Frequently Asked Questions about Bargaining and the Strike
Posted on 09/14/2015

Update Sept. 15:SPS and SEA have reached a tentative agreement. Details have not yet been released. We do not yet know when school will resume. Please continue to monitor this website for updates.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and Seattle Education Association (SEA) have been negotiating to achieve a new collective bargaining agreement. SEA represents our educators, substitutes, paraprofessionals, instructional assistants and office professionals. The current contract with SEA expired Tuesday, Sept. 1. School had been scheduled to start Wednesday, Sept. 9. SEA declared a strike on Sept. 8.

To address bargaining questions, the district has established a message line. Questions left at publicaffairs@seattleschools.org or 206-252-0207 may be added to these FAQs.

The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) may help answer questions about the negotiations.


What is the current status of bargaining?

At 6:50 a.m. on Sept. 15, SPS and SEA reached a tentative agreement. Details have not yet been released to allow time for union membership to review and vote. School is closed until further notice.

Has the district ever refused to meet with SEA or delay the schedule?

No. The district bargaining team has been present and on time for every negotiating session and has never proposed or caused any delay. Please see our Negotiation Proposal Timeline page for details. We remain eager to bargain and anxious to return students and teachers to school.

Is the district taking teachers to court?

Not at this time, and we really don’t want to. The School Board simply authorized the superintendent to seek injunction if needed if the strike becomes lengthy. The district wants to resolve negotiations without further negatively affecting students and especially those most vulnerable. The districts’ first responsibility is to students, and a strike is not our choice. It is our sincere hope to be able to come to an agreement as soon as possible and get back to school. If that’s not possible, going to court is an option. To read the resolution, see the School Board Meeting Agenda page and click the Sept. 8 agenda.

What is the district's latest salary offer to employees?

On Saturday, Sept. 12, the district presented an offer to add more compensation for additional instructional minutes, but specifics have not been released. As of Friday, Sept. 11, the district's publicly released salary offer for certificated teachers was a 14 percent increase over three years, which includes a state Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) recently passed by the Legislature. 

That breaks down to:

Year 1: SPS 2.0% + COLA 3.0% = 5% total

Year 2: SPS 3.2% + COLA 1.8% = 5% total

Year 3 (certificated): SPS 4.0% + COLA (unknown)% = 4% total
Year 3 (classified): SPS 3.75%+COLA (unknown)% = 3.75% total

That's a total increase of 14 percent for certified teachers and 13.75 percent for classified staff.

If the district-proposed 14 percent increase is implemented, at the end of the three years, teachers would earn (NOT including stipends or benefits):

  • First-year: $51,881
  • BA+10 years: $76,612 
  • Maximum: $99,762

The district's publicly released proposal is a three-year contract that will cost $23.2 million for salary increases over the first two years; SEA has proposed a two-year contract that would cost about $49.1 million for salary increases over the same time period.

Seattle teachers currently rank third in the state for their total compensation package, which includes base salary, TRI pay and collaboration time for K-8 teachers, and COLA. Over the past two years, teachers received raises of 5.5 percent. Those raises exceeded the cost of inflation by nearly 2 percentage points.

Doesn't the state pay teacher salaries?

The state has fallen far short of paying the full cost of teacher pay. Seattle Public Schools pays more than 25 percent of total teacher pay for what is known as TRI (time, responsibility and incentive). The voter-approved operating levy also covers the majority of these costs. Read Rep. Ross Hunter’s explanation of how teacher compensation is funded.

Essentially, the state's education funding system is broken, and we need elected officials to fix it. Compensation and levy reform is at the heart of the McCleary ruling – namely that school districts are increasingly using local levy dollars in an unconstitutional manner to fund basic education expenses, particularly employee salaries and benefits that comprise the vast majority of all public school expenditures.

Variances in current levy capacity, including the dramatic difference of the cost of raising dollars-per-student between property-rich and property-poor school districts, have created an uneven landscape in educational offerings and taxpayer costs to support education.

I've heard the folks at central office are paid more and get larger raises than teachers. Is this true?

Over the past eight years, raises provided include:

  • Teachers, 23 percent
  • Principals, 17 percent
  • Secretaries and paraprofessionals, 16 percent
  • District office (admin and admin assistants), 10 percent

Teacher raises have exceeded the cost of inflation; raises for others have not.

If the district is receiving $37 million per year in new tax dollars from the Legislature, why can't they give raises to teachers and support staff?

While we did receive $37.1 million in new revenue from the state legislature, $28.2 million of that must be spent to meet state mandates, including: hiring new teachers to lower class size, paying COLA, pension and benefits for district employees that are in addition to state funded employees.  This leaves $8.9 million in unallocated new revenue.  
In addition to increasing teacher salaries we need funds for long overdue textbook adoptions, closing opportunity gaps, reducing suspensions, adjusting school start times, funding International Baccalaureate, counselors, the arts and numerous other unmet demands on our budget.  But with the current SEA salary proposal, we’re out of revenues; there simply is no money left.

Can't the district use reserve dollars (i.e., its savings) to give teachers what they want?

Salaries are an ongoing expense that must be funded year after year. Reserves are one-time funds (savings) that are available to cover emergencies. Funding ongoing obligations with one-time resources is not sustainable. Our reserves are similar to surrounding districts and needed to cover emergencies, meet accounting requirements and insure bond rating that makes our school construction dollars go further. Just like any household, we must keep our budget healthy and keep something in reserve. Draining reserves for salary increases is not responsible.  Read the the Seattle Times' opinion article "District to Striking Teachers: There is no money left," Sept. 11, 2015

If SEA's salary increase proposal were funded without new revenues, what other expenditures would require cuts?

The district would need to use money now earmarked for:

  • New textbooks that are current and up to date
  • Instructional supports aimed at closing the achievement gap
  • Student support services for Special Education students 
  • Student support services for ELL parents

Is the district asking to extend the school day?

Our most recent counter offer included adding 20 minutes of student instructional time beginning in the third year of the contract. Our elementary students have one of the shortest instructional days in the state at six hours and ten minutes. Twenty more minutes helps our elementary schools align with other districts and align with our own K-8 schools. In high schools, the additional instructional time will help meet the increased credit requirements coming from the state in 2017. We have increased our proposed pay raise to compensate teachers for this additional time.

What about recess?

The district agreed with SEA to a plan that assures students 30 minutes per day of recess and assures that students will be supervised for safety. This insures that all of our schools will be able to provide the recommended 6 percent of the instructional day for recess.

Is it true that the district proposes higher staffing ratios of special education teachers to students?

Some of the district’s Special Education staffing ratios are among the best (lowest) in the state. Others are among the highest. District levy funds spent on Special Education have gone from $22 million to $29 million to $40 million over the past two years – due in part to smaller class sizes. SEA is now asking for lower ratios for more specialists like Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and PTs. The district is asking that all ratios be more in line with comparable districts.

Aren't these the students that need lower ratios of students to teachers the most?

Student to staffing ratios for special education are a guide for determining levels of support for students with an individualized education plan (IEP). Each student's IEP team will determine specific types and levels of support to help student meet their educational goals. A specific staffing ratio is unable to account for the individual needs for students within a service model.

Strike Effects

Can we prioritize make-up days on non-student days before testing?

The first three days of the strike will be made up using the built-in snow make-up days as previously negotiated with SEA: one mid-year snow day and two days at the end of the school year. All additional make-up days will need to be determined at a later date in discussion with SEA. Typical options are shortening mid-year vacations, using Saturdays or changing the end of the school year.

Is it true the district wants to extend the school year?

No. Strikes impact everyone, especially when they drag on and impact the school calendar. State law requires school districts conduct a school year of no less than 180 school days in such grades as are conducted by the school district, and 180 half-days of instruction, or the equivalent, in kindergarten. The district and its partners will need to meet that requirement and look for the best option for adjusting the calendar that works for families.

What about graduation dates?

State law requires that seniors be in school 175 days before graduation. That means that graduations must be within the last five days of the school year. Unless we make up virtually all lost days during mid-year vacations, any delay to the end of the school year will require changes in many graduation dates.
My kindergarten student was supposed to have a three-day ‘slow start.’ Once school starts, will kindergarten still start three days later? How will that change?

When school resumes, ALL kindergarten students will start on the first day back. The slow-start schedule is canceled. We will need to reschedule the late starts for some time after school starts. Again, all kindergartners will start on the first day with all other students.

Head Start and preschool are scheduled to start on Monday, Sept. 21. Will the start date for those programs be delayed if school resumes before that date?

If school resumes by Sept. 21, these programs will start on time.

What about sports?

All middle school athletic events will be postponed until after the start of school. Once the strike is resolved we will work with middle schools through the Middle School Steering Committee to determine next steps. High school practices and games are anticipated to continue as normal.

My child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with an annual due date for review. What happens now?

When school begins, your child's educational team will continue to serve the most recent IEP, even if the annual due date for review of the IEP has passed.

Why are some families I know receiving autodial calls, and I am not?

During this challenging time, it is critical Seattle Public Schools communicates information, like school openings and closings, with all families in our school district. A new ruling from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has changed the way districts everywhere are allowed to communicate with parents and members of the community using automated phone calls. According to the FCC ruling, school districts must receive express consent to call parents and members of the community, except in emergency situations. A number of our multilingual families with limited access to the internet communicate only by phone. This is why we are communicating with those families through automated phone calls. It is important to deliver timely information to all families, and we will continue to provide updates by email and on our website.

Will school buildings be open or closed?

Our schools will remain closed and will only be staffed or supervised by school principals and custodial staff. Parents are asked to keep students home from school during the SEA strike until further notice.

How will families know whether or not to send their students to school?

Local media will report the latest strike updates. Emails will be sent to families, and non-English speaking families will be contacted through a variety of ways including community groups and organizations. Notices and updates will regularly be posted on our website, www.seattleschools.org.

Who will be working in the school buildings during the SEA strike?

All non-SEA represented employees are expected to be at work and can only miss the day as pursuant to their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and non-rep compensation bulletin.

Child Care

Read about child care FAQs and contingency plans, including a list of providers and contact information on our child care information page.

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