It's Monday: No new schools contract yet

From left

From left

The scheduled first day of school in Kent came and went Monday with still no contract agreement between the district and the striking Kent Education Association.

Negotiators from both sides met with the state-appointed mediator Saturday and Sunday to work toward reaching a settlement and getting schools back open, but the two sides still appear to be far apart.

“The district is still refusing to deal with the main issues,” KEA spokesman Dale Folkerts said Monday, citing time and workload.

The major sticking point on the union side appears to be class size, with the union requesting a “hard cap” on the number of students in any class.

“They don't want to put a hard cap on class sizes,” Folkerts said. “What's overcrowded if there's no number that says it's overcrowded?”

The latest proposal from the union, dated Aug. 29, sets the limits at 24 students for kindergarten through grade three and 29 students for grades four though six. The union wants middle school teachers to be capped at 145 students per day (average of 29 per period) while high school teachers would be capped at 155 per day (average of 31 per period).

The union proposal, dated Aug. 30, also states that should those numbers be exceeded, the district will either add classes, reassign students to different rooms or schools, or provide a payment of $2 per student per day over the limit.

Caseload caps for special-education teachers also is included.

“We're trying to find a creative solution but the district doesn't want to solve the problem,” Folkerts said.

The district has proposed additional instructional support for fifth- and sixth-grade teachers beginning at the 29th student instead of the 32nd, where it is now. They're also proposing the creation of a committee to study the issue, which communications director Becky Hanks called “expensive and complex.”

“The challenge in the Kent School District is on multiple levels: one is funding; two is facilities,” she said, adding the district last year received an audit finding about using too many portable classrooms.

The committee to look at class size would include administration, teachers and community stakeholders, such as members of the citizens' budget review committee.

“It's not just a matter of ‘let's pull two kids from every class,'” she added.

Hanks also disputed the union statement that the district is not addressing their concerns. She cited three district proposals to address meetings - a top concern among the union - as evidence they are addressing time.

The district has proposed reducing the number of meetings at the middle school level from three 25-minute meetings to one 50-minute meeting, a 25-minute difference each week. Hanks said the district also has proposed reducing the number of staff-training sessions and has proposed adding two early-dismissal/late-arrival days to allow for teacher collaboration.

Both sides said they would continue to negotiate, but neither offered an estimate as to when the strike would end. Negotiations between the two sides, assisted by a state mediator, are expected to continue daily, at a local hotel.

Until the two sides reach an agreement, schools in the Kent district will remain closed.

Visit kentnews.us for the latest updates on the strike. For more information on the proposals from either side, visit www.kentschools.org (KEA) or www.kentschooldistrict.org (district site).


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