DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP, Associated Press
Seattle (AP) — As Pasco teachers walked the picket lines for a second day on Wednesday, a series of marathon contract negotiations in Spokane may be moving school employees closer to an agreement, while Seattle teachers are heading toward a strike vote on Thursday.
No more negotiation sessions have been scheduled in advance of Thursday's Seattle Education Association meeting at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle.
Teachers have already gone back to school in the state's largest school district, but Seattle's nearly 53,000 students aren't due to arrive until next Wednesday.
A spokesman for the statewide Washington Education Association says union and district bargainers have scheduled a meeting Friday with a state mediator. So even if Seattle teachers vote to strike on Thursday, they still could reach an agreement before a walkout affects the start of school.
Talks between the district and teachers ended Tuesday evening. District spokeswoman Stacy Howard said the district wanted to continue bargaining Wednesday and Thursday, but the union was not willing to meet until Friday.
"That's not because of us," she said. "The district is offering to meet at any time."
The last time Seattle teachers went on strike was in 1985, Wood said. The most recent K-12 teachers strike in Washington state was in 2011 in Tacoma. Kent teachers went on strike in 2009. The first public school teachers strike in state history was in 1972, according to Wood.
Educators in more than 100 school districts negotiated new contracts in Washington state, with most reaching agreement before school started.
Seattle teachers say the sticking points in their contract negotiations involve class sizes, student discipline, testing, recess and teacher pay.
In Pasco, teachers walked out on Tuesday, which would have been the first day of school.
The president of the Pasco Association of Educators, Greg Olson, said the main concern is over who will write district curriculum. Other issues to reaching a contract include class sizes and teacher pay.
The district serves about 17,000 students in southeast Washington.
District officials have filed a legal request for an injunction to stop the strike. A hearing has been scheduled for Friday in Franklin County Superior Court. The school district's motion claims the strike is illegal.
In Spokane, union representatives for all the employees in the state's second largest school district say negotiations for seven bargaining units are down to one issue: pay.
The Spokane Education Association, which represents all school employees, not just teachers, decided last week that it would go on strike this Friday if they have not reached a tentative agreement with the school district by 7 a.m. that day.
Negotiators in Spokane are meeting almost nonstop with a state mediator to try to avoid a strike.
"I'm always very hopeful," said Jenny Rose, president of the Spokane Education Association. "But at the same time, I have no idea."
After bargaining all weekend and on Monday and Tuesday night, Spokane negotiators have agreements on nearly every item on their list. Rose said union bargainers were upbeat the last time she talked to them.
She said they have been asked by the mediator not to share any details from negotiations, including how far apart they are on pay and benefits.
Spokane's 30,000 students went back to school on Aug. 31.
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