Nancy Kiser, a fifth-grade teacher at Kimball Elementary School, examines a picket sign to be used in the event of a strike by teachers in the Seattle School District on Sept. 8, 2015, in Seattle, Wash.
Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP

Seattle teachers strike on first day of school


SEATTLE (AP) — A strike in Washington state’s largest school district will keep thousands of Seattle students home on the first day of the new school year after contract talks broke down between Seattle Public Schools and the teacher’s union.

Members of the Seattle Education Association, which represents about 5,000 teachers and support staff, said they will picket at all 97 schools Wednesday.

Theo Moriarty, 39, said he plans to pick up his sign and a safety vest and picket in front of Hamilton International Middle School, where he teaches seventh-grade language arts.

“We didn’t want to strike, and it seems to be the only way to have a dialogue with our senior administration,” Moriarty said. “We all know it’s an inconvenience but ultimately it’s far better for the future of students and families to get what we’re asking for.”

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Both sides remain far apart on key issues, including pay raises, teacher evaluations and the length of the school day. The district earlier offered an increase of nearly 9 percent over three years. The union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years, Campano said, but she said the district barely budged from its previous proposal.

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.”

“We are here to get a contract that’s good for our kids, and that’s where we’re going to stand,” Campano said. The union overwhelmingly voted to walk out last week if a tentative agreement wasn’t reached by the first day of school.

“Bargaining teams for both sides have worked hard over the past months and practically round the clock in recent days_putting in marathon hours over the Labor Day weekend,” Seattle Public Schools said in a statement.

“We are hopeful talks can resume and agreement can be reached to allow our students to start school,” it said.

The Seattle School Board voted Tuesday night to authorize the district superintendent to take legal action against striking teachers.

Meanwhile, Seattle parents scrambled to find alternative 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.

The district serves about 53,000 students.

Catherine Beard, whose two daughters attend McDonald International School, said she plans to visit the picket lines to support the striking teachers.

“I feel like the teachers that are there, like all teachers, are not in it for the paycheck. They’re in it for the love of teaching,” Beard said, adding: “I’m in support of whatever the teachers need to do to feel properly compensated for what they’re doing.”

Seattle isn’t the only district in the state facing a teacher labor action. Teachers in Pasco in southeast Washington have voted not to return to the classroom despite a court order to end the strike. In Pasco, teachers decided Monday night to remain on strike, idling 17,000 students on Tuesday in a dispute over pay and curriculum. Classes were canceled for another day Wednesday.

AP reporter Nicholas K. Geranios contributed to this report from Spokane.