SPS Teacher Contract Negotiations Make for Unlikely Enemies

Contract negotiations began last week between Seattle Public Schools and the teachers' union, and the atmosphere is already getting testy—but not between the parties you might expect. Seattle Education Association president Olga Addae is peeved over a new coalition, led by the nonprofit Alliance for Education, that is trying to muscle in on the talks. Although technically no one is allowed at the bargaining table besides the union and the district, the "Our Schools Coalition" last week launched a campaign to influence the process by unveiling a list of nine proposed changes it would like to see in the new contract—all of which are aimed at supporting good teachers and weeding out the bad. While the group's ideas are not necessarily new, its effort to influence the negotiations is. And the coalition may have the political clout to do just that. Among its members: City Council member Tim Burgess, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, El Centro de la Raza, and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Addae says her beef with the coalition is the assumption that "there's tons of bad teachers out there. That's the hype" in education circles at the moment, she says. The coalition wants to shorten the process for firing ineffective teachers and to base layoff decisions at least in part on performance rather than just seniority. Asked whether she'd go along with the latter suggestion, Addae declared "Never!" Then she backtracked slightly to say that she should never say never, but added that she'd have to see the district do a lot of other things first to "authentically show" that it wanted to close the achievement gap, like reducing class size (though why this should come before laying off weak teachers is a mystery). The district isn't saying whether it will take any of the coalition's ideas into the negotiating room. But in attendance at the coalition's kickoff luncheon last week were several top district officials, including Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. At least a couple of items on the coalition's agenda already have traction. The district has indicated it will seek to institute performance pay in the current negotiations. And a just-passed state bill, pushed through in the hopes of winning federal Race to the Top funds, also directs districts to revamp teacher evaluations so that they are based in part on student achievement, which is another item on the coalition's list.

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