Enjoy your last few days summer vacation kiddies, because your prayers for a teachers strike are likely going unanswered: The Seattle School district announced this morning a tentative contract agreement with its teachers union. Teachers are scheduled to vote on the contract Tuesday afternoon, just two days before the scheduled start of new school year.
No details of the tentative contract have been released, but from conversations with parties on both sides over the past week, a general outline of the agreement will likely include:
- Two-year contract. Teacher contracts are typically three years, but both sides agreed that a two-year contract was probably best, due to changes that will have to be made to accommodate the adoption of the common core curriculum over the coming years, and in anticipation of additional revenue that might be available should the state meet its financial obligations under the Supreme Court's McCleary ruling.
- A modest raise. The last I heard, the district had offered a 2 percent raise in each of the years of the two-year agreement, plus a 1.3 percent restoration of previous 3 percent cut. That would amount to an increase of 5.36 percent over two years, plus any earned step increases.
- Reduced caseloads for school psychologists and other specialists. For example, teachers had been demanding a reduction of caseloads for school psychologists from 1,300-to-1 to 1,000-to-1. The contract will likely include some compromise in the middle.
- No increase in class size. While the district had originally sought to increase some class sizes, this has actually been off the table for quite some time.
- No changes to length of work day. The district had been seeking to lengthen the day of elementary school teachers from 7 to 7.5 hours, while eliminating an hour a week of paid collaborative time, in order to bring elementary teachers in line with middle and high school teachers. This effort will likely be postponed, and the two sides will agree to work together to come to an agreement.
- Agreement to address teacher evaluation measurements. Teachers had been demanding implementation of new teacher evaluation measurements consistent with a new statewide system, but the district had insisted there wasn't time to develop new standards. Instead, the two sides will likely agree to a joint committee to develop new teacher evaluation proposals.
Seattle School Board president Kay Smith-Blum, with whom I had spoken earlier in the week about the ongoing negotiations, refused to confirm any details about the tentative contract, but she seemed genuinely thrilled that a deal had been struck. "We have reached a tentative agreement that embodies a very fair deal, that honors how much we value our teachers, and that will have very positive outcomes for our students," Smith-Blum told me by phone this morning. And she repeatedly emphasized how proud she was of how the board worked together throughout the negotiations. "We were one," says Smith-Blum.
As for why it took so long, well, a lot of that has to do with money. Or rather, the lack there of. For example, the district would love to dramatically reduce caseloads, if it could find the money to pay for it. It's a situation Smith-Blum blames squarely on the state. "We stink," says Smith-Blum about our state's woeful underfunding of K-12 education.
Yes we do.