Maureen DeBoo-Cahoon, on the magaphone, leads members of the Kent Association of Paraeducators at a rally outside school district offices Wednesday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Maureen DeBoo-Cahoon, on the magaphone, leads members of the Kent Association of Paraeducators at a rally outside school district offices Wednesday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Kent School Board adopts budget; disappointed, angry teachers demand better wages

Decision ensures district financial plan meets state’s Aug. 31 deadline, but the likelihood of a strike looms

The Kent School Board approved a 2018-19 budget during a special session and hearing continuation at district headquarters Friday night.

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 Friday 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. Classes officially begin Thursday, Aug. 30.

Melissa Laramie, director of Communications and Public Affairs for the school district, issued the following statement Saturday:

“On Friday, August 24, 2018 the KSD School Board adopted the proposed 2018-19 budget as it was presented at the August 22, 2018 board meeting. After the August 22 board meeting, the board met again with the KSD Budget and Finance team, Superintendent and district leadership to review the 2018-19 proposed budget. If the Kent School Board had not adopted a budget by the state deadline of August 31, school would not be able to start on time. The first day of school in KSD for students in grades 1-12 is Thursday, August 30, and the first day of school for kindergarten students is Wednesday, September 5.”

Teachers, staff and parents met the budget outcome with disappointment, frustration and anger. They hope both sides can still negotiate a late-hour deal. Talks have necessitated mediation.

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.

Kent teachers are demanding better pay, but the latest negotiations with a mediator have gone nowhere, according to leaders of the Kent Education Association (KEA), the union representing about 1,500 district teachers.

Teachers voted Aug. 14 to authorize a strike if the KEA’s bargaining team and school district cannot come to a tentative agreement on a new teacher salary schedule by Wednesday, Aug. 29.

KEA members plan to meet Monday.

Kent is one of the many statewide districts renegotiating teacher salaries after the recent McCleary Supreme Court ruling guaranteed about $1 billion toward teacher wages. KEA members say that money is intended for teacher salaries, not 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 district said monies need to be set aside to cover the future, uncertain financial health of local classrooms.

In his presentation at Wednesday’s board meeting, Ben Rarick, executive director of budget and finance for the school district, said the 2018-19 budget represents a transition for the school district that “pivots away from any structural deficits and a pivot toward long-term financial stability and sustainability, so we don’t repeat the year that we just went through and the challenges our deficit created.”

Rarick said the projected ending general fund balance of $33 million is for 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 is made in concert with the district’s four-year financial projection forecast as required by state law.

Teachers say 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.

Rally in red

Red-clad paraeducators and staff rallied outside the district office Wednesday. The KEA joined the Kent Association of Paraeducators (KAP), which represents between 500 and 600 members.

“I’ve been here 27 years and I have never seen anything like this,” KEA President Christine Padilla told the throng at the rally Wednesday. “I speak with district administrators making over $200,000 a year. They put us in this mess and yet they want to deny us (a living wage).

“We have teachers who can’t afford gas to come to work,” Padilla added. “I find that despicable, shameful.”

Kent paraeducators are underpaid and overlooked, many KAP members 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 Karen Flick, KAP president.

“We used to have an excellent reputation and because of all the mismanagement, Kent’s lost respect,” said Flick, who is entering her 29th year as a para in the school district. “There’s a bad taste in people’s mouths, and it’s going to be that way for a really long time. A way to get rid of that bad taste is to start treating their employees fair and give a fair wage.”

While paraeducators work part-time, the low wages are not enough to support those paras who may be single parents, Flick added. Many paras struggle to make ends meet, and many work a second job.

“If I wanted to apply for food stamps, I would qualify, and I haven’t done that because I get by,” Flick said. “I’m a really good budgeter. I have to be.”

Teachers and paraeducators rally outside Kent School District headquarters. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Teachers and paraeducators rally outside Kent School District headquarters. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

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