Thousands of teachers to vote on contracts a day before school begins



SEATTLE - With only one day before school is supposed to start in some classrooms, teachers in two major school districts still haven't approved their contracts.

Teachers vote Tuesday in Seattle, Kitsap and Snoqualmie.

Among those districts, thousands of teachers will vote on their contracts. Two of the three -- South Kitsap and Seattle -- had reached tentative agreements with their districts.

South Kitsap was the first to vote at 9 a.m. at South Kitsap High School. Teachers approved the contract, 392-13.

The school board must also approve the contract, but it's most likely that class will start Wednesday.

Snoqualmie Valley teachers will vote at 4:30 p.m. on a new contract proposal at Mt. Si High School. They do not have a tentative agreement in their negotiations yet.

Finally, the largest group of teachers in Seattle will vote at 5 p.m. at Benaroya Hall.

In the state of Washington, public employees do not have a legally protected right to strike, but there's also no legal penalty. A school district could take teachers to court in the event of a strike. But right now, at least in Seattle, the tentative agreement suggests strikes could be less likely.

In the South Kitsap School District, administrators had cited budget constraints in their difficulties with balancing class sizes. Throughout negotiations, they have reduced numbers to where most elementary school classes have 20-30 students, with only a few holding more than 30.

It was for the kids. It wasn't for us. It was for them,” said Catharine Burki, a fifth grade teacher.

The kids seem to be appreciative and excited to start class.

Brianna Mears, who begins seventh grade on Wednesday, was nervous when teachers in the South Kitsap School District voted last week to strike.

“Now I’m happy school’s going to start on time,” Mears said.

She’s also pleased with the agreement limiting class size.

“It means you’re able to listen closer to the teacher, and if there are trouble-makers in class, there aren’t as many,” she said.

The South Kitsap contract also looks into the future, as teachers explained they will eventually do away with “split classes,” where two grade levels share a classroom and a teacher.

The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction told KIRO 7 that there are no state recommendations for class sizes and no maximum limits. Class sizes are up to local school districts and the buildings’ fire codes.

The South Kitsap School District spokesperson said that everyone agrees on the goal of smaller classes, to give children more individualized attention.

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