent Larry Nyland said in a statement.

Teachers, substitutes and support staff complained that the city’s high-paid technology industry had priced them out of living in the city where they teach, especially given that they had gone six years without a cost-of-living increase. The district provided raises totalling 8 per cent out of local levy money.

School librarian Sean Harvey picketed Tuesday outside Loyal Heights Elementary, saying he and his colleagues want to go back to work but “it isn’t over until it’s over.”

Several hundred parents, children and other supporters waved signs and chanted as they walked nearly 2 miles from Seattle’s Pioneer Square to school district headquarters Tuesday in a previously arranged march to support teachers.

“I’m really ready for school. It’s been boring,” said Tyler Simpson, a senior at Nova High School who joined the march. “I stand by teachers. They should get raises.”

The Seattle City Council also threw its support behind the striking educators, passing a resolution Monday recognizing the union.

This year, facing a court order to increase spending on education, lawmakers came up with money for new teachers and supplies. Some $37 million of that will go to Seattle.

Parent Heather Dachary joined the picket line at that school Tuesday with her two children and said she supported teachers.

“I really want my kids back in school, but I want it done fairly,” she said.