Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why are School Librarians on Strike in Seattle?

The Seattle Education Association collective bargaining unit consists of classroom teachers, librarians, counselors, speech therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and instructional assistants. SEA, plus its affiliate school office workers’ union, Seattle Association of Educational Office Professionals (SAEOP) negotiate contracts together with the administration of Seattle Public Schools.  SAEOP members have a no-strike clause in their contract, so they are not on strike, but they did vote in support of the strike.

Negotiations began in May 2015.  SEA/SAEOP’s negotiating team presented a list of demands:  pay; a fair evaluation process; reasonable testing;workload relief; equity for students in areas of the opportunity gap, discipline, and recess at elementary schools.

Throughout the summer, SPS negotiators demanded one thing: an increase in the workday without an increase in pay.

Where do negotiations stand now?

Recess – After the strike vote on Sept. 3, SPS agreed on 30 minutes of recess at all elementary schools.  The amount of recess children had varied school-to-school from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.  The lesser amount was mostly at schools in poorer neighborhoods.

Substitute teachers – Some of the demands concerning substitutes have been agreed to.

Negotiations have resumed today, Sept. 12.  SEA members are prepared to be on picket lines on Monday.

What are the sticking points?

Pay – SPS negotiators have proposed for classified staff 8.95% increase over three years (2%, 3.2%, 3.75%).  For certificated staff SPS proposes 2%, 3.2%, and 4%.  However, the third year for certificated staff also includes a 4.8 increase in our workday.  So, the actual pay proposal is 2%, 3.2%, and -.8%.  Keep in mind that teachers, librarians, counselors, etc. work well beyond their contracted student-contact hours.  A speed-up is a speed-up whether on the factory floor or in the classroom – more work for no extra pay.  SEA proposed a two-year contract with 5% and 5.5%, along with the establishment of a labor/management committee to investigate lengthening student-contact hours.  SPS refused.

Equity – SPS has offered to “pilot” equity programs in half-a-dozen schools.  The union wants equity issues addressed at every school in Seattle.

Evaluations – SEA wants a system of fair evaluation, and has proposed an evaluation review panel to handle cases in which a teacher/staff member believes they’ve been unfairly evaluated.Fairness in evaluations varies tremendously, not just between schools, but within schools.Another element of inequity is that student test scores on high-stakes standardized tests are used in the evaluations of teachers in tested subject areas.

Reasonable testing – In some schools the library is closed for as long as 2 months because of testing.  Too much time is spent on standardized tests.

Workload relief – Caseloads for psychologists, workloads for secretaries, classroom sizes for teachers, everybody needs a reduction in workload. School librarians too are overloaded.  For instance, at the middle school where I work we have over 1100 students.  I am the only librarian.  I run the library with student helpers, and an office worker who covers me for lunch, and who sometimes can help for 30-40 minutes in the morning. Parent volunteers also help.  During the four lunch periods each day, I am the only adult in the library and we usually have anywhere from 75-100 students in the library every lunch.  Note, however, that librarians have not made any demands regarding workload.  The union is demanding workload reductions for members whose workloads are much worse than ours.

More information can be found on SEA’s website http://www.seattlewea.org/

Written by Elaine Harger, librarian at Washington Middle School in Seattle (you can see a picture of me in SEA's website banner photo, poking above the "n" and the "A" of "...Education Association" -- I'm the one with the white hair)

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