Kent teachers voted no confidence in Kent School Superintendent Israel Vela and the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent teachers voted no confidence in Kent School Superintendent Israel Vela and the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School District administration aiming for start of school Aug. 25

But district statement says strike vote by teachers could delay opening day

The Kent School District posted a message on its website Tuesday, Aug. 23 that “What we know is best for students is for school to begin on time and we are working toward this goal.”

The district also stated that the start of school on Thursday, Aug. 25 could be delayed due to a potential strike by teachers. The teachers’ union voted Monday night to strike Thursday if no contract agreement is reached with district negotiators.

“Over the summer, we have been working with our labor partners, Kent Education Association (KEA), on a contract that supports both educators and students to fulfill our mission of successfully preparing all students for their futures, while being regionally competitive and remaining fiscally responsible,” according to a district statement. “Kent School District’s proposal prior to the recent KEA membership meeting on Aug. 22 offered similar increases to our neighboring and regional districts who have recently completed their bargaining processes and keeps teacher salaries competitive.”

District negotiators and union representatives began meeting in July but have yet to reach agreement on a new contract. The union claims salaries are not competitive with nearby districts.

“We are beginning mediation facilitated by the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission with the goal of reaching an agreement and starting school on time,” according to the district. “Bringing in a mediator is a common practice during this process. It has been reported that the Kent Education Association has authorized a strike if an agreement is not reached Wednesday, Aug. 24, which would delay the start of school.”

The district said in its statement it recognizes the need to provide families with time to plan for any alternate childcare solutions beginning with the first day of school, Aug. 25, if it becomes necessary.

“Updates on school starting will be posted on school and the district websites including the KSD (Kent School District) home page,” according to the statement. “In the event the start of school is delayed, we will use multiple modes of communication to alert families of the closure including voicemail, emails, social media including district Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and both school and district websites.

“We respect our educators, and we believe that we share the same vision for teaching and learning with our labor partners and we look forward to seeing students, families, and staff on the first day of school.”

The district’s communications staff did not respond to a Kent Reporter request for comment about a no confidence vote by the union in Superintendent Israel Vela and the Kent School Board. Teachers supported that motion after they agreed to strike.

Board president responds

Kent School Board President Leslie Hamada had the following reaction to the two votes by the union.

“As a community member it deeply saddens me,” she said in an Aug. 22 email when asked about the strike vote. “As a board director and president I hope an agreement is reached soon. All board directors value all our educators highly.”

Hamada disagreed with the no confidence vote.

“Personally, it hurts to see a no confidence vote on the board and superintendent,” Hamada said. “Personally, I am laser focused on the kids and all our staff as I have been from day one.”

Vela was the interim superintendent during the 2021-2022 school year. The board hired him as superintendent earlier this summer at a base salary of $355,000 per year as part of a three-year contract. That pay is a 27% increase ($75,500) from the $279,500 per year previous Superintendent Calvin Watts made in 2021 prior to leaving to become superintendent of the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia (for a base salary of $380,972). Kent hired Watts in 2015 at $250,000 per year.

The school board has a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, at the Kent School District Administration Center, 12033 SE 256th St. Many teachers are expected to attend the meeting in an effort to get the board to support them in reaching a contract agreement. The board also is scheduled to vote on the 2022-2023 school district budget.

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