The biggest bullies in Seattle schools
On September 8, over 1,600 members, out of a total of 6,000, in the Seattle Education Association (SEA) ratified a one-year contract by an 85 percent margin. Among the gains were: a 10.5 percent pay increase for all educators, not just teachers; five days of paid parental leave; ten Racial Equity Teams in new schools; lowering the counselor to student ratio from 400-to-1 to 375-to-1.
However, the SEA settlement took place in the context of the biggest educator strike wave since the red state strikes last spring. At the time of the SEA contract ratification vote, according to the Washington Education Association’s Pay Raise Map, the SEA’s 10.5 percent raise was the lowest of any local in the state. Due to this, members of Social Equity Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file social justice caucus of SEA members, advocated for a “no” vote on the tentative agreement.
Then two weeks into the school year, on September 19, a letter signed by four Seattle Public School district administrators was distributed to principals throughout the district detailing 33 “staffing adjustments.” The district claims, “an estimated 775 fewer students are enrolled than were projected. This creates a reduction in revenue of $7.5 million to our already challenged budget.”
SEE finds it unacceptable that in one of the richest cities in the country 33 positions will be cut, many in South End schools with our highest-need students and most diverse schools. SEE will be organizing SEA members and allies to attend the new SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau’s “Listening and Learning Tour” while circulating a petition and standing in solidarity with any actions taken by students or SEA members to stand up to the cuts.
In response to the job cuts,, a teacher at Aki Kurose Middle School in the south end of Seattle and a leading SEE activist, wrote the following piece summing up the anger that many SEA members are feeling.
WHO ARE these bullies? Who are the ones who make teaching more difficult each year? Who are the ones who work against class-size reduction? Who are the ones who work against counseling for all of our children? Who are the ones who work against special education, teacher salaries, health care for substitutes, nurses for all of our schools, recess? Who are these bullies who make us defend ourselves instead of extend ourselves? Who are they?
We see some of their faces each time contract time rolls around. They are the ones driving people away from the field of education. They are the ones posturing, trying for the best negotiating position, trying to seize the power in the room. They are the ones who believe that money is the only power. They are the ones who believe the interests of the school district and the interests of teachers should be different. They are the ones who do not understand what education must be to be of value to all of the people in Seattle.
We are tasked with educating the children of this city. We are tasked with determining the moral direction of this city. We are tasked with making our children good citizens of the world. We do these things by being a living example of that “city on the hill.” We do these things by providing enough educators to reach every student in this district. We do these things by creating Ethnic Studies programs so that every student can find pride in history. We do these things by keeping our children safe, educated, and loved. There is no room for bullies in the world we are building.
We need a district that is on our side. We need a district that joins the teachers in the fight for the McCleary promise. We need a district that provides effective lobbyists focused on education. We need a district that is not afraid to advocate for education in the face of legislators who believe differently. We need a district that assures that our schools have enough, not a district that accepts each cut with the timidity of a church mouse and passes that pain down to its students every year.
It is time for educators to take action against the existing district negotiators. The ones who forced us to strike in 2015 and to vote to authorize a strike this last negotiation. The ones who are posturing to do the same next year. Their presence is an affront to public education and it’s time for new management.