Seattle educators vote to strike if no agreement reached

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle educators voted Thursday night to go on a strike Wednesday if a tentative contract agreement hasn't been reached between the union and the state's largest school district, potentially delaying the start of classes.

Members of the Seattle Education Association, which represents about 5,000 teachers, substitutes and support staff, authorized a strike in a unanimous voice vote Thursday evening. School is set to begin Wednesday for 53,000 Seattle students.

Contract negotiations are scheduled to resume Friday with a state mediator, so a deal could be reached before a strike happens.

"The district is hopeful that an agreement can be made to start school as scheduled, on September 9," Stacy Howard, a spokeswoman with Seattle Public Schools, said in a statement Thursday night.

She said the start of school could potentially be delayed and the district is working with the city of Seattle on child care options.

"Nobody really wants to go on strike. We want to get in our classroom and teach," the union's vice-president Phyllis Campano said in a telephone interview after the vote. "The school board needs to come back to the table and get things done."

The strike vote in Seattle comes as educators in Spokane reached a tentative agreement with the Spokane School District that averted a strike Friday. Meanwhile, teachers in the tiny South Whidbey Island School District joined Pasco educators on strike Thursday.

In Spokane on Thursday afternoon, the district and the union that represents all school employees — not just teachers — reached a tentative agreement that averts a strike Friday. The union had set a 7 a.m. Friday deadline for a proposed contract or a strike.

Members of the Spokane Education Association are scheduled to meet Tuesday evening to review contract details and decide whether or not to approve it. The district and union said the one-year contract makes progress on several issues, including professional development, workload and compensation.

Classes and other school activities will continue on Friday as scheduled for the Spokane district's 30,000 students, who returned to school on Aug. 31.

Speaking to reporters during a conference call from a trade mission stop in Japan, Gov. Jay Inslee noted that one of his grandchildren had just started first grade. The governor said he was appreciative of teacher's work, but hoped for a resolution.

"Obviously like any governor, and any grandfather, we are hopeful that agreements are reached so we can continue the education of our kids," he said.

Inslee said that while there's more work to do on education funding, he noted money that the Legislature put into the system this year. But he also said that teachers have long faced an "unprecedented level of pressure, demands and constraints."

In Pasco, the union and the school district are due in court Friday morning for a hearing on the district's request for an injunction to stop the strike that began Tuesday.

Contract negotiations continue in Pasco, but exchanges between the district and the union — at least online — is getting heated, with both sides accusing the other of lying to the community.

The president of the Pasco Association of Educators, Greg Olson, said the main concern is over who will write district curriculum. Other issues include class sizes and teacher pay. According to the union website, teachers in Pasco earn on average $10,000 less than their neighbors in Richland, a wealthier area.

The district serves about 17,000 students in southeast Washington.

Teachers in the tiny South Whidbey Island School District went on strike Thursday, according to the Washington Education Association. School is set to begin on Tuesday for the district's nearly 1,500 students.


AP writer Rachel La Corte contributed from Olympia, Washington.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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