COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent Education Association

COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent Education Association

Day 6 of Kent teachers’ strike: No school on Thursday, Sept. 1

Residents criticize school district over lack of contract agreement; teachers’ union disputes district class size claims

As the teachers’ strike enters its sixth day on Thursday, Sept. 1, their union leaders and local residents continue to show their frustration with the lack of a contract agreement or even any movement with the Kent School District negotiators.

There has been 10 days of little to no movement from the district, a Kent Education Association (KEA, teachers’ union) spokesperson said Wednesday evening, Aug. 31. The spokesperson also confirmed bargaining between the two sides has been done virtually through a state Public Employment Relations Commission mediator.

Residents continue to post on the Kent School District Facebook page how fed up they are with the district’s inability to reach a contract agreement with striking teachers.

A district post Wednesday, Aug. 30 said there would be no school on Thursday, Sept. 1 due to the strike. It will be the sixth day of the strike and no school since the walkout began on Aug. 25, the scheduled first day of school.

“Kent School District and the Kent Education Association (KEA) are bargaining every day,” according to the district. “Our shared goal is to open schools and welcome our students.”

As in previous days, it didn’t take long for people to start posting comments on the district’s latest statement.

“KSD – the community is still behind the teachers and staff,” said Keayleen Carosino. “It’s time to come to the bargaining table and give the teachers what they need to educate our children. We’ll wait. Stand strong KEA.”

Many residents are upset with the district’s post on Tuesday and its claims about small class sizes and how much mental health support it provides students. A weekend post about salaries also upset residents.

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 teachers and other positions.

“No school, no surprise,” Lori Monahan said. “We support our teachers! Stop digging a deeper hole on social media and get busy with proper bargaining already. You’re making a mockery of our district.”

Debbie Ferry Matthes offered a solution.

“My grandma would lock them all in a room and tell them they couldn’t come out until you made up or got things resolved,” Ferry Matthes said.

People are ready for a settlement that will open 42 schools and academies in the district with about 24,000 students and 2,000 teachers.

“KSD needs to bargain,” Vanessa Thomas Hernandez said. “What they are doing is trying to wait this out until parents turn on teachers and force them back out of guilt. Email the board and (Superintendent Israel) Vela. This is unacceptable.”

The comments so far overwhelmingly support the teachers. In fact, none of the first 50 or so comments posted early Wednesday evening supported the district leaders.

“Public officials paid with taxpayer dollars continue to fail the children they’re supposed to be educating and help thrive,” said Michael Pires. “Yet another failure of this school district. We stand behind our teachers who are underpaid and understaffed. They deserve more as do our kids. Stay strong KEA. Don’t give into mediocre offerings from KSD. The community stands with you.”

Union responds to district claims

KEA leaders disputed the information the district posted on its website Aug. 30 about class sizes. The district claimed in its report that average class sizes are well below the limits in the current KEA contract.

“Parents know that these numbers are not the reality in classrooms,” said KEA Vice President Layla Jones in an Aug. 31 email. “They know when they have to send in 26 cupcakes for their child’s class, because cupcakes come in a 12 pack and they have to buy three.”

KEA President Tim Martin also disputed the numbers.

“Your kid is in a class that’s larger than KSD’s numbers show,” Martin said. “That’s because KSD’s figures are based on what they report to the state. Those figures include more than just your child’s primary teacher(s). They also include music, band, physical education, and substitute teachers. They include teachers who contract with the district but are not district employees.

“They also include other specialists in special programs the district provides. They include librarians. They also include a portion of special education teachers who assist with students with special needs and often have significantly smaller classes because of the needs of their students.”

High school games go on

The district posted a reminder that high school sports programs are continuing as scheduled, with transportation provided for away games. All elementary and middle school athletics and activities are postponed until further notice.

Kentwood, Kentridge, Kentlake and Kent-Meridian high school open the 2022 football season this weekend.

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