Teachers from across Bellevue gathered behind picket signs today, striking in solidarity for higher wages and a more flexible curriculum. The districtwide strike, which was announced at a teacher union meeting on Sept. 1, left more than 1,600 students without classes on the first scheduled day of school.
Bellevue teachers will continue to strike until they have a written contract that meets their standards: a pay increase that compares with neighboring districts and more flexibility in the classroom.
According to Ann Oxrieder, director of communications for the Bellevue School District, the main bone of contention is over wages.
“The district believes that the biggest stumbling block is pay raises,” she said.
On Friday, Aug. 29, the district’s mediation team presented a proposed list of benefits and salary increases — the details of which are posted on the district’s Web site. Bellevue teachers, however, were not impressed.
“It’s really complicated,” Oxrieder said, unable to give a concrete salary number. “But the bottom line is that teachers want about double what we’ve offered.”
Since Friday, when the district declared an impasse, Bellevue teachers have not yet responded to the bargaining team’s proposal. Instead, they took to the streets in strike.
With angry parents, confused students and teachers eager to get back into the classroom, it seems as though everyone is waiting for the crisis to end.
“This is not a place any teacher wants to be,” Michele Miller, Bellevue Education Association president, told the Seattle Times.
Yet the teachers will stand behind their decision until an agreeable compromise is met, which could take anywhere from hours to days.
Mediation over the teachers’ contract will begin again at 1 p.m. today, Oxerieder said.
Bellevue teachers first voted to strike during a union meeting on June 10. As a group, they decided that if a contract was not agreed on by the first day of school, they would picket. The vote passed with 94 percent in favor.
On top of unsatisfactory wages, the teachers were upset with the district’s new Web-based curriculum, paid for with a $2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The new syllabus, an attempt to standardize courses from math to social studies among Bellevue’s 30 schools, has been criticized by teachers for its “one-size-fits-all” model, which tends to bore ambitious students while losing others who cannot keep up. In addition, the e-curriculum inhibits student creativity and learning diversity within the classroom, teachers say.
But according to Oxrieder, this issue has become second in place to wages.
“We’ve presented a new proposal that teachers can use professional judgement to modify and alter lessons to meet the needs of students. They can create new lessons if online lessons aren’t working with kids,” Oxrieder explained. She added, however, that the negotiating team has not heard teachers’ reaction to this proposal, due to the strike.
Bellevue sports games and practices will not be affected by the strike.
For more information on the Bellevue strike visit: www.washingtonea.org