Kent School Board staying updated on strike status

Members of the Kent School Board have been staying updated on the negotiations between the district and the Kent Education Association through phone calls with Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas and near-daily meetings in executive session.

Board members said the negotiations have been a difficult process, but are remaining positive that an agreement can be reached and both sides can come together after what has been a polarizing summer.

“I think both sides need to make a more conscious effort to improve our communication and our understanding of each other and really need to start moving toward a real team atmosphere,” said Board President Jim Berrios.

Berrios said one of the assumptions the board is fighting against is that they have not been involved and/or do not understand the issues, but Berrios said the board has been involved and engaged with the issues.

“To the extent that we're ignoring them is not true,” Berrios said of KEA issues and concerns, adding that the board and the district are making an attempt to improve conditions, given the concerns raised by the union.

Board Vice President Chris Davies said he is hoping for a fair deal that takes care of teachers and that both sides can work together to rally the “pent-up energy” to work together and work for “real change” in Olympia and Washington, D.C., regarding school funding.

“The real issues is much bigger than our district - they're at the state and federal level,” he said.

Board member Bill Boyce said the board's goal is to get students back in school as soon as possible.

“They need to be in school, but at the same time we need to work hard on both sides to get a contract,” he said.

Boyce also said that biggest issues the board is dealing with are funding levels from the state.

All three board members said they have been receiving a lot of e-mails and calls from the public regarding the strike, with picketers even showing up outside Berrios' home and work place.

Berrios and Vargas met with members of the KEA and parents during an informal meeting Friday that began after Berrios invited some of the picketers in to talk.

Davies said one of the more difficult aspects of this strike is the emotions it evokes in the public, and he urged parents and community members to not take sides, but simply get all the facts in the negotiations.

“Get educated and don't get caught in the hearsay,” he said.

All three worried about linger effects of the strike, but said they the Kent community would be able to come together and move forward once an agreement was in place.

“Absolutely we can,” Berrios said.

Calls for comment to board members Sandy Collins and Debbie Straus were not returned by press time.

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