SEATTLE – After three days of walking the picketline, 5,000 Seattle school teachers Friday, spent the day in community service honoring those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
The educators, represented by the Seattle Education Association, vowed to continue their walkout until the Seattle School Board meets their demands. This is the first citywide teacher strike in Seattle in thirty years. Meeting at Benaroya Hall, Sept. 3, thousands of teachers voted unanimously to authorize the walkout.
The strike came just days after the Washington State Supreme Court ruled charter schools unconstitutional since they receive taxpayer funds but are run by private entities not accountable to the public. The ruling nullified a ballot initiative authorizing charter schools that was approved two years ago (with the help of $450 million in contributions from Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates).
Jesse Hagopian, a social studies teacher at Garfield High School, posted on his Facebook page that the spirits of the teachers are high, that they are staging rallies, marches, and walking their picketlines with hundreds of parents and community supporters.
Writing under the byline”I Am An Educator,,” Hagopian added, “It didn’t have to come to this but the District waited until the last days of summer to respond to any of the proposals put forward by educators.”
In his years as a teacher, Hagopian added, the Seattle Education Association has never “put forward such a visionary” plan to “dramatically improve our schools.”
Although Seattle’s cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and has zoomed in recent years, Seattle teachers were forced to toil for six years with frozen salaries, without even a cost-of-living increase. The Seattle Board of Education proposed a pitiful 8.2 percent increase stretched over the three year contract—far below the losses teachers have suffered from inflation. The teachers are demanding 18 percent over the three year contract.
But the teachers are also determined to win gains in their struggle for progressive educational reform. This includes terminating or sharply limiting use of “high stakes testing” used to unfairly evaluate both teachers and students. Seattle teachers won widespread praise a few years ago by refusing to administer these “high stakes” tests.
The sole victory for the teachers in the current negotiations is agreement by the school board to approve a half hour of recess for children and youth each day. The union was demanding 45 minutes arguing that the exercise and fresh air is vital to the physical and mental health of the students.
The union is also demanding expansion of “equity teams” from the six schools that currently have them to every school in the system. The SEA negotiators point out that African American students are “four times more likely to be suspended than their white peers.”
In an interview on Real News, Hagopian hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling against Charter Schools as a “huge victory for public education and for teachers and it gave a boost of confidence that the corporate education reformers can be beaten back.”