Kent teachers, district reach agreement; paraeducators up next

School started on time in Kent.

Teachers and the Kent School District reached a late-hour contract agreement Aug. 29, avoiding a likely strike on Aug. 30, the official first day of classes.

The Kent Education Association (KEA), the union representing about 1,500 district teachers, ratified the two-year, tentative agreement at a general membership meeting in the Kent-Meridian High School gymnasium Wednesday evening.

Teachers will receive a 10 percent boost in pay the first year, 4.5 percent the next year.

Sixty-nine percent of the 1,149 KEA members in attendance voted in favor of the contract.

Better pay was at the heart of the dispute. Teachers all along wanted livable salaries, boosting them to a competitive level with other school districts.

Melissa Laramie, school district spokesperson, said “the agreement includes an important investment in the school district’s teaching staff. The bargaining process took longer this year, given the new and complex state funding formula for staff compensation.”

Some teachers called the deal “a miracle,” considering both sides remained far apart in a scramble to reach an agreement and avert a strike. Contentious talks necessitated mediation.

Both sides bargained for 14 hours Sunday, talks that stretched to 4:30 a.m. Monday. Negotiations continued throughout Tuesday and into early Wednesday.

Teachers had already authorized a strike if the KEA’s bargaining team and school district officials could not come to a tentative agreement on a new teacher salary schedule by noon Wednesday.

The dispute centered on new state money the school district received from the McCleary Supreme Court settlement. Kent is one of many statewide districts renegotiating teacher salaries after the state high court’s ruling guaranteed about $1 billion toward teacher wages.

Surrounding school districts and their teachers have settled, giving double-digit pay raises to educators.

The Auburn School District and the Auburn Education Association this week agreed on a two-year teacher contract that calls for salary increases of 11 percent in the first year and 1.9 percent in the second year.

Other districts still are negotiating.

Money matters

KEA members adamantly have said that the new state money is intended for teacher salaries, not to bail out the district’s financial problems.

The Kent School District, which is trying to recover from a budget deficit, is expected to receive approximately $74 million for K-12 educator salaries.

The school board approved a 2018-19 budget during a special session and public hearing continuation at district headquarters last Friday night. According to the school district, the hearing was added to ensure that Kent schools could start on time and that the school board could adopt a budget before the state-mandated deadline of Friday, Aug. 31.

Despite teachers and staff urging school district leaders to adjust the budget to allow for improved salaries, the board passed the same budget it turned down just two nights earlier at its regular meeting.

The school board approved a budget that reflects a $33 million “rainy day,” projected ending general fund balance, but affords no more than the district’s offer of a 3.1 percent, cost-of-living bump to teachers.

Ben Rarick, executive director of budget and finance for the school district, said the $33 million is for the long-term fiscal sustainability of the district’s financial situation, given that local revenue will be decreasing and additional costs will occur in the future. The budget was made in concert with the district’s four-year financial projection forecast as required by state law.

Teachers said that additional state money needs to go to salaries, keeping the district competitive with others that offer better pay. Approximately 300 teachers have left the district since April 15, according to the union, and more will follow if the district does not support its educators.

Kent paraeducators seek support in bid for better pay

The Kent Association of Paraeducators (KAP) encouraged members who are seeking better pay to gather for the union’s next bargaining session Sept. 5 at the Kent School District Office, 12033 SE 256th St.

The KAP, which represents between 500 and 600 members, are in talks with the Kent School District over improved salaries.

“We are asking that everyone wears red to show support,” said Karen Flick, KAP president. “We are also asking that they email (Superintendent Calvin Watts) and the board, saying that paras deserve a fair and competitive wage.”

Kent paraeducators are overlooked, union members said.

At the last bargaining session – before the Kent Education Association (KEA) settled its dispute over pay – the school district offered paras a 3.1 percent, cost-of-living increase, Flick said.

Compared to salaries for paraeducators working in surrounding districts, Kent paras earn 7 percent less than the average starting wage and 10.3 percent less than the ending average wage, according to Flick.

All paras are back at work, Flick said. ESPs (Educational Support Professionals) throughout the state have a no-strike clause in their contracts.

“We are discussing our options,” Flick added. “We really hope that teacher and community involvement can help put pressure on the district. We have had way too many excellent paras resign because of our low pay, and it’s hurting students in the long run.”

The pay dispute centered on new state money the school district received from the McCleary Supreme Court settlement, guaranteeing about $1 billion toward teacher wages.

Editor’s Note: The above story was printed prior to the bargaining session Sept. 5.

Updates from that session will be updated on the Reporter’s website at rentonreporter.com or at kentreporter.com.

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