Kent School District Superintendent Israel Vela. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School District Superintendent Israel Vela. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School Board to consider lawsuit to end teachers’ strike

If board approves staff recommendation Monday night, Aug. 29, a judge could rule strike illegal

The Kent School Board will consider a resolution at 6:30 Monday night to approve a district staff recommendation to file a lawsuit against the teachers’ union to seek a ruling by a judge to order striking teachers back to work.

The recommendation by Superintendent Israel Vela and his administration escalated tensions between the Kent School District and Kent Education Association (KEA, teachers’ union) as negotiators for the two sides attempt to reach an agreement on a new contract.

The strike entered its third day on Monday.

Here’s what the board will consider at its special meeting at the boardroom of the Administration Center, 12033 SE 256th St.:

“KEA members failed to show to work as scheduled on Aug. 25 and instead orchestrated an unlawful strike,” according to district staff. “KEA is therefore in breach of contract. The continued breach will cause immediate invasion of the rights held by the district and will result in actual and substantial injury to the district, its students, and community in the absence of an injunction ordering KEA members back to work.

“The strike continues unabated despite good faith proposals from the district. For example, on Aug. 20, the district offered a 6.3% wage increase in year one, cost of living adjustments for two successive years, and $2,500 in stipends.

“Staff recommends passing Resolution No. 1630 authorizing, among other things, a lawsuit against the KEA to obtain an order directing KEA members back to work, setting appropriate fines against the KEA and its leadership for non-compliance with any such order, and requesting attorneys’ fees, costs, and any other such relief as the court deems just and equitable.”

The KEA pointed out in response to an earlier statement by Vela that the district offer addresses pay but not two other primary issues brought up by the union for increased mental health options for students and smaller class sizes and caseloads for teachers.

In response to the board meeting Monday night, the KEA plans a “Solidarity Forever” rally at 5 tonight at the Administration Center.

“We need to show up in force tonight at the district office as they go into exec (executive) session and then the school board meeting,” according to a KEA statement. “They will be deciding whether to file KSD’s injunction against KEA. Tell your friends, family and community supporters we need them too!”

The board will meet in executive session at 5:30 p.m. to discuss with legal counsel potential litigation and the legal or financial risks of course of action, according to board documents. The board will then have its special meeting, with no public comment allowed, to seek injunctive relief against the KEA.

The board currently has four members, President Leslie Hamada, Joe Bento, Tim Clark and Awale Farah. A fifth position remains vacant until the board selects a replacement from among four finalists.

Bento is a Renton High School teacher and has showed up to talk with teachers on the picket lines, according to union and teacher reports.

Clark crossed the picket line on Friday, Aug. 26 at Mill Creek Middle School to meet with the school principal inside, according to teacher reports and their video coverage. Clark said on camera that he could agree to disagree with the striking teachers.

Clark is a retired Kent School District teacher. He taught at Kentridge High School. He also is a former Kent City Council member and previously was on the school board from 2010 to 2013.

Hamada and Farah reportedly have not been seen near picket lines.

District staff estimated the legal costs at $50,ooo, but said the costs will be offset by the avoidance of harm caused by KEA’s intentional breach of contract, according to district documents. Staff reccomends the hiring of Seattle-based Porter Foster Rorick, a select group of lawyers dedicated to the practice of school law, according to its website.

Strike in 2009

The district filed a similar motion in 2009 to end a teachers’s strike and get the teachers back to work. King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas agreed with the district, declared the strike illegal and ordered teachers back to work. Teachers, however, voted to defy the order and kept striking, according to 2009 Kent Reporter articles.

Then-Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas held a press conference to announce the district would seek a court injunction.

When teachers kept on striking, Darvas ruled the teachers must return to work or start facing fines. The union would be fined $1,500 per day and teachers $200 per day. Teachers approved a new contract with the district the day the fines would have started. The strike lasted nearly three weeks as it began Aug. 26, 2009 and ended Sept. 14, 2009.

An union leader at the time said teachers didn’t get everything they wanted in the contract, but it was a good start.

Teachers had not struck in Kent since 2009 until they walked out Aug. 25.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the estimated cost of the lawsuit and the law firm that staff wants to hire.

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