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Originally published September 1, 2009 at 4:21 PM | Page modified September 2, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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Kent Schools takes teachers to court

The Kent School District has filed an injunction to try to force striking teachers back to work. Superintendent Edward Vargas said this afternoon that the teachers strike that began Monday is illegal. He says strikes by public-school employees are against Washington common law.

The Kent School District is seeking an injunction to try to force its striking teachers back to work.

Superintendent Edward Vargas said this afternoon that the teachers strike that began Monday is illegal. He said strikes by public-school employees are against Washington common law.

Vargas told reporters at a 3 p.m. news conference that the district is seeking the injunction for the sake of the students who need to begin school.

The 1,700 teachers voted to strike Aug. 26 and formed picket lines the following day. It is the first strike in Kent School District history and has delayed the opening of school, which was supposed to happen on Monday.

The injunction effort has angered members of the Kent Education Association (KEA), the teachers union. Teachers turned out en masse today with picket signs and crashed Vargas' press conference in which he announced the district's legal action to the media. A number of teachers shouted out that the district wasn't respecting them and wasn't bargaining fairly.

According to Mike McNett, who is on the negotiating committee for the teachers, the district has not been serious about negotiations and has failed to respond to the KEA's last offer made Sunday afternoon.

In that offer, KEA gave the district until midnight Sunday to agree to significantly reduce class sizes, McNett said. For its part, the union agreed to the district's offer of a 3 percent wage increase this year with 1.5 percent the next, he said.

The teachers waited for a response to their offer through Monday and this morning, McNett said, but they got no word from the district. McNett said teachers were stunned when they were notified the district was going to seek an injunction against them in a hearing 2 p.m. Wednesday in King County Superior Court.

The union says the key issues in dispute are class size and the amount of time teachers are required to spend in staff meetings.

Vargas said the district had made numerous concessions, and he feels the district and union have reached impasse.

"Our students need to be in school," Vargas said. He added that every day the strike continues prevents school employees in other jobs — bus drivers, clerical and cafeteria workers — from making a living.

The district and the KEA have resumed negotiations this evening.

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Elsewhere in the region, the Skagit County school district of Sedro-Woolley has canceled Wednesday classes for what is supposed to be the first day of school because of a likely teachers strike.

Rich Wood of the Washington Education Association says there's one more mediation session scheduled for tonight before the strike is set to begin.

A third union — Lake Stevens — is still negotiating with its district but has also taken a strike vote.

Seattle Times reporter Nancy Bartley contributed to this report.

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