KENT, Wash. — Some 1,700 members of the Kent Education Association, the union that represents teachers in one of the largest school districts near Seattle, ended a 14-day strike Sept. 8. The new contract agreed to has not yet been released publicly. Over the past four years district officials have been cutting staff to save money and increasing class sizes and caseloads for teachers and counselors.
Some 6,000 teachers, substitutes, paraprofessionals and school office workers in Seattle struck Sept. 7-13. The issues are similar — for more special education teachers, lower class sizes and more mental health help, as well as pay raises. Teachers are also on strike in Ridgefield, in southern Washington.
Kent Education Association members voted to strike after rejecting a district proposal offering a wage increase, but refusing to address class sizes or additional mental health support. “We would love to be teaching our students right now, but the district has left us no choice,” Jes Miller, a teacher at Kentridge High School, told the Militant on the picket line Aug. 29. “The district staff wants to paint us as greedy because we rejected the wage increase. Of course we care about better wages, but just as important is the need for additional mental health staffing for our students.”
“I’m a special needs teacher. My classroom size cap is 10 students, which is enough,” Kent teacher Cindy Wright told the Militant. “The district wants to completely remove the classroom size caps. We wouldn’t be able to do our jobs. There’s not enough support staff to deal with behavioral issues that come up, and they’re not paid enough.”
At Kent-Meridian High School, Aug. 30, spirits were high. Pickets were getting plenty of support from people driving by. “The district thought the community was going to turn on us by now, but we’re getting support on the picket line,” said Colin Miller, a math teacher there.
Nearly 200 Kent School District custodians, maintenance workers and other staff in the American Federation of Teachers voted to strike Sept 3. They rejected school officials’ moves to divide them into “skilled” and “unskilled” and offer them a mere 2% and 1% raise respectively, far below the rate of inflation.
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