Will school start or will teachers strike? Districts negotiate over holiday weekend

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FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- There will be no holiday weekend for school districts still trying to avoid teacher strikes just days before the first day of school.

Roughly half of the school districts across the state are still at an impasse with teachers unions over salaries.

The battle is over $2 billion in the state budget for teacher salaries, a result of the state supreme court's McCleary decision, which pumps $9.2 billion into public education over the next six years.

"McCleary added more money than we've seen, probably ever, to our school system and as a result, every district in this state will have more money for education," said Linda Mullen, communications director for the Washington Education Association.

This year, some teacher unions, like in Issaquah, have successfully negotiated double-digit pay raises.

But many more are at a stalemate. Across school districts, the increase in money is not even. Tacoma Public Schools claims it can't budge more than 3 percent.

"On one hand, yes, the state increased what it was giving to us by about $50 million, but on the other hand, they took away about $46 million that we were getting from our local levy," Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said. "It's essentially a wash for Tacoma Public Schools."

Tacoma has required a mediator to reach an agreement and it has meetings on the books all weekend long.

"There's a lot of work underway to settle these contracts," Mullen said.

She said the number of rallies and strikes statewide is unprecedented, but it's an historic time for teachers to demand higher pay.

"We're in the position now where our state has stepped up," she said. "It's met its obligation, and now it's time to negotiate that locally."

As both sides come to the table over the weekend, it's a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement before school starts.

"Teachers wanna teach," Mullen said.

But if they have to, she says, they'll strike.

Some teachers, like in Seattle, have already authorized strikes. Seattle's school year is supposed to start next week for around 50,000 students, but the families of those students did not hear from the district until Friday.

Seattle Public Schools sent an email to parents saying they have every reason to believe they'll reach an agreement this weekend. The email tells parents if they don't hear from the district, it's because negotiations are going well.

Click here for an updated list of school districts still negotiating with teachers.

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