High cost of living an issue for striking Seattle teachers

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SEATTLE — 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.

Madigman was one of thousands wearing red shirts and holding signs as teachers walked the picket lines Wednesday during Seattle’s first educator strike in 30 years.

“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 walkout, which began on what was supposed to be the first day of school, comes as teachers in Seattle have gone six years without a cost-of-living increase. Many say they are scrambling to afford housing in a city where living expenses are rapidly increasing as tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook increase hiring in the area.

Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard said late Wednesday that the impasse remained and there would be no school again on Thursday.

“We want to honor our teachers. Our goal here is to make them feel like they’re getting what they deserve,” said Howard, adding that both sides would be back at the negotiating table on Thursday.

The strike adds to other education crises in Washington state. 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.

Seattle Public Schools and the teachers union failed to reach an agreement on their contract Tuesday. With the walkout 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.

Both sides were apart on pay raises, teacher evaluations and other issues.

Teacher salaries range from about $44,000 to more than $86,000 for more experienced educators with advanced degrees, according to Seattle Public Schools.

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.

Special education teacher Carlos Cruz has spent 27 years at Roosevelt High School, where Madigman also works. Class sizes are an important issue for him.

“Thirty-five to getting close to 40 students in a classroom is getting hard to manage in terms of time,” he said.

The strike could be a test case for educators across the country, a national union leader said.

The teachers are fighting for reasonable testing policies, a fair discipline policy and the time to prepare for class each day, said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.

“If they can get some traction and are taken seriously as professionals, it will give hope to the rest of the 3 million other educators in the country,” she said.

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.

Last week, the justices also ruled that Washington’s new charter schools are unconstitutional because they do not qualify as common schools under the state Constitution and cannot receive public funding.

The decision cast doubt on what would happen to the 1,200 students in nine charter schools. The state teachers union was among those that challenged the charters, saying they took money that would otherwise go to traditional public schools.