Striking Seattle teachers point to high cost of living as their raises have lagged for years
Teacher Janine Magidman has lived and worked in Seattle for years, but she worries her newer colleagues will be priced out because their salaries haven't kept up with expenses as the tech boom makes the city increasingly unaffordable.
Magidman was one of thousands wearing red shirts and holding signs as Seattle teachers went on strike for the first time in 30 years. The walkout began Wednesday, on what was supposed to be the first day of school, and continued Thursday as the two sides remained split over teacher pay.
"It's really the younger generation that is having issues with having a place to live in the city," said Magidman, whose son is also a teacher. "The cost of living is just ridiculous."
The strike comes as teachers in Seattle have gone six years without a cost-of-living pay increase. Many say they are scrambling to afford housing in a city where living expenses are rapidly increasing as tech giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook increase hiring in the area. Microsoft, a longtime stalwart of the local economy based east of Seattle, also employees many people who live in Seattle.
The issues of wages and affordability have dominated political debate in Seattle recently. After a strong push from labor activists, Seattle last year adopted a phased-in $15-an-hour minimum wage. Scheduled increases depend on business size and will bring the minimum to $15 within four years for large businesses and seven years for smaller ones.
Washington state's largest school district and the teachers union remain at an impasse over pay raises, teacher evaluations and other issues and will keep negotiating Thursday, officials said. The sides failed to reach an agreement on a contract Tuesday.
"We're hoping for a quick resolution and something we all can agree upon," Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard said.
The strike is "an issue of respect," Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said.
"Our attitude is the school board has to come back to the table to address the major issues that we've been discussing all summer long," he said Thursday.
The strike adds to other education crises in Washington. Lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to boost funding for K-12 education after the state Supreme Court said they failed to adequately pay for schooling for 1 million children. Justices are fining the state $100,000 a day until it comes up with a fix. The court has also ruled that the state's charter schools are unconstitutional.
With the strike affecting about 53,000 students, the city opened community centers and expanded before- and after-school programs to help parents find care for their children.
The district has offered a pay increase of nearly 9 percent over three years, and the union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years. Teacher salaries range from about $44,000 to more than $86,000 for more experienced educators with advanced degrees, according to Seattle Public Schools.
Seattle isn't the only district in the state facing a teacher strike. Educators in Pasco in southeast Washington have voted not to return to the classroom despite a court order to end the walkout in a dispute over pay and curriculum in the 17,000-student district.
The strikes are happening as critics accuse state lawmakers of failing the education system. Although they have allocated billions toward public schools, critics say that's not enough to meet the requirement in the state Constitution that education be the Legislature's "paramount duty."
The Washington Supreme Court said in 2012 that the state was relying too much on local dollars. Overreliance on local dollars worsens inequity between schools because districts with higher property values can raise money more easily.
Associated Press writer Manuel Valdes contributed to this report.
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This story has been corrected to show the proper spelling of Janine Magidman's name on two subsequent references.