While Kent teachers settled and secured better paydays with the school district, the fight goes on for paraeducators and classified staff.
The Kent Association of Paraeducators (KAP), which represents between 500 and 600 members, remains in talks with the Kent School District over improved salaries. Sides were at the bargaining table Wednesday at the Kent School District Office.
“We met and while we have not yet come to an agreement, we are working hard to get a fair wage,” said Karen Flick, KAP president. “It’s tough with the district being in such bad financial shape, but we are not giving up.”
Kent paraeducators are underpaid and overlooked, union members said.
“We are also asking (members and supporters) that they email (Superintendent Calvin Watts) and the board, saying that paras deserve a fair and competitive wage,” Flick added.
So far, the school district has 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.”
Kent teachers and the school district reached a late-hour contract agreement on 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.
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.
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.
At an Aug. 22 para rally outside school district headquarters, Washington Education Association vice president Stephen Miller told the crowd that $9 million in new state money is available for increasing para salaries. He encouraged paras to keep up the good fight.
“The only real 3.1 percent cap is the one sitting on my head,” Miller told sign-waving KAP members.