Seattle teachers strike: What’s a fair contract?

September 2, 2013

Last week, as Seattle parents prepared for the fall-out of a threatened teachers strike, Rich Wood spokesman for the state teacher union, told West Seattle Herald reporter Patrick Robinson,

“The Seattle School Board needs to make teachers and other school employees a fair contract offer...” 

As a policy analyst, this got me thinking. What is a fair contract?  Do Seattle teachers have a fair contract today?  What are its key terms?  I read the current contract and here is a summary.  The full contract is here.  

- Average total pay is $69,590 a year (many teachers make more, up to $85,000). 

- Salary and benefits are for a ten-month work year. 

- Salary and benefits are for a 7-hour work day for elementary teachers, and 7.5-hour work day for high school teachers. 

- The Seattle District pays the third-highest teacher salaries in the state, as this chart shows. 

- The District pays for dental, vision, medical and life/long term disability insurance, liability insurance, and state pension benefits. 

- The District provides six planning days, when no students are allowed to come to school. 

- The District provides five short school days, when students are sent home early. 

- The District provides teachers 10 paid sick days, and two days of paid personal leave.

 - The District pays teachers cash for unused leave days. 

- The District provides seven holidays, a two-week winter break and a one-week spring break. 

- District and union rules provide teachers long-term job security.  Firing a Seattle school teacher is very difficult, even in cases where they assault students. 

District officials announced they had reached a tentative agreement with union executives in secret talks over the weekend.  Details are unavailable.  The District will likely agree to a 5.3% pay raise over two years.  Other pay and benefits will likely remain unchanged.  The Seattle School District currently spends about $13,000 per child per year, about twice the cost of private school tuition.  

Over Labor Day weekend Seattle parents scrambled to make alternative child care arrangements in case union executives closed their local school. 

As good public policy, Washington Policy Center recommends the new contract include an effective No-Strike Clause, so Seattle’s 50,000 children won’t again face the prospect of union action closing their school. 

The current contract certainly seems fair, even generous, compared to what most working taxpayers receive.  The union will decide September 3rd whether to accept the pay increase and other benefits.  In the meantime, it’s reasonable to ask whether the union is being fair to parents.



Comment on Seattle teachers contract

Chris Cook sends his thoughts, published with his permission:

"This is a case where the union could care less about education. These teachers are completely over-compensated. I think the union has outlived its usefulness. Does the union think [school] districts are made of money, as tight as it is here? A lot of times it isn’t the teacher wanting all this stuff, it is the union pushing it to made their positions have value. It should be like it was at the beginning, when the actual teacher made the choice to ask for more, and then they told the union to represent them. Now in many unions, not just teachers' unions, the union doesn’t wait for input they go ahead and do what they want and the teachers have no say. Sad that it has come to this for most union members. We are on our way to being like California, biggest and most powerful union in the country, completely ruining their education system. My Thoughts." Chris

Seattle Teachers Contract

A few points of clarification on Liv's "reading" of the Seattle teachers contract:

• Salary and benefits are for a 12-month year. Teachers work 10 months, but pay is spread out over 12 months.

• Teachers must work the minimum 7 or 7.5 hours per day. Almost every one works more. There is no maximum number of hours. And those who come in on weekends and holidays do it on their own because their kids need them to.

• The district does not pay all of the medical benefits. The cost of medical coverage, ad we all experience is outpacing the rate of salary increases rapidly. Teachers pay out of pocket every month for their medical coverage; more every year.

• "Seven holidays, a two-wekk winter break, and a one-week spring break" is sort of a red herring, and is irrelevant. Teachers work 180 days teaching (and parent-teacher conferences) plus whatever days the district funds. The district sets the calendar. They also have 4 days in February that nobody goes to school for "mid-winter break", but it doesn't change the number of days students attend or that teachers work.

• The comment about how difficult Liv wants her readers to think it is to remove a teacher "when they assault students" is inflammatory rhetoric. It's also false.

i was surprised to hear that $13,000 is "about twice the cost of private school tuition. So I googled "private schools in Seattle" and just checked the tuition at the first two that came up. The first one was $28,500 per year, and the second one I checked ranged from $21,995 for kindergarten up to $28,695 for high school. Hmmm...

On Liv's read, the contract as it stand does seem fair from an outside perspective. I don't know if is generous, "compared to what most working taxpayers receive" with advanced college degrees, but it is a reasonable question.

Is anyone who reads the stuff that comes out of the Washington Policy Center surprised that they "recommend" a no-strike clause?

And, yes, I agree that maybe somebody should ask parents if they think the teachers (and, while they are at it, the district) are being fair to parents. Not just some parents, but all of them. Public schools are the best thing going, and the key to maintaining a healthy American democracy. I am proud to be a public educator.

Steven H. Finch.

In response to what Steven wrote

To me, being a non-educator, but being a college graduate and working professional, I see one glaring thing wrong with your justification of why the teachers should get more pay/ benefits. They only work 180 days a year! It doesn't matter if the pay is spread across 10 or 12 months, the point being is they only have to work 180 days to make that kind of money. The average full time employee works 350 days a year. If the teachers want more money, they are quite capable of going and getting a second job in the summer to supplement their income. Much like many Americans do... Instead they want the same pay (or more) than people who work 350 days, but they want it and still only have to work 180 days. This is one of the reasons why so many people get upset when teachers strike!

350 Days a Year

Working 350 days a year is almost 7 days a week. 6.73 to be precise. If you work 52 weeks a year, taking no time off, that is 260 days a year.