It doesn’t appear the Kent School District and striking teachers’ union are any closer to a contract agreement.
The Kent School Board on Monday night turned down a staff recommendation to file a lawsuit in an effort to order striking teachers back to work. The board emphasized that both sides need to compromise and reach a settlement. That sent both sides back to the bargaining table on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
But the district announced Tuesday evening that there would be no school on Wednesday, Aug. 31. It will be the fifth day of the strike that has canceled classes at 42 schools and academies that have about 24,000 students and 2,000 teachers.
“We understand the difficulties this strike/work stoppage is causing for our families,” according to the district statement. “We are eager for students to return to school and continue to bargain with the Kent Education Association (KEA) every day, all day for as long as it takes to reach an agreement. It is more important than ever that our children return to school with supports and regular operations.”
The district started a page on the district’s website called Bargaining/work stoppage information, which included the following:
The Kent School District says it is hiring more teaching staff despite a declining enrollment. The district reports average class sizes are well below the limits in the current KEA contract.
• Grades K-3 Class Size
KEA contract: 26 students or less
KSD average: 18 students
• Grades 4-6 Class Size
KEA contract: 29 students or less
KSD average: 21 students
• Grades 7-8 Class Size
KEA contract: 31 students or less
KSD average: 23 students
• Grades 9-12 Class Size
KEA contract: 33 students or less
KSD average: 25 students
Mental health services, supports
Kent School District says it has substantially increased mental and social-emotional health supports for students.
• KSD has committed an additional $2.5 million dollars in mental and social-emotional health for students for the 2022-2023 school year by contracting with outside agencies.
• The state does not provide school districts with specific funds to provide intensive mental health services to students because it is not part of basic education funding. Contracts for mental health services are funded from a variety of sources including grants, state categorical funds, ESSER (federal) funding, and/or local levy dollars.
• School counselors, social workers and nurses do an amazing job of supporting students’ social emotional needs, however they are not licensed to perform intensive mental health services.
• In February 2022, KSD used ESSER funds to pilot teletherapy services in response to the mental health care shortage and the difficulty of filling mental health vacancies.
• Many families seek mental health services for their children independent of the school district. KSD recognizes the need for mental health services and has invested in community partnerships to provide these services to our students.
• In-person mental health counseling services have been allocated to all secondary schools for the 2022-23 school year.
• All schools are able to refer families to Washington Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens (seattlechildrens.org). This service helps families navigate insurance and find support to meet their child’s treatment needs.
• Currently, the district employs approximately 16 more nurses than funded by the state.
Union response to district post
The Kent Reporter reached out Tuesday night to the KEA for comment but did not yet receive a response to the district post.
This marks the second time since the strike began that district communications staff has posted specific details about the contract. On Sunday, Aug. 28, the district released salary information for teachers.
The union has emphasized the primary issues as pay increases, more mental health support for students, smaller class size and lower caseloads for special ed and other positions.
Boyce issues statement about dispute
Kent City Councilmember Bill Boyce, who also is a State Senate candidate and a former Kent School Board member, issued a statement Tuesday about the contract dispute between the school district and the teachers’ union.
“As a former school board president, I know first hand how difficult it can be to work through negotiations,” Boyce said. “It takes a lot of patience from both parties and a willingness to compromise. More than anything, it requires we remember it is the students who are the priority.
“Over the last two years, teachers, parents, and students have been put through the wringer. Teachers have had to develop an entirely new way of teaching, while parents and students have had to adjust to a new way of learning and communicating. It has been a challenge for everyone.
“With that being said we need to find a way to allow students to be in school and teachers to feel supported. I encourage the union and the school district to burn the midnight oil in their negotiations and come to a equitable agreement. Kids want to be in school, teachers want to be in classrooms, and parents want a return to stability that has been missing for two years.”