- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Teachers in Seattle say they have walked off the job largely because they can’t afford to live in the same city as the children they teach.

The educators, who have not received a cost-of-living pay raise in six years, have joined other workers pushing for higher wages that compete with the city’s growing, highly paid tech workers.

Olga Addae, a science teacher at Franklin High School, walked the picket line Thursday with other union members who said they will stay out of the classroom until Washington state’s largest school district offers a fair compensation package and agrees to stop cutting student services.

“We’re doing this for the students and for a better school system,” said Addae, a teacher of 21 years.

Teacher Janine Magidman has lived and worked in Seattle for years, but worries her newer colleagues will be priced out.

“The cost of living is just ridiculous,” said Madigman, who teaches at Roosevelt High School.

Teachers want to live close to their schools and be a part of those communities, but rents continue to rise while educators’ salaries have stagnated, Addae said.

Seattle Public Schools offered a pay increase of nearly 9 percent over three years. The teachers union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years.

Teacher salaries range from about $44,000 to more than $86,000 for more experienced educators with advanced degrees, according to the district. In comparison, tech workers can easily draw six figures.

“There’s a giant tech surge here in Seattle, with Google and Twitter opening offices,” said Tom Leung, co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Anthology, which connects professionals with employers. “Apple. Cisco. Ebay. It’s a who’s who of tech.”

The companies have run out of workers and space in the San Francisco Bay Area, so they’re looking to the Northwest as a key region to add staff, he said.

“It has created an intense amount of competition for highly skilled tech workers,” Leung said. “A typical tech engineer can make $150,000 without trying very hard. That does create an impact on the rest of the city.”

Rents have ballooned by more than 37 percent since mid-2010, according to Apartment Insights Washington. The median rental price for homes in Seattle in July was $2,354 a month, Zillow reports, compared with a national average of $1,376.

The city is having a housing crisis because more than 40 percent of the new jobs in the region are with Amazon or Boeing, and their starting salaries are twice as much as a teacher who has been on the job for years, Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata said.

“They’re bringing in tons of people, but affordable housing is disappearing,” he said. “That means the people who are educating our children are finding it difficult to live in the city where the children they teach live.”

Wages and affordability have dominated the political landscape in Seattle recently. After a strong push from labor activists, the city last year adopted a phased-in $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said that besides stalled cost-of-living increases, teachers have gone five years without a boost in funding for health care costs.

“Seattle needs to attract and keep caring, qualified educators in one of the most expensive cities in the United States,” she said.

With the strike entering its third day Friday, the district and union remained stuck on pay raises, teacher evaluations and other issues.

The sides failed to reach an agreement on a contract Tuesday, delaying the start of school for some 53,000 students.

Seattle Public Schools spokesman Stacy Howard said Thursday afternoon that both sides are continuing to meet with mediators, but negotiations have not resumed.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle .

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