Seattle teachers union, district reportedly far apart in contract talks, with classes set to start Sept. 9

SEATTLE -- Seattle Public Schools students are scheduled to begin classes on Sept. 9. But the first day of school could be in jeopardy.

As of Monday night, the district and the union were very far apart on most of the key issues on the bargaining table, according to teachers. The two sides have been negotiating since May.

Seattle teachers will start advisory picketing outside nine high schools starting on Wednesday.

And teachers will hold a strike authorization vote Thursday if talks don't result in a new, three-year tentative contract agreement.

So teachers were busy Monday making picket signs they say they don’t want to use.

“We don’t want to strike but if we have to, we want to be ready for it,” teacher Amanda Poch said.

Poch is among the hundreds of Seattle teachers clamoring for better pay.

“They want us to work 30 minutes longer during the day with no more pay,” Poch said.

In Seattle, first-time teachers earn about $44,000. That salary can increase up to $86,000 if the teacher has a PhD.

Educators say the district's proposed pay hike of 8.2% over three years is too small.

“Not enough. I mean our members have fallen so far behind in the (past) 5, 6, 7 years,” Jonathan Knapp of the Seattle Education Association said.

The two sides are also far apart on other key issues, including recess time.

“They've never been this far apart this late in the game,” Poch said.

Teachers want all 60 elementary schools to have mandatory recess for at least 30 minutes.

“A lot of our kids go home and watch TV; they don’t go outside and play,” Poch said.

Parents say teachers are fighting for worthy causes.

“I back teachers all the way,” parent Nils Cowen said.

But some are still a little frustrated over the timing.

“Flying to Europe on Saturday; if we don’t have child care next week, we are kind of sunk,” Cowen said.

“It’s kind of annoying. I wish they had worked it out, they had three months and four months in the summer to figure it out,” parent Amy Lovick said.

With the first day of school possibly in limbo, parents are now looking to find extra child care.

Seattle Public Schools issued this update on the talks:

"SEA has proposed a salary increase of 21 percent over a three year contract period—in addition to the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) from the state (25.8 percent total over three years).

"The district has listened to concerns and has increased the salary compensation proposal to 8.2 percent over the same three year period—in addition to the state COLA (13 percent total over three years).

"Providing a 13 percent increase over three years would enable our teachers to be among the highest paid in the state, which they well deserve," the district said on its website.

The Seattle Education Association said it initially asked for a 21% pay increase over the next three years. That is in addition to the nearly 5% cost of living adjustment. SEA says the 21% is off the table, and they are negotiating on another number.