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First Day of School Canceled as Seattle Teachers Vote To Strike

Phyllis Campano, the union's vice president, said Tuesday night that the district came back with a proposal that the union "couldn't take seriously."
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Kids were delighted and parents were in despair as almost 53,000 public school students in Seattle faced extra vacation after their teachers voted to strike late Tuesday, just hours before they were due to head back to class.

“Our team marched into the school board meeting room tonight and announced that negotiations were over,” the Seattle Education Association (SEA) said in a statement posted on their website.

They added that “after bargaining until midnight Monday and for most of the day Tuesday, it was clear that a settlement wasn't close.”

Within minutes of the announcement the Seattle School Board voted to authorize the superintendent to seek legal action to try and force teachers and other school employees back to work.

The union’s decision came after the two sides swapped last-minute offers and counter-offers before Wednesday’s scheduled start of classes.

Phyllis Campano, the union's vice president, said Tuesday night that the district came back with a proposal that the union "couldn't take seriously," and they decided to end for the night.

So members of the SEA, which represents about 5,000 teachers and support staff, plan to picket at all 97 schools.

"Nobody really wants to strike, but at this point the school board has not come to the table with a serious proposal to get it done," Campano said. "The union voted to walk out last week if a tentative agreement wasn't reached by the first day of school.”

The district earlier offered an increase of nearly nine percent over three years. The union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years, Campano said, but she claimed the district barely budged from its previous proposal.

While negotiations began in May, the SEA's statement said the “major unresolved issues haven’t changed." As well as the levels of pay, they also listed staff evaluations and workload relief as needing dealt with.

Image: Teachers picket on September 2
About 50 teachers picket and chant as they marched outside West Seattle High School on September 2.Elaine Thompson / AP

As a result, Seattle parents were scrambling to come up with day-care options, including working from home, swapping care with other parents or signing up for other programs.

The city parks department was expanding before- and after-school care programs into all-day offerings because of the strike.

Seattle isn't the only district in the state facing a teacher labor action as teachers in Pasco in southeast Washington have voted not to return to the classroom despite a court order to end the strike.

Around 17,000 students were left idle on Tuesday, as the educators voted Monday to remain on the picket line in a dispute over pay and the curriculum.

Washington state is already being sanctioned $100,000 a day by the state Supreme Court because the justices say lawmakers have failed to adequately pay to educate the state's one million school children.

The court has said the money is to be put in a separate fund for education. The Washington Supreme Court decided in 2012 that state funding for education is not adequate.

The justices said the state was relying too much on local dollars to make up for an inadequate state budget for education.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the strikes were mainly about local issues not tied to the larger state debate about funding.