A Washington state public school district will reopen Thursday after a teacher strike that demanded improvements to classroom sizes, pay and health services – while another district is planning to strike if similar asks aren’t met, joining educators in Seattle.
The Kent Education Association, which represents close to 2,000 employees near Seattle, reached a tentative deal with the Kent School District on Wednesday that essentially ended talks that had been underway since July and had delayed the academic year.
Both parties have agreed to keep the details of the tentative agreement confidential until the contract is ratified, the school district said in a statement. The contract will head to the Kent School District Board of Directors for final approval, the district added.
About 110 miles to the southwest of Kent near Portland, Oregon, teachers in the Ridgefield School District are planning to initiate their strike Friday if a deal isn’t reached with their union.
Members of the Ridgefield Education Association overwhelmingly voted to approve the strike if the district refuses to address issues that are also related to classroom sizes and wages.
The district has seen higher staff turnover due to dissatisfaction with pay, according to Elizabeth Stamp, the co-president of the union representing more than 200 certificated teachers and staff.
“We have made proposals that begin to address our crowded classes, give teachers the ability to provide more individualized instruction and ensure we don’t fall further behind other districts in pay,” Stamp said. “We need the district to partner with us, for our students and our community.”
Seattle schools delayed
The planned strike in Ridgefield joins similar ongoing efforts in Seattle, where the start of the school year is expected to be delayed for a second day Thursday.
The Seattle Education Association began its strike Wednesday morning, which was slated to be the first day of school for about 50,000 students in the Seattle Public Schools district. The union that represents about 6,000 employees was still negotiating Wednesday, according to a statement posted on its website.
“Last night the bargaining team stayed at the table until midnight, and then returned to work early this morning, meeting with the district and the mediator at 10:30 AM,” the union wrote in a statement dated Wednesday. “We continue to advocate for student supports, reasonable workloads, and respectful pay that allow us to return to our students with more of what they deserve.”
In notifying parents that schools will be again closed Thursday, Seattle Public Schools said meals will be available for students at several locations.
“We continue to negotiate with Seattle Education Association, our educators’ union. We do not yet have an agreement,” the district wrote.
Educators in Seattle are asking for more support for students, including interpretation and translation services for those receiving multilingual education and improved special education staffing ratios.
The union also wants more support and controls to prevent educator burnout, including capping some class sizes and making sure each paraprofessional has a laptop. Finally, the union wants to increase wages, add incentive pay to attract substitutes and protect educators’ ability to take personal days.
The Seattle teachers’ union membership voted overwhelmingly in support of the strike, according to its president, Jennifer Matter.
“We had a really difficult decision to make, and believe me, that decision was not taken lightly on whether or not we would authorize a strike,” Matter said. “Because no one wants to strike. It’s not something that people just choose but SPS has given us no choice because, again, we can’t go back to the way things have been we need to fight for something better.”