Seattle students are missing school as they are experiencing the first system wide teachers’ strike in 30 years. The strike was set in motion Tuesday night after contract talks broke down over issues of pay and staffing. With nearly 53,000 students displaced from classrooms, and about 5,000 teachers and other staff workers off the job, each side accused the other of playing hardball.

Seattle’s teachers went six years without a cost-of-living raise after the Legislature failed to come up with money for them, but the district said it provided raises totaling 8 percent out of local levy money in that time. The low raises have made it tough to live in Seattle, where the cost of living has been steadily rising. Teacher salaries in Seattle range from about $44,000 to more than $86,000 for more experienced educators with advanced degrees.

The Washington Supreme Court, the state’s highest appeals panel, has ordered the state held in contempt for what the court says are failures to meet constitutional obligations to adequately and equitably fund public education. Once lawmakers were faced with a court order to increase spending on education, they managed to come up with money for new teachers and supplies.

Around $37 million of that money is coming to Seattle. The district says it has offered raises totaling 14 percent over three years, but it also wants to extend the school day by 20 minutes, arguing that Seattle has one of the shortest instructional days of any schools in the state, at 6 hours and 10 minutes. The union made a counterproposal on salary that called for raises totaling 9.5 percent over two years — a far cry from the 21 percent over three years they initially sought.

The district had offered the union $62 million in pay raises, staff increases for special education and 20 minutes of added instructional time after two years. The union was demanding $172 million in increased wages and benefits.

The strike, which has forced the shutdown of all of Seattle’s nearly 100 public schools, marked the first contract-related disruption of classes in three decades for the largest public education system in the Pacific Northwest. The strike has left some parents scrambling to find placements for children.

Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard said Sunday the strike, which began Sept. 9, will affect the school year calendar, because it has already eaten up the three snow days the district set aside. The district will have to consider shortening holiday breaks or adding days at the end of the school year. Graduation dates could also be delayed, she said.

The teachers on the picket line say they are doing this for the kids and for a better educational system. While few can argue that most teachers are grossly underpaid, many feel that even the low range of the salary spectrum of 44K with summer’s off doesn’t sound too shabby.

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