Strikes FAQ

The League of Education Voters has been hearing about plans for strikes across the state this fall. In preparation for that, we have researched answers to some of the frequently asked questions we have been hearing. We will continue to update this page as we receive more questions. Have a question we haven’t answered? Please submit it to Kelly Munn at kelly@educationvoters.org.


What is a strike?

A strike is an organized refusal to work by employees as a means of protest. It is a tactic that may be used during contract negotiations if employers and employees cannot agree on terms of employment.

Why are people talking about strikes? Why do teachers strike?

In some school districts, negotiations to renew teacher contracts are not progressing well between the teachers union and the school district administration. For example, in Pasco, the union just voted to go on strike if a contract agreement is not reached by August 30. There are a number of issues that may be difficult to come to agreement on, such as working conditions, teacher pay, curriculum, and other staff supports.

What are negotiations and how do they work?

Collective bargaining agreements, otherwise known as contracts or CBAs, are typically agreed upon for 2- or 3-year terms. When the contract term is ending, a team representing the school district and a team representing the teachers union meet to determine the terms and conditions for the next contract. In some districts, the union that represents teachers may also represent other staff, so terms of employment may be negotiated for multiple types of school employees.

If necessary or if negotiations have stalled, a mediator may be called in. The mediator’s role is to facilitate the discussion and help come to an agreement. The mediator is neutral and ensures that both parties are communicating clearly, while keeping in mind the mutual goal of arriving at a reasonable solution.

How are teachers paid?

Teachers are paid with money from state taxes and local levies. Local levies are additional property taxes that voters in a school district vote to impose on themselves to fund enhancements to school programs. The state allocates money to school districts for teacher salaries based on a funding formula. The state has a salary schedule document that defines pay levels based on years of experience and degree level. The salary schedule provides guidance for teacher salaries—the state only sets a minimum salary for what beginning teachers get paid, depending on degree level. Local school districts then negotiate with their teachers unions to determine actual salaries. Almost all districts pay more than the minimum on the salary schedule using local funds from levies and state dollars allocated for other purposes, such as materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC).

For example, in Pasco for the 2014–15 school year, the average state base salary was $49,787, while the average total salary was $54,263 including local and federal dollars.

What did the Supreme Court say about teacher salary in the McCleary decision?

In its McCleary decision, the Washington State Supreme Court found that the state salary is not adequate to recruit nor retain teachers. In other words, the state is not fully funding salaries for basic education and relies on local districts to make up the difference.

What is a CBA?

A CBA is a collective bargaining agreement, or contract. This contract includes the duties, salaries, and other terms of employment agreed upon by the school district and teachers union (or other employee union).

How do I find the current teacher’s contract in my school district?

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) are public documents and are typically available on your school district website. They can often be found on the employee, staff, or human resources pages. If the website has a search function, try searching for “collective bargaining agreement” or “CBA” to find a link to the current contracts. If the CBA is not available on your district’s website, or if your district does not have a website, you may call or email your district communications office and request a copy.

Can schools stay open using substitute teachers and administration?

Technically, yes. Schools could attempt to stay open using substitute teachers or other alternative means of staffing. However, from a practical standpoint, this is unlikely to happen due to the sheer number of substitute staff that would be required.

I have to work. What will I do with my kids if there is a strike?

During a strike, there are no requirements that alternatives be provided to parents for childcare or educational activities. A district may choose to partner with community-based organizations and other agencies, such as a parks department, to connect you and your students with alternatives. To learn about any alternatives for your child during a strike, contact your school district’s communications director to ask about what options might be available in your community.

Are teacher strikes mentioned in Washington state law?

Yes. RCW 41.80.060 states that the right to strike is not granted to any public employees, which includes teachers. A 2006 Attorney General opinion also asserts that there is no legally protected right to strike, though no penalties for striking are established in law. Many local collective bargaining agreements also include a “no-strike” clause.

Is there any way for the community to stop a strike?

There is a process called an injunction to stop a strike. An injunction is a court order forbidding something from being done or commanding something to be done. During the 2003 Marysville teacher strike, a parent group and the district both sought injunctions from the court, which mandated that teachers to return to work.

What is the Washington State PTA’s position on teacher strikes?

According to the Washington State PTA board positions and resolutions (2015) (pg. 32), the Washington State PTA will not support work stoppages and/or strikes that interrupt or disrupt the educational day.

Do teachers get paid for the time that they strike?

Teacher contracts are for at least 180 days. The district is also required by the state to provide 180 days of instruction for students. So, if teachers go on strike, the days that are missed will be made up at some point before the next school year. Thus, a strike will not impact a teacher’s income over the school year or a teacher’s number of working days.

The state has a requirement for 180 days of instruction. Does the school district still have to provide 180 days of instruction if there is a strike? If so, how does the district make up the days?

Yes, school districts must provide 180 days of instruction regardless of a teacher strike, inclement weather, or another event that causes the normal school calendar to change. Districts will reschedule the school days to make them up at other times during the school year, likely by decreasing school breaks and/or shortening summer vacation.

How much money was put into public education this biennium compared to the previous biennium?

In the 2015–2017 biennial budget, the Washington State Legislature put $18.1 billion toward K-12 education. Of that $18.1 billion, $2.9 billion was additional investments. $15.2 billion was the amount spent in the previous biennium (2013-2015), but in order to maintain the same level of educational services, an additional $1 billion was needed due to increased student enrollment and unavoidable cost increases. In other words, $16.2 billion dollars was put toward K–12 education to maintain the education “status quo.”

Beyond that, $1.3 billion dollars was invested for enhancements to K-12 education to fund aspects of the McCleary v. Washington order: K–3 class-size reduction; full-day kindergarten; and materials, supplies, and operating costs.

The Legislature also invested $600 million for K–12 staff compensation, including $400 million for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and $200 million for enhanced benefits. The COLAs total a 4.8 percent increase for teachers over two years, with a 3 percent increase in 2015–2016, and a 1.8 percent increase in 2016–2017.

By comparison, in the 2013-2015 biennial budget, the Washington State Legislature put $15.2 billion toward K-12 education. Of that $15.2 billion, $1.7 billion was additional investments. In order to maintain the same level of educational services, an additional $700 million was needed. In other words, $15.9 billion dollars was put toward K-12 education to maintain the education “status quo.” In addition to that, $1.0 billion dollars was invested for enhancements to K-12 education.

Chart of biennial education for the 2013-2015 and 2015-2017 biennia.

When did teachers last receive a raise?

State cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) have been suspended since the 2009–2010 school year. However, each year that teachers are employed, they move up a step on the state salary schedule, so an increase is given for each year of experience. The salary schedule tops out at 16 years of experience and a PhD. In the 2015 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature reinstated the state COLA and gave teachers a 3 percent increase for 2015–16 and a 1.8 percent increase in 2016–17.

Local districts have also renegotiated salaries with teachers, including higher base salaries, local COLAs, and additional supplemental contracts for time, responsibility, and incentives (TRI). TRI contracts are for one-year terms, but are often part of the larger bargaining process that happens every 2 to 3 years. TRI contracts may be designed so that at the end of each one-year TRI contract term, the contract renews at a higher pay rate.

If teachers are striking for more money, where will the school district find the money?

School districts may use a variety of strategies to meet the demand for higher salaries, including using state funds for materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC); cutting programs that fall outside the definition of basic education; and dipping into district rainy day funds or reserves.

What is the average teacher’s salary?

In the 2014–2015 school year, the average state base salary was $52,899. The average total salary was $62,968, including local additional funding.

The Tacoma News Tribune also has a searchable database for individual teacher 2013–2014 salary information.

Where can I find the State Teacher Salary matrix?

The teacher salary matrix is available on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI’s) website for the 2015–2016 school year.

In addition, the Tacoma News Tribune has a searchable database for individual teacher 2013–2014 salary information.

Where can I find information that shows all teacher pay, including state and local pay?

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI’s) personnel summary reports provide average state base and average additional salaries for the 2014–2015 school year.

Did average teacher salary go down?

Between the 2013–2014 and 2014–2015 school years, the statewide average for teacher salaries went down. However, this is not due to individual teacher salaries being decreased, but rather the staff mix factor going down. Staff mix factor represents the average years of experience and degree levels of the teaching staff in a district (or the state) and is used in the funding formula to allocate state dollars to districts for salary. The more years of experience and higher degree levels of the teachers, the higher the staff mix and salaries. The recent change in staff mix may be due to retirements and the hiring of new teachers to reduce class sizes. Beginning teachers receive lower salaries than more experienced teachers, so an influx of beginning teachers, or the retirement of experienced teachers, brings down the state average salary.

What is MSOC? Can MSOC money be used to pay teacher salaries?

MSOC is state funding provided for materials, supplies, and operating costs. In most cases, the funding categories in the funding formula are for allocation purposes only. This means that dollars allocated for materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC) could be spent on teacher salaries if the school district decides to do so.

Can other state funding be used to pay teacher salaries?

The funding formula the state uses to distribute money to the districts is for allocation purposes only. For most funding categories, the district determines locally how to spend the money from the state, though there are some restricted categories of funding. This means that dollars allocated for things like materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC) or for support staff like counselors and librarians can be used for teacher salaries if the district decides to do so.

Do school board members get paid?

By law, each member of the board of directors of a school district may receive compensation of up to $50 per day for attending board meetings and or performing other services on behalf of the school district. They cannot be paid more than $4,800 per year (RCW 28A.343.400).

What counts as an instructional hour and day?

The state sets minimum instructional hours and days that must be provided to students in a year. School districts must offer 180 days and an average of 1,027 hours of instruction a year. The definition of an instructional hour includes time spent engaged in educational activity, recess, passing time between classes, and parent teacher conferences (RCW 28A.150.205).

An instructional day is not defined in state law. The length of a school day is something that may be negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement between the district and the teachers union.

Who is in the room during contract negotiations?

The participants in the collective bargaining process may vary across districts. For example, in one large, urban district, the team for the district includes building principals and senior district level staff, but not school board members. The team for the teachers union consists of local union members, but no representatives from the Washington Education Association. Community members and other stakeholder groups are not involved, nor allowed to observe the negotiations.

In another small, rural district, the team for the district included the superintendent, business manager, and building principals. The team for the union included the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer as well as the UniServ representative at one meeting. Again, members from the community and other stakeholders were not present.


Have a question we haven’t answered? Please submit it to Kelly Munn at kelly@educationvoters.org.