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Originally published September 13, 2009 at 8:35 PM | Page modified September 15, 2009 at 12:48 AM

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Corrected version

Deal reached to end Kent school strike

The Kent teachers' union and Kent School District have reached a tentative agreement to end the 17-day teachers strike, union officials said at a Sunday night rally.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The Kent teachers' union and Kent School District have reached a tentative agreement to end the 17-day teachers strike, union officials said at a Sunday night rally.

Details of the contract were not released. Teachers will meet at 8 a.m. Monday at Kentlake High School to go over the contract and vote. If the agreement is accepted, class could start Tuesday for the district's 26,000 students.

The proposed settlement came a day before teachers would have faced court-ordered fines of $200 a day for refusing to return to work.

The news was announced by Kent teachers' union President Lisa Brackin Johnson during a rally of hundreds of teachers and their supporters.

Many teachers 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 Millennium 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 Monday morning, before being released to the public.

Vargas said negotiators found "that common ground that everybody feels good about."

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 Aug. 31, and again Sept. 9.

A turning point in the negotiations 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.

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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 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.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com or Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times reporter Linda Shaw contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this story, published Sunday, Sept. 13 and corrected Sunday, Sept. 13, incorrectly identified Kentlake High School. We regret the error.

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