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Originally published August 30, 2009 at 8:00 PM | Page modified August 30, 2009 at 9:31 PM

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First day of school canceled in Kent School District as strike continues

Today's scheduled first day of school in the Kent School District has been canceled as a teachers strike continues.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today's scheduled first day of school in the Kent School District has been canceled as a teachers strike continues.

The teachers began their strike on Thursday. At issue are class sizes, which teachers say are too large, and meetings before and after classes, which the teachers say cut into their time for preparation and work with students.

Negotiators representing the district and administrators met all weekend in separate rooms of a hotel in Kent, with a state mediator assisting. Talks were scheduled to resume today.

The two sides remain far apart, said Dale Folkerts, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, the statewide union of which Kent teachers are a part. Teachers say class sizes are as high as 45 kids in some high-school classes, and that the district has the means readily at hand to reduce them. Students could be moved between classes to redistribute the rosters of students per class more evenly, Folkerts said. Administrators could also be redeployed to help teach in the classroom.

In addition, he said many of the teachers meetings could be eliminated, with communication handled via e-mail to give teachers more time to spend with students and class-related duties.

Becky Hanks, spokeswoman for the district, said administrators have several offers on the table, including additional instructional assistants in all fifth- and sixth-grade classes with more than 29 students.

In addition, the district has proposed forming a task force with the union to address class sizes with available state funding.

The district also has proposed an average 3 percent pay increase this year for teachers, and 1.5 percent next year, at a cost of $8.5 million.

The Kent district normally gets an earlier start to the school year than others; many other students are still on summer break across the Puget Sound region.

Districts are required to provide 180 days of instruction in the academic year. Classroom time lost in the strike will be made up by making other adjustments in the school year, such as by shortening vacations.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

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