Just a month before the clock runs out for contract ratification or a strike vote, Kent administrators came to the table Thursday with proposals that allow KEA to start the negotiations process.
“The district took a small step forward Thursday on one of our three priorities, compensation, but has yet to address other huge areas of concern,” KEA Chief Bargainer Mike McNett said. “It looks like we may have finally begun the substantive negotiations that should have started last spring. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of ground to cover, and time for the district is running short.”
The good news:
The district is finally backing away from its punitive plan to cut pay by seven days, and instead is proposing two additional effective-ed days for a 1.1 percent increase in 2009-10. While the district could use both days to offset our already-increased workload, it is instead proposing one day of new, additional work. School employee salaries are already losing ground to inflation this coming year because of state cuts to the Initiative 732 COLA funding.
The district proposes boosting stipends by $2,000 for new teachers, and adding $1,000 toward commitment stipends. With the two effective-ed days, the combined increase next year averages 2.7 percent.
The district is now proposing a two-year contract, up from one year. The second year (2010-11) would add 1.6 percent in total pay above Year 1, and includes yet another 1.5 days of work at the direction of the district. (That means over the two years, the district would require an additional 2.5 days of as-yet undefined, district-directed work.)
The bad news:
While beginning to address compensation, the district’s package still fails to recognize that our top three issues — time, workload and compensation — are intertwined. The district’s plan actually increases workload, rather than easing it, and ignores our proposals to increase teachers’ time with students.
The district still fails to address our overload of meetings. Or class size. Or case load. Not only is the district unwilling to reduce overcrowded classes — nearby districts with similar budget constraints and higher salaries have lower class-size caps — Kent administrators are refusing to create meaningful caps even at our current class-size levels.
The district has yet to deal with critical issues around violent students, clear rules for maternity leave and other leaves, the district’s responsibility to bear the costs of on-the-job injuries, or technology integration.
The district is hinting it may back away from its demand to base teacher evaluations on WASL scores, but quickly hedged on any written commitment to drop its earlier WASL proposal. The district is now talking in terms of a focus on “student achievement’ — a subject already at the heart of our members’ work efforts — but is refusing to rule out that their focus on achievement means evaluating staff based on students’ standardized tests.
The district is also attempting to step backward on some issues, including watering down layoff protections so that the district can begin reducing staff regardless of whether it is required by economic factors.
Even though the district’s new two-year contract proposal fails to deal with key issues already identified by KEA members, the district also wants to bar contract “reopeners” as part of its package plan. Reopeners give both sides the chance to negotiate additional unresolved issues between full contracts. Eliminating reopeners means these problems will fester two more years before we can even begin to talk about them.
The district continues to seek unrestricted subcontracting of outside workers to do the jobs of KEA members. The district wants no limits beyond having to “meet and discuss” any proposed outsourcing with KEA leaders. The district could then hire as many people through outside agencies as it wishes, and at any rate of pay. (The district lost an arbitration ruling on this issue last summer when KEA showed the district already was hiring excessive numbers of staff this way. Rather than comply with the arbitrator’s binding decision, the district is now trying to change the contract and undermine your jobs and bargaining rights.)
Thursday’s negotiations can be viewed as a positive step given the district’s previous strategy to simply reject or ignore KEA’s proposals. But it is only a small step. Kent is at the bottom of Puget Sound districts for pay, and it is not clear that our ranking would improve much, if at all, under the district plan. KEA already has backed away from demanding an offset for inflation while we are continuing in our attempt to nudge Kent salaries toward at least being competitive with other districts in the region. If the district adopts KEA’s proposed 6 percent salary increase, we would climb out of our current 80th spot for teacher pay, but still rank a distant 27th based on salaries for this past school year.
So when will the district start listening to school employees?
Throughout the year, KEA’s financial analysis (from WEA Research) showed the district would end the year with more than $20 million in the bank. After laying off staff, then calling most employees back, the district now admits it is likely to end the year with about $20 million in the bank. For months, KEA also has pointed out that our salaries are the lowest in the region. The district now seems willing to recognize compensation is an issue when trying to attract and retain teachers. It hired yet another consultant (Bob Boesche, a semi-retired Northshore assistant superintendent) to perform a salary analysis. His conclusion on behalf of the district: our salaries are the lowest in the region!
Inexplicably, the district chose to narrow its “comparable” districts to nine, vs. 20 districts in the region cited by KEA. KSD’s analysis omitted higher-paying districts such as Mercer Island, Seattle, Everett and Snoqualmie Valley. Nonetheless, our pay still ranked at the bottom:
The Kent School District study revealed that TRI pay (not including stipends) in Kent ranges from 45.8 percent to 53.3 percent below the average of KSD’s nine hand-picked comparable locals.
The study found Kent to be lower in almost every measure in almost every category.
When we asked the district whether its latest proposal would improve Kent’s ranking among these districts, they didn’t have an answer for us.
“For most of our members, the district’s proposal will amount to a 2.7 percent increase next year,” McNett said. “But the district is not just requiring more work, it is district-directed and principal-directed. It’s not even a menu of professional options. You will work during the time and the day the district tells you, or you won’t get the money.”
Once again, district administrators presented their proposal as an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it package. KEA’s bargaining team questioned why the district failed to address other critical issues when it had suggested it would come prepared Thursday with a substantive bargaining proposal.
We addressed the ones we chose to make proposals on, the district’s negotiator replied.
Next bargaining session: Aug. 10
KEA general membership meeting for contract ratification or strike vote: 5 p.m. Aug. 26, Kentlake High School