Seattle, South Kitsap school districts vote to reject contracts

Seattle, South Kitsap school districts vote to reject contracts
Teachers cram Benaroya Hall, Monday, August 26.
SEATTLE - Teachers at two local school districts have rejected contract offers, just days before classes are scheduled to begin.

Several thousand educators that work for the Seattle School District, and South Kitsap School District rejected their new contracts in votes held Monday evening.

"While we are disappointed that members of the Seattle Education Association did not approve our proposal, we are hopeful that we will reach an agreement that is in the best interests of students prior to the start of school," Superintendent Jose Banda said in a statement.

Wages, longer days for elementary school teachers, and how educators will be evaluated are the main issues for Seattle teachers.

"We hope that this statement we will make tonight will get the district bargaining team back to the table with a little more flexibility on some of these issues," Jonathan Knapp said prior to the vote.

There was no strike vote for Seattle teachers on Monday, but that could come at a membership meeting the day before school starts.

Meanwhile, in South Kitsap, 446 teachers voted overwhelmingly to reject the district's offer. If no agreement is met by August 31, teachers also voted to strike beginning September 1.

Class size is a main issue, says the union representing more than 550 teachers in the South Kitsap School District.

"I've got 34 (desks) in here right now, and I'm going have to get a least 3 more," junior high history teacher Larry Nelson said.

Teachers will be paid more if they go over the contracted size limit, but teachers like Nelson don't want larger classes.

"I don't think we have to give anything up. I think the money is actually there. How can all these districts around us have smaller class sizes?" Nelson questioned.

The district's superintendent says enrollment is down, and to match funds available, class size may have to increase.

"Nobody wants large classes. The sticking point is really our understand of the funding capacity of smaller class sizes," Michelle Reid said.

But the union says the district's board is being too conservative.

"Our analysis shows there is enough in the budget to be able to take care of some of the class size, and have more than adequate reserve," Judy Arbogast argued.