Kent school district turns down union contract proposal: Read proposal

Teachers and union officials were stunned Friday when the Kent School District rejected the union's latest contract offer, one the union said had a total cost of $277,000 less than the district's most recent proposal.

But officials for the Kent School District said that after crunching the numbers, the union “seriously under-calculated” the costs involved.

“They costed out class-size relief based on averages, not the actual numbers we have,” Communication Director Becky Hanks said Friday. “It's millions of dollars more, literally.”

At issue was a proposal delivered by KEA negotiators at 8 a.m. Thursday. The proposal, which states it would withdrawn if not accepted in its entirety by noon that day, included new proposals the union said were designed to meet KEA concerns and KSD fiscal constraints, all while using the district's numbers.

But according to the district, the union used a class-size average to determine costs, which they reached by taking the total number of students districtwide in any grade level and dividing it by the proposed class-size number.

To reach their numbers, Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Instruction Merri Rieger said the district went school by school and classroom by classroom to determine the effects of the proposal.

“If we use an average, it's not accurate data to see what the cost would be,” Rieger said. “We looked at it classroom by classroom, school by school.”

Rieger said the district factored in the extra costs of paraeducators and aides, which would be activated by a trigger number as well as the cost of new teachers if the “hard cap” proposed by the union were tripped.

She also said the district looked at the caseload numbers regarding specialists such as speech and occupational therapists and counselors, going person by person to look at the caseloads.

The total cost, she said was “millions of dollars” more than projected by the KEA.

KEA President Lisa Brackin Johnson said the union was surprised when the district declined the proposal.

“We're not sure why because we used their numbers,” she said.

Brackin Johnson said the district has been using the class-size average in bargaining all along.

“To say it is disingenuous for KEA to talk about averages seems a little backward to me,” she said. “What they are admitting, then, is they have overcrowded classrooms.”

Another disagreement between the two camps dealt with a commitment stipend for first-year teachers.

In previous negotiations, the district offered a $2,000 commitment stipend for first year teachers who agreed to return the following fall. Also included was a $1,000 increase to the stipend at all other levels of the pay scale.

First-year teachers were not offered a stipend in the current contract and the district said it made that offer as a way to acknowledge the the lower salary and attempt to retain young teachers.

In the most recent proposal, the KEA pulled the first-year stipend as a way to help balance the class-size proposal. The $1,000 increase at other levels remained.

Brackin Johnson said the union proposal made the cut there because it was not something included in the prior contract and reiterated that the message of this proposal was that class size was more important than money.

“Compensation is not why teachers went on strike,” she said, “it was about class size.”

Both sides will continue to negotiate at a schedule directed by the mediator.

KEA's Sept. 10 proposal:


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