KENT, Wash. - Teachers in Kent have ratified a new bargaining contract with the district.
The union representing its educators, Kent Education Association, announced that a tentative agreement on a new contract was reached at 2:43 a.m. Wednesday.
The agreement was ratified on Wednesday night.
Since an agreement was reached, school will start on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Negotiations between the district and Kent teachers have been ongoing and educators have been on strike since late August, which canceled first of school for thousands of students on Aug. 25.
"The issues that we are advocating for have been there since before the pandemic. And the pandemic has just made them worse. And so we’re really advocating for wrap-around services for our students," said Andrea Victoria, a teacher at Mill Creek Middle School.
"We want to see that we have classroom support. It’s very hard to reach and differentiate and address all the needs of your students when there’s one of you and your class load is higher than it should be," said Dorice Warren, a teacher Mill Creek Middle School.
The union accused the Kent School District of delaying contract negotiations as far back as May, to put pressure on the teachers.
The ratified contract provides a new wage range, making Kent competitive with other districts in the area, the union said. It also allows for smaller class sizes and encourages the district to fill paraeducator positions.
Highlights of the ratified agreement include, according to the district:
- Additional training and collaboration time.
- Improved incentives to encourage the district to:
- Fill paraeducator positions.
- Keep class sizes smaller.
- Keep caseloads manageable for occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech language pathologists.
- New wage ranges that mean Kent is competitive with area districts:
- 7% increase in the 2022-23 school year.
- 1% + inflationary increase funded by the state.
Kent Education Association is made up of 1,700 classroom teachers in the Kent School District.
Though the teacher strike could soon come to an end, another one could begin. The American Federation of Teachers Kent Classified is also negotiating a contract.
"I’ve been in the school district for 35 years," said Darren Garrett, president of ATF Kent Classified. "I’ve seen all sorts of things go on here, but this has been the worst it’s ever been. I’ve never seen the district treat any of the unions like this before. I mean, all the unions could have been settled by July."
The union represents workers who keep schools operating – like custodians, groundskeepers, bus mechanics, warehouse drivers, food service drivers and print shop.
Garrett said negotiations with the district started in the spring. However, after five meetings and workers leaving the job, it was clear things needed to go to mediation.
"As the time went by, the numbers were growing. It went to five to 10 to 15, 17. 18 people left the district in those five meetings to go to surrounding school districts that we’re paying at least minimum $3 to $7 an hour more," said Garrett. "Other school district’s been tossing dollars an hour at their employees. We’ve been getting nickels. So, now it’s time to catch up and the district is going to have to bump out the money."
The union president said they have has three meetings scheduled next week with the district. If there is no deal by September 19, Garrett said they plan to strike.
"We’ve never asked for the moon and the stars, just to be equitable," he said.
FOX 13 News contacted Kent School District for comment about contract negotiations efforts with ATF Kent Classified and waiting for a response.