Kent teachers approve two-year contract with district; pay to remain same as last year

The decision by the Kent School District that teachers will not have to take a pay cut this year despite the state's 1.9 percent reduction in teacher salaries played a huge role in the agreement on a new two-year contract between the district and the teachers union.

Kent teachers check in before entering the Kentwood gym Tuesday to discuss and vote on a new contract. Union members voted 97 percent in favor of a new two-year contract.

Kent teachers check in before entering the Kentwood gym Tuesday to discuss and vote on a new contract. Union members voted 97 percent in favor of a new two-year contract.

The decision by the Kent School District that teachers will not have to take a pay cut this year despite the state’s 1.9 percent reduction in teacher salaries played a huge role in the agreement on a new two-year contract between the district and the teachers union.

District officials decided to absorb the $1.8 million cut in state funds for teacher pay when cuts to the district in other state funding came in about $2 million less than the district originally forecasted before the Legislation adopted the state’s two-year budget, said district spokesman Chris Loftis.

“We are not passing along that (1.9 percent salary) cut by the state,” Loftis said.

While the state cut teacher pay to districts, each district negotiates its own contracts with teachers.

The decision by the district to keep pay the same helped lead to a 97 percent vote in favor of the new contract by Kent Education Association members at a meeting Tuesday night at Kentwood High School in Covington.

“That’s huge,” said Connie Compton, president of the KEA that represents more than 1,700 members. “Seattle teachers are taking a furlough day (Wednesday, Aug. 31) which means one day less of pay. Other districts have chosen not to pay (to cover the 1.9 percent cut). Many are paying like Kent. It’s good to have that when data shows we receive some of the lowest pay in the region.”

School starts Thursday, Sept. 1 in Kent for more than 26,000 students at four high schools, six middle schools, 28 elementary schools and two academies.

The Kent School Board made $17 million in cuts last spring to the 2011-12 budget based on a reduction of federal and state funding. The board approved a budget Aug. 24 for 2011-12 of $308 million. The board will vote to adopt the new contract with the union on Sept. 14.

“We have $15 million less in the budget than last year and that was (forecasted to be) $17 million initially,” Loftis said. “That gave us some wiggle room and discretion.”

Rather than restoring previous cuts, the district decided to make sure teachers received the same pay this year as last year.

“We are very pleased with the agreement and the 1.9 percent,” Compton said. “The district really came through in that area.”

Loftis said the district preferred to avoid a cut in teacher pay.

“We want to remain competitive in the market,” Loftis said. “Asking a workforce to do more with less and then hit them with a pay cut would be a difficult position to take.”

Another change in the contract will allow elementary teachers to receive nine late-arrival days by students, the same as secondary teachers, in order to have more preparation time. Elementary teachers received six late-arrival days under the previous contract.

Other changes allow school psychologists more flexibility in their schedules as far as whether they put in 10 extra days at the beginning of the school year or partway through the year. Nurses were given more control over their time to prepare health care plans required by the state for students with special needs. The district employs about 40 psychologists and nurses.

“We feel like we came to an agreement that will really support teachers and show respect for all teachers and educators as professionals,” Compton said.

Compton said the union had hoped to mitigate the workload on teachers but were unable to reach agreement on that issue.

Overall, however, negotiations went well, especially compared to two years ago when a teacher strike after talks broke down delayed the start of school by about three weeks before a settlement was reached on a two-year contract.

“I’ve spent eight years on the bargaining team and this was a very respective session,” said Compton who became union president in July. “It was a positive step for the association and the district as far as working together to solve problems.”


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