Seattle schools closed for second day by teachers strike over pay, hours

By Bryan Cohen

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A strike by Seattle's public school teachers stretched into a second day on Thursday, further delaying the start of fall classes for some 53,000 students after contact talks collapsed in disagreement over wages, hours and performance evaluations.

Teacher representatives met with mediators on Thursday, a union spokesman said, but it was not clear whether full negotiations would resume immediately.

Seattle educators and support staff had walked off the job and set up picket lines Wednesday morning on what should have been the first day of the school year, following a breakdown in 11th-hour labor talks with the school district the night before.

The strike by the 5,000-member Seattle Education Association marked the first contract-related disruption of classes in three decades for the largest school system in the Pacific Northwest.

Outside Roosevelt High School, scores of teachers, staff, parents and student sympathizers - flanked by musicians and motorists honking car horns - chanted and waved homemade placards backing the strike.

"This has to do with putting more support into the schools when so much money has been going to consultants and managers," said striking English teacher David Grosskopf, 44.

The walkout came amid increased scrutiny of education spending in Washington. The state's Supreme Court last month fined the state $100,000 for every day it fails to present a court-ordered plan for fully funding public schools..

Classes remained canceled on Thursday in all of the system's nearly 100 public schools, and the district said on its website there would be "no school until further notice."

Leaders of the union's bargaining team were meeting with mediators at the district office Thursday afternoon, "but they're not negotiating," union spokesman Rich Wood said.

District spokeswoman Stacy Howard said: "We are still waiting to see whether the union will come back to the bargaining table today."

The two sides remained at loggerheads over such issues as pay, performance and class size, Wood said.

The district has offered the union $62 million in wage hikes, staff increases for special education and 30 minutes of added instructional time after two years, Howard said. According to Howard, the union was demanding $172 million in increased wages and benefits.

The union also said the district was insisting on extending the school day by 30 minutes without paying teachers and staff for added time and that teachers had gone six years without a cost-of-living raise, despite skyrocketing housing costs.

(Writing and additional by Eric M. Johnson in Chicago; Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott)