Seattle teachers, including Deadra Ray, an instructional assistant at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, hold Fair Contract Now signs as commuters drive on I-5 on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, on the N. 117th Street overpass in Seattle. 
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Seattle teachers, including Deadra Ray, an instructional assistant at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, hold Fair Contract Now signs as commuters drive on I-5 on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, on the N. 117th Street overpass in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle teachers ramp up pressure over contract, with school three weeks away

With school just three weeks away, the Seattle Education Association teachers' union is publicizing its efforts to boost teacher pay and improve services for students.

Franklin High School social studies department chair Olivia Geffner was among the union members waving signs at the South Albro overpass between Beacon Hill and Georgetown Wednesday morning, cheering at motorists who honked in support.

“[The district talks] a lot about equity, and they talk a lot about supporting the whole students, but if they're not willing to invest that money - that's what we need," Geffner said.

Franklin geography teacher Jolene McCann said a recent analysis by the Washington Education Association revealed that the district has more room in its budget than previously acknowledged.

"I want to make sure we're investing it in providing kids with the wraparound services they’re going to need," McCann said. "Make sure we have nurses, we have librarians, we have social workers."

Counselor Jen Greenstein has to split her time between two schools: Alki and Stevens elementary schools. After years of cuts to counseling positions, Greenstein said, her employment is dependent on PTA funding.

"We need counselors in all schools. We need social workers in all schools. And particularly we need to focus on these services for elementary schools, because they're not mandated by state law at the elementary level," Greenstien said. "That's why they always go unfunded."

The district declined to comment on the status of negotiations, which began in May.

In a written statement last week, district spokesperson Carri Campbell wrote that the district is committed to competitive pay for teachers, but has a restrictive budget.

"We must ensure we don’t negatively impact students, especially those furthest from educational justice, with cuts to vital programs and services," Campbell wrote.

"Last year we were able to provide a 10.5 percent salary increase to all our teachers and classified staff. A first-year teacher with a master’s degree earns $69,800 for the 185-day school year at Seattle Public Schools and we pay the highest salary in the state to our paraeducators," Campbell said in the email.

It's been only one year since the last contract was inked. Contracts are typically several years long, but the expiring contract was short due to questions about how much property tax Seattle Public Schools would be allowed to collect. This year's legislative session resolved those questions, and loosened levy restrictions.

The teachers' union is scheduled to meet to vote on its new contract - if it has one - on August 27. If not, members will decide on next steps, including a possible strike authorization.