TOPICS > Education

Seattle teachers end school-delaying strike

September 15, 2015 at 6:25 PM EDT
In Seattle, a five-day teachers' strike that delayed the start of the school year has ended. Contract negotiations between the union and the school district had broken down at the last minute. Amid the soaring cost of living in the city, pay was a main concern for many. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports from Seattle.

GWEN IFILL: But, first, a five-day teachers strike that delayed the start of the school year in Seattle is nearing an end. The strike itself was a surprise, and left nearly — and left parents of nearly 50,000 students figuring out just what to do for days.

Special correspondent Cat Wise was in Seattle when the agreement was announced earlier today.

CAT WISE: Seattle teachers Kristin and Joe Bailey Fogarty were getting ready for a fifth day on the picket line and another day out of school for them and their daughters when they got the news.

JOE BAILEY FOGARTY, Seattle Teacher: SEA reached a tentative contract agreement with the Seattle School Board.

Seattle Teacher: No way.

CAT WISE: The news of a deal was a surprise to Kristin and many of her colleagues in the union, but a welcome one that came after an all-night negotiating session.

We hated it. We hated being on strike. We hate it. It’s been 30 years since Seattle struck, because it is so awful.

MAN: Thank you for your support. Thank you.

CAT WISE: Teachers across the city began celebrating the likely end to Seattle’s first teachers strike in more than 30 years, even though details of the agreement were still under wraps this afternoon. District officials praised the outcome.

GEOFF MILLER, Director of Labor Relations, Seattle Public Schools: In the end, we found common ground, wanting to make sure that our children get the best education that they can. We intend moving forward to work as closely as we can with the union to realize the goals that we have for making the Seattle schools the best place for kids to go to school.

CAT WISE: The Seattle Education Association — that’s the union representing the district’s 5,000 teachers and school staff — had been in negotiations with the school district over a new contract since May. But just as the school year was set to begin last Tuesday, talks over pay raises and more broke down.

Issues including testing, longer instructional time, discipline policies and even the length of recess were on the table. But in a city where the cost of living is soaring, for many teachers like Bailey-Fogarty, pay was a top concern.

KRISTIN BAILEY-FOGARTY: The teacher in the newspaper who had the nanny and is married to somebody in the tech industry, that’s the exception. A lot of teachers are single parents. A lot of teachers are coming out of school with huge student loans, because you need a lot of education to be a teacher.

CAT WISE: Before a deal was announced, teachers union president Jonathan Knapp told us that wages were a key sticking point, but he said teachers fought for bigger issues important to parents across Seattle and the country, like a program to reduce suspensions of minority students.

JONATHAN KNAPP, President, Seattle Education Association: The disproportionate discipline of certain groups of students really matter to the parents. You know, the testing issue has become very important to parents these days. So, I think all of those resonate with parents, and I think they would resonate all over the country.

CAT WISE: The weeklong strike sent parents scrambling to find child care when schools didn’t open. The school organized some temporary day camps at community centers across the city.

This afternoon, representatives from each school were expected to vote to end the strike. And classes are likely to resume on Thursday. Over the weekend, the entire union will vote on whether to accept the deal.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Cat Wise in Seattle.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.