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Seattle Teachers Agree To New Contract On Eve Of First Day Of School

Washington Education Association/Rich Wood

UPDATE: 9/4/13, 10:31 a.m. PT

About 1,800 teachers cast their votes in the Seattle Education Association general membership meeting at Benaroya Hall. Members voted first by voice, then by standing to clarify the count. One member moved to call for a ballot count, but there wasn't enough support from fellow members. Teachers present estimated that at least 60 percent of the votes were in favor of the contract.

Union president Jonathan Knapp said the showing was "a strong vote of support for the bargaining team, and for the work that they did, and for a good, fair contract that is going to help educators do the work they need to do to educate Seattle's children."

Although teachers ratified the two-year contract, many after the vote expressed concerns about the compromises it contained.

Alison Cohon, who teaches English Language Learners at John Muir Elementary School, voted to approve the contract. Cohon said she was glad to get a raise and she was okay with a 30-minute longer workday for elementary school teachers like her, because she said teachers already put in at least that much extra planning time.

But Cohon doesn't like that students' standardized test scores will still be part of teacher evaluations. "I'd say that is the part I disagreed with the most," Cohon said after the vote. "Why should we have an extra measure on the student growth that the rest of the state doesn't have? We just need to move away from just looking at testing to evaluate how students are growing and how they're learning. I don't think it's very accurate."

Another big issue for many teachers was the number of specialists the district would hire — like physical therapists and school psychologists.

Salmon Bay K-8 School first-grade teacher Dorothy Jacobsen voted against the contract because she didn't think enough specialists would be hired.

"This is my, like, 22nd year as a regular classroom teacher, and I've just seen how hard the specialists work — the occupational therapists and the speech and language specialists. And there aren't enough of them in the buildings to serve my students, again and again, year after year. So that was the big sticking point for me," Jacobsen said.

The district's teaching assistants and office workers approved their respective contracts last night, as well. In a written statement, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda thanked everyone involved in the negotiations for their hard work and dedication.

Original Post: 9/3/13, 8:09 p.m. PT

The school year will begin on time Wednesday in Seattle Public Schools after its teachers' union approved a new, two-year contract in a last-minute vote Tuesday night.

Several thousand teachers cast their votes in a general membership meeting of the Seattle Education Association at Benaroya Hall.

The union and district reached a tentative contract agreement early Sunday morning that featured compromises on the main sticking points.

  • Teachers will get a 2 percent pay raise this school year, and a 2.5 percent increase next school year.
  • Elementary school teachers will have to work an additional 30 minutes beyond the school day, but only in the second year of the contract, and they will have latitude over how that time is spent.
  • The district will hire more support staff, such as school psychologists and speech language pathologists.
  • The most contentious issue, using students' standardized test scores in the teacher evaluation process, remains in the contract, but with fewer repercussions for teachers whose students perform poorly on the tests. The contract also bars the district from releasing teachers' student growth scores to the public.
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