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Seattle Teachers Go On Strike, First Time In 30 Years

Public school teachers in Seattle went on strike Wednesday over a contract dispute for the first time in 30 years.

The walkout comes after last-minute negotiations with Seattle Public Schools failed to produce an agreement on wages and other issues.

Members of the Seattle Education Association, which represents about 5,000 teachers, substitutes and support staff, had previously authorized a walkout. School was canceled for Wednesday for 53,000 children in Washington's largest school district.

In announcing the strike, SEA Vice President Phyllis Campano said the district has not put forth a serious offer.

"Our members are frustrated, and angry, and they want a settlement, and they want to be respected. They want to be able to do their jobs teaching their kids, and that has not been put on the table. So we will stay out as long as we need to in order to get that done," Campano said.

Superintendent Larry Nyland has said the district is offering teachers a generous pay raise. But teachers say it doesn't make up for years during the down economy where they went without raises or cost of living adjustments, and that the district's request for a longer school day wouldn't come with a commensurate pay increase. Nyland says a longer school day is important to meet new state learning standards.

Teachers say case loads are too large for specialists like physical, speech and occupational therapists, and teachers want a say in which standardized tests their students have to take.

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The district isn't giving interviews about the bargaining process, but officials released a written statement saying that they're hopeful for a swift resolution to the strike and are available whenever the union is ready to return to the bargaining table.

The district is taking another tack, as well. The school board voted Tuesday night to authorize the superintendent to take legal action if teachers won't return to work.

Board President Sherry Carr spoke to reporters briefly after the vote. "We are committed to helping our superintendent get to a solution on this contract negotiation," Carr said. "We are taking the action he believes he needs in order to be successful."

On Tuesday afternoon, teachers gathered at church parking lot on Beacon Hill to pick up picket signs and T-shirts.

Jamall White, a music teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, arrived to pick up his strike supplies.  He said students are a priority, but teacher pay is a key issue. He said he hopes that parents understand.

"We love you, parents. We obviously want to teach your kids, but this is important, too, and I'm sure a lot of parents understand our position," said White.

This will be the first time Seattle teachers have gone on strike over a contract issue since 1985, when classes were canceled for three weeks before an agreement was reached.

Year started with KUOW: 2008
Year started with KUOW: 2008