The Kent teachers’ strike will enter its third day on Monday, Aug. 29 as contract talks between the union and the Kent School District appear to remain far apart.
“All schools will remain closed Monday,” the school district posted Sunday on its website. “Kent School District is committed to welcoming our students back to school for the 2022-2023 school year. As part of our commitment, KSD continued bargaining with KEA (Kent Education Association) over the weekend.”
High school sports programs are continuing as scheduled, according to the district statement. All elementary and middle school athletics and activities will be postponed until further notice. School had been scheduled to start on Aug. 25.
“We are eager for students to return to school, and understand the burden placed on families if schools remain closed,” according to the district. “We continue to bargain with the Kent Education Association. Updates will continue to be posted on school and district websites.”
A district update on Saturday, Aug. 27, however, seemed to widen the gap between the teachers’ union and district negotiators.
“On Saturday, Aug. 20, KSD proposed a first year 6.3% salary increase,” according to the district statement on Aug. 27. “This includes the full 5.5% state COLA, plus an additional increase of 0.8%. The district is also offering every KEA member a $1,000 stipend in addition to the base salary percent increase.”
• For 2022-23, KEA members on step one of the KEA salary schedule would earn $64,849.
• Beginning members with a master’s degree would earn $77,220.
• The final step of the salary schedule would be $124,647.
• In 2022-23 of the KSD proposal, 75% of KEA members will make $77,220 or more.
Since the 2017-18 school year, KEA salaries have increased approximately 31%, according to the district statement.
The KEA had a quick response Aug. 27 on its Facebook page.
“We are aware that KSD publicly posted their salary proposal on their website today,” according to the KEA. “However, they failed to mention everything else they are proposing to take away.
“While KSD focuses on false information around dollars, KEA continues to focus on class size, caseload and mental health while trying to provide a competitive salary so we can retain and maintain the best educators out there.
“This is yet another tactic by KSD to break the strike.”
The district’s statement put out by Superintendent Israel Vela outraged Jennifer Grajewski, an award-winning drama teacher at Kentridge High School.
“The email sent by Dr. Vela this morning was a tactic to break the union and turn the public against teachers,” said Grajewski in a Facebook post. “The offer mentioned had been offered before school started and was rejected due to the fact that so many issues were not addressed around mental health, class load, hiring of all positions, increased sub pay and training and much more. Not to mention keep the right to file a grievance in our contract.”
Grajewski received an Outstanding Educator award in June at the 20th annual The 5th Avenue Theatre Awards honoring high school musicals for her 40 years of teaching and directing.
“There is no tentative agreement, it was rejected for good reason,” Grawjewski said. “This isn’t about salaries, though that is part of it. We cannot be ‘bought’ not to mention the fact they are only giving us 0.8% since the state gave them 5.5% to give us. The 31% is deceiving too since we weren’t paid anything for years and years and then the McCleary act had to ‘catch us up’ somewhat, again that was not money the district gave us. Other districts around us are getting 9% to 14%. Stipends are a one-time thing and do not help long-term.”
Grawjewski said the strike will continue.
“We will back on the picket line Monday morning,” she said. “Your children will not be going back to school early this week and the district will continue to try and give you misinformation and deceive you. You must stand up for your children. If this continues, so many teachers will leave and your children will be in trouble, not to talk about our home values with a poorly rated school district.”
In addition to the strike, the KEA last week issued a no confidence vote in Vela and the Kent School Board. A local group also has said last week it will start the process to recall the school board members.
A school district spokesperson has not responded to specific questions from the Kent Reporter about the contract dispute except to refer the newspaper to the district’s website postings.