Tentative deal reached to end Kent schools strike
The Kent teachers union reached a tentative agreement with the school district Sunday night, and students could be back in class Tuesday...
Seattle Times staff reporters
The Kent teachers union reached a tentative agreement with the school district Sunday night, and students could be back in class Tuesday if the deal is approved this morning.
Teachers are scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. at Kentlake High School to go over the proposed contract and vote. Teachers are facing $200-a-day fines starting today if they refuse to return to work.
The agreement was announced Sunday night — the 17th day of the strike — at a rally of hundreds of teachers and their supporters in downtown Kent.
Many cheered and some cried at the news of a possible end to the dispute.
"It's the answer to my prayers," said Cherie Hale, a teacher at Millenium Elementary. "It's been the most emotional roller coaster. I've been crying all weekend."
Hale said the strike had been "tearing families apart."
Kent School District Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas said details of the settlement would be shared with teachers this morning, before being released to the public.
Vargas said negotiators found "that common ground that everybody feels good about."
He characterized the agreement as "fair, transparent and fiscally responsible."
Teachers went on strike Aug. 27, mainly over the issue of crowded classrooms.
The strike was the first for the 1,700 teachers in the state's fourth-largest school district. It delayed the original scheduled opening of school on Aug. 31 for the district's 26,000 students.
A turning point in talks came Sept. 1, when the district filed for an injunction in King County Superior Court, asking that the strike be ruled illegal and the teachers be ordered back to class.
Under state law, teachers, as public employees, are prohibited from striking.
Judge Andrea Darvas granted the district's injunction and ordered the teachers to return to the classroom Sept 8. But at a Sept. 7 union meeting of some 1,300 teachers, 74 percent voted to disobey the order.
On Thursday, the district gave the court a list of teachers who had not returned to work. Darvas said they would be fined $200 a day, retroactive to Sept. 8, if they did not report to work Monday. The union also faced fines of $1,500 a day.
Darvas criticized teachers for their "disrespect for the court" and told them they were setting a poor example for students, who count on them to be role models.
From the time contract talks began in the spring, class size was the most contentious issue, with teachers claiming that not only are Kent's classrooms seriously overcrowded, many students have health or behavior problems, come from impoverished families and are not native English speakers.
Teachers also wanted fewer mandatory meetings, saying it would give them more time to help students before and after school.
But Kent administrators said smaller classes were too expensive, given the district's budget constraints, and that spending its reserve fund on smaller classes, as the union wanted it to do, would be irresponsible.
Although the strike left many families scrambling for child care, growing numbers of parents nonetheless supported the teachers, rallying on their behalf and standing with them on picket lines.
There have been about 90 teacher strikes in Washington state since the early 1970s, the longest of them the 2003 Marysville School District strike, which lasted 49 days before an injunction was granted. The teachers decided to obey it and return to class.
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