KENT, Wash. - Teachers in Kent School District began picketing in front of schools early Thursday morning after they voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to go on strike.
During a meeting at Kentlake High School, 86.4 percent of teachers approved the strike, saying their classes are too big and their time with students is too small. Over 1,500 of the more than 1,700 teachers in the school district cast a ballot.
"The Kent educators are here to stand up for what are right and good for our students," said union president Lisa Brackin Johnson. "The Kent Education Association is now on strike."
Even before the vote, teachers were hard at work Wednesday night making picket signs, which they were expected to carry outside their respective schools starting at 7 a.m. Thursday. The first scheduled day of school is Monday and teachers hope the extra pressure will help get a deal done.
Kent School District spokesperson Becky Hanks says the district is offering teachers an average raise of 3 percent this coming school year and 1.5 percent the next year, a total cost increase of approximately $8.5 Million over two years
But the union says pay is no longer the big issue. Teachers say there are too many students per class. Johnson says teachers want the district to use some of its reserves to reduce the number of students in each class.
But the district says even decreasing class size by one student across the board could cost the cash-strapped district $2.7 million. Instead, it has offered to provide funds for additional staff that can help with large class sizes without increasing the number of classes.
The other issue on the table is what teachers are doing before and after school. They say they are required to spend too much time in administrative meetings rather than teaching.
"In some middle schools, teachers have as many as five mandatory meetings per day, before school, during planning periods and after school. What that means is that the time that they would normally spend with kids doing one-on-one instruction is going away," said high school teacher Tom Larsen.
Hanks says several concessions have already been made that will cost the district millions of dollars in a tough economy.
"There's been 16 tentative agreements to date, and so we have dealt with these negotiations in earnest since the get go," said Hanks.
Some teachers don't see it that way.
"The school district has not bargained in good faith as far as I tell," said teacher Carol Egleston.
"And now, I am completely for the strike, which is sad because I really love my job," said teacher Stephanie Tjaden.
Something else the two sides disagree on is the history of strikes in the district. The teacher's union says this is the first teacher strike ever for Kent, but the district insisted Thursday afternoon that there was a strike about 30 years ago.
Bargaining teams planned to resume talks Thursday at 10 a.m. and another vote is scheduled for Sunday. Both sides hope they have a deal in place so that school can start on time on Monday.
Other districts facing strikes
Mount Vernon and Everett teachers will be talking to their districts Thursday.
Lake Stevens and Sedro-Woolley are also without contracts.
Shoreline has reached a tentative agreement, with a union vote expected Thursday.