Union Showdown
12:39 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Contract Talks Stall Between Seattle Teachers And District

UPDATE: 8/24/13, 9:41 a.m. PT

In a letter to the community Friday evening, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda outlined key elements of the district's latest contract offer, including a four percent pay increase over two years, hiring extra support staff including school psychologists, nurses, speech pathologists, and occupational and physical therapists, and improvements to the special education delivery model.

In deciding to take larger class sizes off the table, Banda said the district "listened to our educators' concerns around the importance of keeping our classrooms as small as possible," and will find other ways to manage capacity issues in the growing district.

Regarding extending the elementary school teacher workday by 30 minutes, Banda said the additional time "will provide more time for planning and collaboration around activities such as reviewing the progress of individual students." 

In defense of the district's proposal to maintain the use of students' state test scores in the teacher evaluation process for some teachers, Banda called the practice "a model evaluation system that has received accolades across the country for our innovative approach."

The district's use of test scores in the evaluation process is unusual compared to many districts around the country in that low test score growth triggers further classroom observation by a teacher's principal, rather than directly affecting a teacher's evaluation.

However, many statisticians have found that it is difficult to evaluate teacher effectiveness using student test scores, and especially so if only one test is used, as the district proposes.

UPDATE: 8/23/13, 8:36 p.m. PT

SEA President Jonathan Knapp said the union board of directors and its representative assembly voted unanimously in separate meetings Friday to recommend that the general membership not approve the district's latest contract offer. The general membership meets Monday evening to consider the proposal.

A tentative agreement will still to be reached between the district and the union before the general membership can approve a final contract. That would happen at the September 3 general membership meeting, the evening before school is slated to begin.

UPDATE: 8/23/13, 2:03 p.m. PT

In a written statement, Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said the district has been bargaining in good faith with SEA since spring.

"Teachers are the backbone of our district," Wippel said. "Our proposal includes increased compensation and many other changes that benefit teachers and also will support increased student achievement."

Wippel said the district is ready to continue talks with the union, and hopes to come to an agreement in time for school to start as scheduled September 4.

Original Post: 8/23/13, 12:39 p.m. PT

Contract talks have broken down between Seattle School District and its teachers' union, the Seattle Education Association. SEA President Jonathan Knapp said that after bargaining into the evening Thursday, union negotiators refused to return to the table as scheduled Friday unless the district planned to come up with a new offer. The district declined, Knapp said.

The SEA and the district are at odds over several issues.

The union is unhappy with the district's half-hour extension of the work day for elementary school teachers because it would not result in extra classroom time for students.

"The district should use that time to bring back P.E. and music teachers, and provide a well-rounded curriculum for students," Knapp said. "It looks like putting teachers in detention for half an hour so they can't leave. It's not respectful, and it's not good for kids."

District officials have said extending the day from seven to seven-and-a-half hours simply matches elementary teachers' work days to that of other grade level teachers' schedules in Seattle, as well as those in neighboring districts.

The union and district are also clashing over whether to require the use of students' state test scores in teacher evaluations. The last contract required that state and district standardized test scores be used as part of the teacher evaluation process for teachers of the tested subjects: reading and math.

But the new state teacher evaluation law mandates that measures of student academic achievement be part of all teacher evaluations, not just in reading and math. To accomplish that, the district and union have agreed that teachers and principals will work together to determine which factors will go into each teacher's so-called student growth measures.

In addition to the flexible student growth measures for all teachers, the district proposes maintaining the use of state test scores to evaluate reading and math teachers. The union, however, is calling for a moratorium on tying state test scores to teacher evaluations.

While district officials say using state test scores in teacher evaluations is a valuable part of the contract they bargained with teachers three years ago, Knapp said the landscape for teachers and students is entirely different today.

"The goalposts have changed significantly from three years ago," he said. "State law has changed, federal requirements are in flux with the US Department of Education, Common Core standards are here and the new Smarter Balanced assessments that come along with them are being piloted this year," Knapp said.

The union and district are also still at loggerheads over compensation. Knapp said the district's latest offer would give teachers a two percent pay raise for each of the next two years, which the union calls insufficient.

The SEA Representative Assembly will consider the district's latest offer at a meeting Friday afternoon, and make a recommendation to its members regarding whether or not to support the offer. The general membership is scheduled to vote on the district's offer Monday.

Knapp said he is not optimistic.