Archive for September, 2009

Contract Ratified, Teachers Head Back To School

September 15, 2009

With over 1300 members in attendance voting 94% in favor of ratifying the tentative agreement reached Sunday, KEA members overwhelmingly chose to end their 2009 strike.  While the end result did not provide everything KEA members had hoped for, it did provide some additional help in relieving class size and caseload issues, as well as bringing at least some compensation relief through additional paid Effective Education days.  Unfortunately, many KEA members were disappointed that Psychologists, Music, and Physical Education teachers were not included in the class size case load proposals adopted, and class size caps in the Middle and High School levels were not agreed to.  Given the slow pace of bargaining, the KEA Bargaining Team came to the conclusion with much regret that the KSD would not agree to these issues at this time. 

So what happens next?  KEA members have returned to work as of Monday, September 14th to set up their classrooms, and school began on Tuesday, September 15th.  KEA members who have not yet worked the additional 7.5 hours of classroom prep time should complete those hours and turn in a time sheet by September 30th.  Additionally, the revised calendar for the 2009-10 school year still needs to be agreed upon by both sides.  Both the revised calendar, as well as the new version of the contract will be made available soon.

This is not the end of the book, just the end of a chapter.  The movement for change in Kent still has a long way to go.  If you are interested in helping shape the future of the Kent School District, please notify your Building Rep. of your willingness to help out with future KEA committees and activities.

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Blog Comments Temporarily Closed

September 13, 2009

I have closed blog comments temporarily until after the vote on Monday at 8 am at Kentlake.   I want every KEA member to attend, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to focus and reflect on where we’ve been, and where we are going. 

Let’s pray that this settlement will improve student learning and the working conditions of all Kent School District employees.  

See you at the meeting.

Tentative Agreement Reached, Meeting Monday

September 13, 2009

A tentative agreement was reached at about 7 pm on Sunday night.   There are absolutely no details about the agreement at this point.  Anything you hear is simply rumor, and should be dismissed as such.

There will be a General Membership Meeting on Monday, Sept. 14th at 8 am.  The meeting will be once again at Kentlake High School.  As you may remember from the last meeting held at that location, parking is at a premium.  If you can carpool, it would be appreciated. 

At the meeting, members will hear details of the tentative agreement, and then will vote to either ratify the tentative agreement, or reject the agreement. 

It has not yet been confirmed when school will begin for teachers or students.  As soon as those details are known, I will post them here.  Again, if you hear a rumor, disregard it until you hear the official word.

See all KEA members at Kentlake at 8 am tomorrow!

Do They Have Us?

September 13, 2009

Overheard by a KEA member at a Kent high school football game the other night:

“Oh, they’ll be back on Monday.  We’ve got ’em now.”

-Bill Boyce KSD School Board Member

So is he right?

Nothing To Talk About?

September 13, 2009

That’s what the Kent School District told a parent when asked why they recently cancelled a school board meeting.  Rather than “Successfully Preparing Students for Their Future,” perhaps the Kent School District should alter their mission statement to “Nothing to Talk About.”   Fittingly, that has been and continues to be their governing philosophy regarding their negotiations with Kent teachers.  Why?  Here are a few pieces to think about:

  • Kent teachers asked for class size caps that are equitable with comparable districts in our area.  The school district instead ignored that request and went on the news explaining that their class sizes are equitable with neighboring districts.  If that is correct, why won’t KSD use the same contractual language that those neighboring districts have?  Instead, it seems more like they care about retaining their power than doing anything that could benefit students.  Nothing to talk about?
  •  Kent teachers asked the district to more efficiently use their time with meetings.  Some schools dealt with up to four 30 minute meetings a week resulting in over 2 hours of meeting time.  The district proposed a compromise that made the limit two hour long meetings a week… Wait.  Isn’t that the same thing?  Once again, the district is telling the public that they are working to get kids back in school but instead it seems like they are stonewalling the teachers.   Nothing to talk about?
  • Kent teachers asked the district to increase compensation to move us from the bottom of local school districts to begin to become competitive with our competition.  Since then, Kent teachers have lowered their demands significantly to ease the district supposed money woes.  In the end, the KSD offered a 4.5% raise in pay over the next two years.  Unfortunately, when examining the logistics of their offer, it isn’t a raise. It is actually 5 extra days of work.  Wouldn’t it be cheaper for the district to simply give the teachers a 4.5% raise for the work they already do?  Sadly, it seems that the district is not really negotiating but dictating.  Nothing to talk about?

The district is cancelling school board meetings because they believe there is nothing to talk about.  Call the superintendent at 253-373-7701 and tell him there are many things to talk about.

Bargaining Update For Saturday, Sept. 12

September 12, 2009

Should we stay or should we go?
That’s the question that each of us is asking ourselves as Monday’s deadline looms to return to class.
The district is counting on you to go across picket lines, to go against all your days on the line standing up for smaller classes, to go quietly back behind your classroom doors so they can continue to dominate and intimidate.
The district is consistent. From the first day of bargaining last April, district administrators have misread our resolve.
They didn’t believe we would rise up when they announced they were taking away seven days’ pay and linking our evaluations to WASL scores.
They predicted we wouldn’t have the unity to strike even when they told us budget cuts meant they wouldn’t deal with class sizes for years to come.
They suggested to local reporters that our picket lines would collapse a few days into the strike.
They thought we’d crumble in fear instead of storming the room to protest when Supt. Vargas announced he would haul his own teachers into court.
They thought they could manipulate the courts to end a strike that must instead be resolved at the bargaining table.
They tried to bully pregnant moms into believing they wouldn’t have insurance when they stepped inside the delivery room. But our members got on their phones and convinced Group Health officials to guarantee the same continuation of coverage for their members that already is provided during strikes under WEA’s Premera plans.
Even now, the district thinks the renewed threat of fines will cause us to forget why we launched this battle. They’ve sent e-mails gloating about how our picket lines and our bargaining power will crumble on Monday. They’ve posted reader boards announcing that schools will reopen Tuesday, apparently without teachers, given our vote making it clear we will return only when we have a ratified contract.
Have our members given up?
KEA had extended an offer to keep our office open today to answer questions from all members who were beginning to question their own resolve. By early afternoon, two members had come in.
The district has been slow to understand our power and our unity. But look at what’s already happened. The district tried to frame this as all about money. Parents get that this dispute is about class size and time with kids. The district tried to shut down our strike before our message could spread into our own community. Instead, our stand has now become a national news story. The headline in Friday’s New York Times: “Teacher Strike in Washington Focused on Class Size.” Becky Hanks tried to convince reporters that our proposal Thursday, which could have ended the strike immediately, cost $5 million more than what we said. But her message all but disappeared from the airwaves once KEA’s Bargaining Team made it clear that it was Hanks who was putting out the phony numbers.
Even without a settlement in hand, the district can no longer ignore our power. We have stood together and stood strong in the face of the most nasty threats, and smears, and insults, and intimidation our administrators can spew forth. We have focused the public conversation on class size and time with kids, and the community is on our side.
As the School Board tries to hide from us and the community, parents have become even more inflamed. A nascent network of online organizing has already generated hundreds upon hundreds of petition signatures to recall all five Kent School Board members, and the effort is not yet three days old. Parents are directly confronting board members in the community, asking why they won’t deal with these issues squarely at the bargaining table.
The tide is turning, and will continue to turn. What we win in this contract will become the foundation for future contracts. Districts that have pulled ahead of Kent did not do so in one bargaining season. They’ve made incremental gains year after year once their unity convinced their districts to listen to, and respect, the concerns they bring to the bargaining table.
Are we ready to give up?
That is a question each of us must answer ourselves Tuesday morning as we continue our quest for smaller classes, more time with students, and competitive compensation.
Attend our 6:30 Sunday night rally
KEA members and school supporters around the region are invited to a 6:30 p.m. rally at Town Square Plaza (also known as “Marble Park”) at Second Avenue and West Smith Street, across from the downtown library. It’s yet one more reminder we are not alone.
Bargaining Update
Teams for KEA and KSD returned to the bargaining table Saturday, and were back at the table again this morning. Talks are continuing with discussions on both sides. The district appears to be backing away from its earlier assertions that our proposal on Thursday cost $5 million more than KEA had announced. No new tentative agreements had been reached as of early Saturday afternoon.
What about the fines?
School districts historically have agreed to ask the courts to drop fines once classes resume because it’s important for operations to return to as normal as possible so that students’ education can get back on track. But a concern has arisen that Kent administrators like Chuck Lind and Larry Miner have made it clear that their priority is power, not student achievement, and they might be filled with such irrational venom that they would continue to try to smear Kent’s teachers no matter how much damage that causes within the community.
It’s a legitimate concern, so let’s assume the worst does happen:
The district can’t ignore parents forever, and the School Board can’t cancel all its public meetings indefinitely. They will have to defend spending tax money needed in the classroom to continue a petty and vindictive fight against their own teachers even after the strike is settled. We have a right to due process before fines can be assessed. Our union has vowed to step in with legal support to demand hearings, forcing the district to provide sworn testimony about which teachers crossed the lines, which days they crossed and numerous other details that would be critical for the assessment of fines. Independently of the district, the judge has the power to reduce or remove fines based on mitigating factors. Our union has prepared an answer to the injunction lawsuit that outlines in detail the district’s numerous violations of good-faith bargaining and its deliberate strategy to try to intimidate teachers into returning to school.
The court gave administrators a heavy club to use against its own teachers. But wielding that club may not be as easy as they imagined after we have our day in court.

KEA Contract Proposal Removed From KEA Website

September 12, 2009

I just received the following note from Dale Folkerts, the WEA Communications person in charge of our www.kentschools.org website.  Many have asked why the KEA proposal from Thursday, Sept. 10th has been removed from that website.  KSD still has both proposals up, but it sounds like they are outdated at this point.  Here’s his response:

Yes, the bargaining team asked me to take it down. The underlining and strike-throughs that are essential to understanding which parts of the proposal are new and which are being deleted did not transfer well from their Word docs to the online PDF. So the result was something that was incomprehensible if not plain inaccurate. I asked for a newer, cleaner version, but have not received it. They’ve been busy reading and responding to proposals today, and that is their top priority. I am not going to bother them for this, and our members should also give them time to do the work that is essential to reaching a settlement, rather than bombarding them with e-mail queries.
 
 

Dale Folkerts, New Media Coordinator

WEA Communications

Comments Galore!

September 11, 2009

The good news is that readership and commenting on this blog is reaching an all-time high, which means that people are still talking and paying attention to the issues we are trying to raise.  (Almost 10,000 hits and over 100 comments a day.)  The bad news is that comments are coming faster than I can moderate them.  PLEASE be patient.  I am deleting only comments that are outdated if a recent post covers it.  I’m reading and posting everything else.  If you keep it civil, I promise I will post it.

United We Stand!

September 11, 2009

Two opportunities for our KEA members and the community members who support us to gather have been scheduled this weekend.  

  • First, the Kent Parents Coalition has asked us to inform you of an informational meeting tonight, Friday the 11th, at East Hill Park in Kent.  (East Hill Park is on SE 248th St, just east of 104th Ave SE/Benson Hwy.)  The parent meeting tonight will begin at 6 pm.  The meeting this evening is not being organized by the KEA, but we encourage community members who support teachers or who have questions to attend.

 

  • The second gathering will be a rally for KEA members, as well as members of other unions in the area, on Sunday, Sept. 13th at 6:30 pm.  The rally will be held at the new Town Square Park, site of the Kent Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  (Town Square Park is located on the corner of W Smith St and 2nd Ave N, south of Kent Station and across from the Kent Library.)   We encourage KEA members, supporters, and their families to meet there  to join together in a spirit of unity in this difficult time.

District Can’t Settle, Won’t Settle

September 11, 2009

As many of you may know already, Thursday came with two major developments. KEA was ordered to pay fines of $1500 per day for each day since Tuesday, September 8th that teachers have defied the injunction order by continuing to strike. Each of KEA’s teachers individually were ordered to pay fines of $200 per day for each day they have not worked since Tuesday as well. When 74% of teachers voted on Monday, Sept 7th, to continue to strike rather than return to work, they knew that fines or penalties may be imposed, but believed that the issues they were fighting for were too important to give up on now. The small number of teachers who returned to work this week were overshadowed by the much larger and more united group of KEA members who stood fast and held the line. But there was a caveat to the judge’s order: she purposefully allowed more time for bargaining to continue and a settlement to be reached by making the order effective as of Monday, September 14th.

Something much more significant happened at the bargaining table Thursday. After a pause in bargaining since Tuesday morning, both sides returned to mediation on Thursday at 8 am. KEA’s Bargaining Team had spent the time since the last bargaining session coming up with what they described as their “Last, Best, and Final Offer” to the District in the hopes that a settlement would be reached before the fines would be handed down later in the day. The guiding question driving KEA’s Bargaining Team was simple: “How can we find a resolution without selling out the basic principles our members have been striking for?” The team worked together until 3:30 am Thursday morning crafting their proposal. Using District financial data, they formed a proposal that would come in at or below the costs of the KSD’s last proposal on Monday, September 7th. This, they believed, would finally move the District.

What they came up with was a proposal that will cost the District approximately $277,000 less than what the District’s last proposal would have cost! It would reduce class sizes with real caps across all grade levels, as well as caseload language for the many certificated specialists such as counselors, nurses, therapists, etc. Although these class size reductions are not enough to completely resolve the problem of Kent’s overcrowded classrooms, it would provide some relief and be a step in the right direction that could be built upon in the future. The proposal increased teacher time with students by limiting the amount and time of required meetings. It offered modest pay increases that still will have Kent at the bottom of the Puget Sound, but will at least offset the effect of inflation on teachers’ already low wages. A time limit of noon was placed on the proposal, in the hopes that the District would come to an agreement before the 1 pm court hearing over fines.  You can read the text of the KEA proposal here.   At first glance, the District openly acknowledged the KEA’s level of movement towards a settlement. Hopes were quickly dashed, however.

Did the District accept the offer, or counter with a similar proposal that was close enough to allow the parties to quickly hash out the details? OF COURSE NOT! KSD’s proposal offered higher class size caps at the Elementary School, with no caps at the secondary level. The District offered nothing for addressing certificated specialists’ caseloads. The District’s class size proposal still included provisions that would nullify the language in years when any employees were laid off (meaning that it automatically would negate class size relief for this school year). It demanded 8 hours of mandatory staff meetings per month. It offered even more Effective Education days (meaning more work for more pay), but at the cost of making those additional work days controlled by District administrators. In short, it was almost completely unchanged from the District’s last proposal of September 7th.

KSD’s excuse during the entire bargaining process for not accepting KEA’s proposals has been that they simply couldn’t afford what they repeatedly deemed as, “costly class size proposals.” They claimed that if they tapped the District’s mammoth reserve fund, the District would be financially ruined. KEA offered them a proposal that was $277,000 less than what they had previously been willing to pay, and yet they still rejected it. So is the issue really that KSD can’t afford KEA’s proposals? OBVIOUSLY NOT!

KSD claims that it is concerned about the best interest of the students. It used this as its main argument for filing the injunction to force teachers back to the classroom. When KEA offered real changes to the contract that would reduce class size and give teachers more time with students by limiting pointless meetings, they rejected these changes, but offered nothing for students in return. So is the issue really that KSD is working for the best interests of our students? OBVIOUSLY NOT!
These are the facts:
KSD ignored local lawmakers who demanded that the District stop misusing tax money to smear Kent teachers. KSD has cancelled a regularly scheduled School Board Meeting this week because, in the words of Jim Berrios, “There wasn’t enough to talk about.” KSD has repeatedly locked out groups of concerned parents who have come to the Administrative Building to demand answers from Superintendent Vargas and the School Board about why they won’t lower class sizes. KSD used a court injunction to, in the words of KSD’s attorney Chuck Lind, “coerce compliance,” by forcing teachers back to work. KSD has repeatedly stalled at the bargaining table– taking hours or even days to respond to KEA proposals. Their responses amount to only minor changes in wording, but nothing of substance. Superintendent Vargas and the School Board have been invited by KEA’s Bargaining Team to meet together to go over the cost data for both proposals together to find common ground, but they have refused.

Ultimately, we must come to only one conclusion. The District never intended to resolve any issues at the bargaining table. It has, instead, continually pursued a pattern of intimidation, manipulation, stalling, and legal maneuvering to maintain their power. That’s what this is all about. Not money, not kids, but POWER.

Now we wait for KSD to come to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith.