Kent School Board President Meghin Margel and Superintendent Israel Vela. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School Board President Meghin Margel and Superintendent Israel Vela. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Kent School District

Kent School District labor groups want resignations of leaders

Call for Superintendent Israel Vela and Board President Meghin Margel to quit

The leaders of seven Kent School District labor groups, including the teachers union, want Superintendent Israel Vela and School Board President Meghin Margel to resign.

Recently formed as the Kent Labor Alliance, the group submitted a letter to the district and board and spoke at the May 22 Kent School Board meeting asking for Vela and Margel to voluntarily resign.

“The leadership of Kent Labor Alliance composed this letter to express our dissatisfaction with the current executive leadership and the Kent School District board members,” said Layla Jones, vice president of the Kent Education Association (KEA, teachers union), at the board meeting. “This letter is an expression of our vote of no confidence in Superintendent Israel Vela and School Board President Meghin Margel in their ability to function in leadership roles in the district.

“We understand the severity of this decision and did not arrive at it without consideration.”

The group then named nine reasons for asking for the resignation.

The first one lists the three consecutive levy/bond measure failures for capital projects and technology. Voters rejected a $495 million bond in April 2023 to upgrade schools with 48% in favor while 60% approval was needed because it was a bond measure.

Voters also turned down Capital Projects and Technology replacement levy measures in November 2023 and April 2024. The measures would have supported health and safety upgrades, facility equipment replacements and improvement in technology education.

“Instead of recognizing the lack of trust from the community, district leadership blamed voter apathy and taxation fatigue,” according to the Labor Alliance.

The group also opposed the board’s controversial 3-2 passage of Resolution 1669 in March to keep Board member Donald Cook out of all labor contract negotiations with the district. Cook and Andy Song voted against the measure.

The Labor Alliance said the vote was taken before the district talked to all labor groups and those staff talked to favored Cook’s involvement as long as he recused himself from the teachers union contract talks because his wife teaches in the district. Cook already had promised to step aside from any role in teacher contracts.

Instead, the board “silenced Cook,” according to the labor group.

Other issues included replacing union employees with nonrepresented employees and disregarding concerns raised by community members.

Other issues with Vela include a lack of support for student behavior with mental health assistance to help stop students from acting out; collective bargaining agreements not recognized unless it’s in the district’s interest and not the labor groups; unfilled positions in labor groups resulting in increased workload; lack of supplies and working equipment, such as refrigeration, heating and plumbing; lack of listening to ideas from the unions and simply looking at reduced costs.

Neither Vela nor Margel replied to emails from the Kent News for a response to the call for their resignations.

The board named Vela superintendent in 2022 after he served one year as interim superintendent to replace Calvin Watts, who took a superintendent’s job in Georgia. Vela previously worked (since 2016) as the district’s chief school operations and academic support officer.

The board appointed Margel in September 2022 to replace Michele Bettinger, who resigned. Voters elected Margel in November 2023 to a four-year term.

Jones said in a May 25 email that the Kent Labor Alliance just recently formed but had been under consideration for longer.

“Having our labor leaders come together has been something that has come up in passing in the past couple years,” Jones said. “When Resolution 1669 was coming up at the school board meetings (late February and early March) it became more pressing to meet with each other.

“We have had issues with the district and wanted to see if those sorts of things were happening to the labor groups across the board.”

The members of the group include representative from:

• American Federation of Teachers Union of Washington maintenance and custodial staff

• American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, information technology employees

• Kent Association of Paraeducators

• Kent Association of Educational Office Professionals

• Kent Education Association, teachers union

• Kent School Food Service Association

• Teamsters Local Union 763 (bus drivers)

Jones said the Kent Principals Association was not asked to join the group.

“They are really management in our buildings and work sites and sit on the other side of the table in some of our bargains,” Jones said.

As far as next steps if Vela and Margel do not resign, Jones said that will be determined.

“We plan to keep meeting and see how things progress,” she said.

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