A giant step backward — KEA Update 8-22

Aug. 22, 2009

In an apparent gamble that Kent teachers won’t have the unity to strike, the district proposed major contract takeaways Saturday so that any proposals on the table after a failed strike vote would move Kent teachers decades backward in their contract rights.

The district proposed eliminating nearly all specific financial reasons that would be needed to lay off teachers. Under Saturday’s proposal, the district could lay off teachers at will based on the “educational program and services” the district has determined it will provide. The district’s educational program shall be “consistent” with the financial resources available. Beyond that, the district would eliminate any requirements on itself to try to minimize the impact on teachers, students or class size.

If, for instance, the district decided to increase its current $25 million reserve to $50 million or $100 million, it could lay off teachers and pack more students into classes based on the greatly diminished “available” financial resources. The contract’s common-sense safeguards would vanish. The scenario is hardly farfetched given that district administrators are poised to spark a strike as they fight to hold onto cash reserves that already are nearly double the level proscribed by the Kent School Board.

Here are the current contract safeguards that the district on Saturday proposed for elimination:

The district shall minimize the numbers of employees to be laid off by:
a. Reducing cash reserves to replace depleted revenue.

b. Reducing expenditure in areas of capital outlay, travel,
contractual services, books and supplies and space allocations.

The district shall not reduce the levels of teachers beyond the numbers necessary to remain within the anticipated financial revenues for the following school year.

KEA’s current lay-off proposal suggests that Kent Schools try to minimize the impacts on teachers and students during economic downturns. Under KEA’s plan, the district would spend down its rainy day reserves to a safety-net level of 3 percent, reduce administrative staff to the levels suggested by the state to provide a sufficient basic education, and cancel the administration’s out of state travel.

The district’s plan Saturday to make it easier to fire teachers while preserving administrative travel is yet another concrete illustration of how the School Board’s priorities have shifted from students and classrooms to protecting its top-heavy administration and bloated savings accounts.

The district’s proposal doesn’t stop there, however. It also takes a direct shot at eliminating long-established principles of seniority.

Once the district decides it wants to lay off more teachers, teachers would now have to be rated “highly qualified” in their subject area under the federal No Child Left Behind law to retain their job. The district’s scheme could cause immediate problems upon practical application, and could disproportionately impact teachers in certain categories. Teachers who work in multiple subject areas, for instance with special ed or ELL students, could be at greater risk.

If the number of highly qualified employees exceeds the jobs available in their current subject area, teachers with more seniority would be “recommended” for retention — but they may still lose their jobs to teachers without experience or seniority. Teachers who are moved out of their current subect area would have even less protection. If cutbacks in the math department affect a senior teacher who also has an English endorsement, the district would only “consider” transferring the teacher to an English assignment, but could still choose to lay off the senior teacher. Teachers not recalled within one year would lose all contract rights. Current recall provisions allow three years for an economic turnaround.

“It negates seniority,” KEA Chief Negotiator Mike McNett said. “Under the district’s plan, they wouldn’t have to have much of a reason to initiate a lay off, and then the district gets to choose who they keep and who they fire.”

Friday’s wrap:

Friday’s six-hour bargaining session was twice as long, and somewhat more productive, than Saturday’s three-hour meeting. KEA and the district reached four tentative agreements Friday:

  • Cyberbullying. The district declined KEA’s proposal to commit to taking specific discipline actions when students use the Internet to threaten or bully teaching staff or other students. Under the agreement Friday, the district agreed to investigate and take available appropriate action, and would give “due consideration” to the teacher’s recommendation to have a student removed from class if the student had been found guilty of cyberbullying.
  • Guest teacher pay. The district formalized its plan to increase pay by four cents per day for guest teachers. The district’s concern was not over a higher pay rate for substitute teachers, but in resolving a glitch in the district’s payroll software when daily pay is converted into a fractional hourly rate.
  • Evaluation of guest teachers. Previously it was up to absent teachers, who did not see their guest teachers teach, to evaluate their classroom service. Under the agreement, principals will now fill out the guest teacher evaluation and include copies of any complaints so that guest teachers can see the concerns. Teachers will still be able to request specific guest teachers when using the district’s substitute-request system.
  • Association leave. In an effort to begin erasing some of the residual spite from the previous superintendent, the district will no longer attempt to block KEA members from attending the WEA Representative Assembly, the union’s policy-making convention held during an extended weekend each spring. Under the agreement, KEA can send up to 35 members to the delegate assembly, and more if approved by the superintendent. KEA pays for the substitute teachers for its delegates on those days.

Left unsaid

The district has still not begun to address KEA members’ primary concerns over time and workload, which directly impact class size and the amount of time available for individual students in class, and before and after school.

Showing support

  • Please let parents and community members know about our Web site, http://www.kentschools.org/, so they can learn more about our issues.
  • KEA members and the community can print out signs for car windows showing their support for Kent teachers. Click for Flyer 1 or Flyer 2
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17 Responses to “A giant step backward — KEA Update 8-22”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I COULD NEVER ratify a contract that had poison like this.

    KEA members, parents, community!! Listen to what the District wants to offer the very people who spend more of their personal time working with kids, than any superintendant, administrator, would!!

    This disrespect and foul treatment has to end. Today! Right now!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    “Good negotiation ethics: honesty, transparency, respect for others are all genuinely pragmatic approaches to use. A negotiator¹s reputation is not unlike that of a restaurant: if you have a bad meal, you are not likely to return. And a negotiator with whom others don¹t want to deal is effectively out of business.” By Steven P. Cohen MA Business Ethics
    The manipulation of facts the district is presenting is deceptive. The scare tactics the district is using is degrading and shameful. I find myself so sickened and saddened by the offers the district is making that it will be hard either way to go back to the classroom with any enthusiasm. I have lost respect for the very people who I had always thought were the frontrunners for giving Kent families the best opportunities for their children. It has become a joke in the educational community to work in Kent. I am sorry for the parents who must place their children in overcrowded classrooms when it does not have to be this way. I am sorry for teachers who sit in purposeless meetings. Kent School District loses either way. Teachers are trying to leave now. Teachers, please remain strong. You and your students deserve so much more than this district will ever allow you to become.

  3. Send it Out Says:

    Everyone on here needs to send this website link to any parent, community leader, business owner, etc. Let them read what the illogical proposals by Kent administration; and so they can stay updated on bargaining.

    BTW, is Mr. Alfred really getting a bonus to his pay if Kent teachers go on strike? If so, then who is really promoting a work stoppage????

  4. Parent Says:

    What heinous proposals from the very people who claim they care about our students and want to successfully prepare them for the future. Isn’t that what it says on that banner that hangs so prominently behind their heads in the Board room??

    Dr. Vargas and his constituents should be ashamed.

  5. Denise Anderson Says:

    Please support our teachers…..

  6. EMAIL The Board Members Says:

    I continue to be amazed at the districts negotiating tactics. Whoever is advising them isn’t very bright. The teachers will strike and in the end they’ll get paid for a full year and the ones who will be hurt are the kids and the disctrict will come out of it looking bad. They aren’t the smartest bunch. Let’s make sure we don’t re-elect a single one of these board members. We need board members who care about our kids and want the best for this community. The administrators and board members make me sick. Let’s all email the superintendents office as well as the board members and let them know how we feel. We need to support the teachers. I know in my community all of the parents are in favor of the teachers…The district is going to be shocked when they find out how much support is behind the teachers and how much they are disliked.

  7. CounterpointSue Says:

    I feel encouraged by the responses from the parents on this particular blog. Thank you so much for your support. I have been feeling so demoralized about coming back to work that I have been dreading walking in the door, because every time I look at a posting on the Kent Reporter website the teachers are just getting slammed by the community. We’ve been painted as liars, as greedy, and unreasonable and selfish, and frankly, I’ve been actively seeking a new job in another district–any district. I wouldn’t even care if they paid less than Kent at this point if it would get me out of this toxic environment. Unfortunately for me, jobs in my subject area are few and far between right now.

    When I saw the latest proposal I felt like I’d been socked in the jaw. Please keep in mind, as I write this, that I came from a state that eliminated tenure a while back (without disastrous results for teachers, I might add), so the thought of losing my seniority isn’t as scary for me. I’m also very confident in my teaching ability, too, as I receive mostly exemplary ratings across the board on the district’s Certificated Assessment Model. Having said that, though, the problem with eliminating this protection in the contract is that I don’t see a proposal for clear and due process that would protect teachers from administrator abuse. What’s to stop the district from laying off a teacher simply because of age, according to this proposal? I don’t see any safeguards in this language. Sure, it’s illegal to do that, but we all know that it happens all the time in the business community. They’ll call it something else, but it’s still age discrimination. If we ratify this contract I’ll need a big raise to pay for the plastic surgery I’ll need so I’ll look younger.

    This proposal should also be a big red flag to the community. Teachers keep getting accused of distorting or lying about the facts. How can you read this proposal to eliminate the layoff protections (and what would trigger them) and not see how problematic that could be? If community members would simply read exactly what the district proposes, it would make a huge difference, instead of reading the district’s Cliff Notes (they kind of forget to mention certain things, have you noticed?).

    You know what I wish would happen? I wish that the Kent Reporter would get its’ butt in gear, publish each current proposal in its entirety, and then have the district explain their side and the union explain theirs. Let the community members see both sides of the issue, right next to each other, and let them make up their own minds. They have the biggest thing to hit this city in the last year right at their doorstep and they’re missing the boat entirely.

  8. KSD Student Says:

    This is so ridiculous, I can’t even believe it. So I thought I’d send the KSD Board a little e-mail to let them know what the students are saying.

    To the people who control my education,
    Maybe this has escaped you, since you certainly don’t bargain like you know it, but you are supposed to be making decisions that are in my best interest. 33 students in a class with 29 desks and one teacher is not in my best interest. Tired, overworked, and under-compensated teachers are not in my best interest. Laying off some of the best teachers I have ever known is not in my best interest.
    You know what would be though? Giving my teachers what they are asking for. Time, workload, and compensation are not some arbitrary concepts the KEA has made up. They are real things that affect my day-to-day life. Kent students are talking. We know what is going on, despite the biased propaganda you and Vargas love to send us (how much did that cost by the way?). We want to see our teachers get what they want. There are thousands of us, and we are really angry about the way we are treated. Take the time to consider what students want, not just what suits your bottom line.
    We want our teachers to have the time they need. You can’t expect them to possibly find time in a short work day to take care of 150 students. I need them to have that time to themselves to work, because things that affect me don’t get done. It’s hard to know what I need to review and study when it takes a teacher three weeks to get a scored test back to me. And I don’t want to ever hear my teachers say that they graded papers all night, or all weekend. That’s ridiculous! I deserve to get the time with and attention from my teachers that I need. And they deserve to be properly compensated for it.
    We want our teachers to have a more reasonable workload! Five classes of 30 or more students is absolutely ridiculous. That’s 150 people to get to know, and often times 150 assignments to review in a day. Or 150 essays to read, all in addition to the bogus meetings enforced by the administration. That’s not okay. As students, we can tell when a teacher is overworked. I know which of my teachers are cranky and stressed, and we don’t blame them at all. I assure you that the days they are overworked and overwhelmed are the days I’m not getting much out of class.
    We want our teachers to get better compensation too! You should be ashamed that you give my teachers such measly wages that they qualify for food stamps. Or have to work two jobs. Or want to leave altogether! Last year I know I had at least two teachers who work a second job. That’s really lame. When my teachers have to work that much more, they are that much more tired. These good people deserve to have fair compensation for the hard work they do.
    Really, do you think I deserve the most overworked and worst compensated teachers in the Puget Sound area? If that’s how you see me, you shouldn’t be on a school board. If you don’t think I deserve that, then please, give my educators what they are asking. It’s what’s fair.
    Kent students want our teachers treated well and our educations to mean something. Please find a way to make that happen, because it’s what I deserve, what my friends and siblings deserve, and definitely what my teachers deserve.

    • CounterpointSue Says:

      You are amazing. I love how articulate you are in expressing your views (and would have appreciated that quality even if I didn’t agree with what you wrote 🙂 . Your parents must be very proud of you, and I’m sure your teachers would be if they knew who you were.

  9. Parent Says:

    I have emailed our state representatives a number of times over properly funding KSD and the issues of smaller class sizes. Most recently I have emailed KSD’s Dr. Vargas to relay that 1) our teachers need pay parity with other disctricts, 2) our class sizes need to be smaller (27 – 29 were in my daughter’s kingergarten class and the size has been such for several years!!), 3) teachers need more paid classroom planning time (from what I am reading, the admin. meetings need to go). I realize the district wants to be fiscally sound, and I appreciate the concern in that area – but I am not close enough to the details to know if there are funds to spare (sounds like it from feedback here). I also said KSD is broken and we need to work together to solve these issues, please save our kids and our future!

    I have volunteered for a number years in the schools and I see first hand how hard you teachers work and feel fortunate my kids have had such great teachers! I appreciate all you do and have given up to work in KSD! I have voted yes for any and every issue on a ballot that helps our schools.

    The other thing I wanted to say, is in tough times we need some great negotiators and those who can make the fianl decisions there to make them – on both sides.

    I am not sure as a parent what more to do, other than say I agree teachers and our kids need more from KSD and the state.

  10. Teacher Says:

    To the parents who have posted on this blog, thank you very much for your words of support. A few words of encouragement and praise can go a long way. We know there are many parents, who might not like the idea of a strike, but appreciate greatly the work we do.
    To the students- your words mean the most because you are the reason why we continue to do our jobs even under adverse conditions. Your teachers care about you.
    The community meetings that schools are having for parents are so valuable. We had a chance to tell our stories and parents felt very enlightened. We had a positive experience with the parents who came. If the media is going to be slanted in their reporting then we, the teachers, need to reach out to our communities and tell our version. It was our experience that parents appreciate the opportunity to talk with us.

  11. Changing My Attitude Says:

    First of all, I won’t be working for free way beyond my contracted day as I’ve done in the past. Afterall, I’m not the one making a six figure salary. I am paid for 7.5 hours and I work hard during those 7.5 hours with nary a thank you or the respect I deserve from my supervisor.

    Second, most districts I have learned usually have maybe 4-6 grievances per year. KSD has something like 56 in 2 years? That says something about how some of their principals don’t care about respecting our contract or they are ill trained in understanding it. I think it’s the former of the two. Thank goodness there are a very few bright lights out there who do care to follow the contract.

    Third, and here’s the doozy of them all, I will not spend another dime of my hard earned money funding my classroom just because the District won’t. I am not a collector of tax money and my paycheck should be for my own bank account (which isn’t to the tune of $27 million) and for my retirement.

  12. My Perspective Says:

    Regarding the Kent Area PTA Council letter that went out to all school PTA board members, I have to say that I do not agree with you one little bit.

    This Kent Area PTA Council is asking their members to not support either side of this bargain. They propose to stay neutral. They will not support a work stoppage. In essence, they ARE choosing sides whether they realize it or not. Remember that KSD doesn’t want teachers to have a work stoppage either. Does PTA then expect teachers to just accept the proposals that KSD has put on the table? Because that’s what we’d have to do at this point in time if there is to be any avoidance of a work stoppage.

    A better stance from PTA should have been that they support a speedy resolution. Period. That sounds pretty neutral to me.

    I question my involvement now with PTA. It is a parent-TEACHER association.

  13. Steve Says:

    Dear KSD Board Members,

    I write to you as a District parent, active PTA member, and spouse of a KSD teacher.

    And I write to you with distress that negotiations have reached August 24, 2009, with no end in sight.

    And I write to you asking that you step up to the plate to help reach a fair settlement that will greatly benefit the students of Kent School District.

    I understand it required no less than 32 hours of mediation to agree on some of the most mundane issues at hand, but no mention of the biggest issues to be worked out.

    Just so I understand some of what’s been accomplished in the last week, you’ve got agreements on the following: providing boxes and tape for moving teachers, and an extra $0.04 per day for guest teachers. These issues couldn’t be resolved without mediation? That is a disgrace to the District and the state taxpayers who pay for the mediator.

    Yet the KSD proposals from Saturday include finding new ways to fire teachers. And this followed spending Friday hearing KSD voicing concern that teachers might be injuring themselves on purpose to make money on taxes. Are we supposed to believe that the KSD bargaining team is even trying to reach a settlement?

    Does your bargaining team even hear themselves speak? Does the Board really advocate for these positions?

    Will the Board publicly advocate for high school classes with 40 students? Or Kindergarten classes with 31 students?

    Mr. Berrios, I see your signs all over town. You are running for Mayor of Kent, yet we haven’t heard a single word from you regarding this dire situation.

    It makes one wonder just what KSD is trying to accomplish here.

    Finally, while I appreciate you sending out a mailer advising parents of a possible delay to the start of the school year, why would the District spend thousands of education dollars just to demonize its own teachers? Are you trying to get parents to pull their kids out of the District? Are you trying to get teachers to leave the District? How can a group of important Kent citizens advocate for these positions and strategies?

    After attending a meeting Sunday afternoon, I can see your bargaining team has achieved two things: one, they’ve delivered a strong, consistent attack against your own employees; and two, they’ve successfully created a strong, bonded group, who is going to be even stronger having gone through this crisis.

    If these represent your goals, I look forward to the next elections for Board members.

    If not, I look forward to hearing your statements at the Board meeting this week.

    Again, I ask on behalf of the parents in KSD, please step up to the plate and publicly advocate for the students of the District.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    KSD Board Members,

    It sickens me that school has become a business and not a place of Education. I really thought hard this year about staying with the KSD and not moving my child into a different district.

    Last year was a hard year when my child needed assistance – she waited politely while the teacher struggled to explain the lesson to the 10 other children in the class that spoke 10 different languages. The end of the class still had not helped her. I don’t blame the teacher for this – I blame KSD. No child is left behind is a joke. I ended up teaching my child after working a 8 hour day every night after she had been in school all day and my child is in the top of her class as of last year. If I wanted to home school I would but I have to work for a living. Don’t get me wrong I love to help her as much as possible but I am not getting paid to teach – I am paying KSD to have appropriate classroom size, teachers and books. If this happens again this year I will be pulling her from KSD and placing her in another district. Tax dollars lost by the KSD.

    It amazes me that KSD has retained the great teachers it has, due to the way they are being stripped of their own income, hours paid, health benefits and not to mention enlarging of classrooms. KSD administrators need to re-think what people have hired you to do. Which is to provide the best teachers and facilities to educate our children. If that means that teachers need smaller classrooms due to language barriers and tougher guidelines and better contacts for their own well being, than use the surplus of tax payers dollars to do so! That is what the taxpayers are paying you to do.

    I give the KSD the chance to change their politics and remember that the people have elected them to their positions. They were elected to their positions to retain those teachers that can lead, direct and teach our future generations. I give KSD this chance for the next 4 months, so that I too don’t have to pull my child and leave the district like some of the great teachers have done. We are depending on you to retain our teachers as well as our children in KSD. I look forward to the next elections for Board members and next Mayor elections if there is no reaction taken to support the Teachers.

    Concerned Parent

  15. CounterpointSue Says:

    OK, everyone, we’re at crisis point now. We need everyone on board. The only thing that is going to resolve this situation is for the teachers to send a strong, clear message that we’re unified and are fed up with the game playing–because we all know this has been one big political game to the district so far. Once we vote to strike, the district will have NO CHOICE but to get serious about negotiations.

    It’s time to be in contact with your fellow KEA members in your building. If you haven’t already done it, start creating the personal contacts and developing the fellowship we’ll need to get us all through this. By personal, I mean make the calls if people don’t respond to your emails. Let’s get everyone on the same page, let’s vote as a unified front to strike and bring this to a head, and then we need EVERY SINGLE MEMBER out on that picket line Thursday morning.

    Once we take this stand, we need to continue being unified. It doesn’t end with the vote. We need to be out there, walking the lines in front of our schools and in front of the district office. If people decide to just stay home and don’t picket, it weakens our team. We need to look strong out there. When the media shoots footage of our picket lines, they need to see a ton of folks out there, showing that we MEAN BUSINESS because those are the pictures our school board will see. No excuses. Everyone has to be out there. It will mean stepping outside your comfort zone. You don’t have to carry a sign. You just need to be there.

    Our goal? We want this dispute settled as quickly as possible. The stronger our stand, the sooner the district will understand that we will not falter in that stance, and then the real negotiations will start–because we all know that they haven’t actually tried to bargain at all up to this point (it’s not collective bargaining when one team throws a take-it-or-leave it package on the table and won’t talk about the fine points).

    Let’s do this, and let’s do it right. All for one and one for all. Are you with me?

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