(The Center Square) – The Kent, Washington, school board split on a vote of 2-2 for a resolution that would have allowed the district to bring a lawsuit against the Kent Education Association teachers union Monday night.
Absent a tie-breaking vote, the motion deadlocked and was defeated.
The teachers union has been on strike since Aug. 25, looking for higher pay, class size, caseload and improvements to mental health help for students, according to KEA.
The Kent school board was considering seeking injunctive relief against the KEA as a way to try and order teachers back to work.
Prior to the vote, Kent School Board Director Tim Clark spoke on the impacts of the delayed start to the school year to non-faculty staff members, who have yet to work this school year.
“They work by hour and everyday that, in effect, kids are not in the buildings and school is not in process, they can’t get on with their lives until, in fact, that gets moving,” Clark said during the meeting on Monday night.
Kent School Board Member Awale Farah said voting for the resolution was the hardest decision of his life. He said he was in favor of the resolution because he is sticking up for the students of color, who make up over 70% of the student population by his count.
“It is not a decision I made lightly – I know I’m going to be losing a lot of friends,” Farah said. “More than 80% of this district’s teachers are white . . . and as a person of color, I need to stand up for the kids and I know the decision I make tonight is a decision I can live with.”
While Farah and Clark were in favor of the resolution, the other two board members were not comfortable voting for a potential lawsuit against KEA.
“Staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions and so far staff are not getting what they need and students definitely are not getting what they need,” Kent School Board Vice President Joseph Bento said. “Forcing educators into class is going to cause a lot of hardship and more animosity because we have a lot of relationship building that we have to work on in this district.”
There has been a bigger divide between the district and the union after the Kent School District made its salary proposal for teachers public on the school website.
In the post, the district said on Aug. 20 it proposed a first year 6.3% salary increase and also offered every KEA member a $1,000 stipend.
The proposal stated that KEA members on step one of KEA salary schedule would earn $64, 849; beginning members with a master’s degree would earn $77,220; and the final step of the salary schedule would be $124,647.
According to the district’s proposal, 75% of KEA members would make $77,220 or more.
The teachers union argues that releasing these numbers publicly was simply another tactic to break up the strike.
“While [the Kent School District] focuses on false information around dollars, KEA continues to focus on class size, caseload and mental health while trying to provide a competitive salary so we can retain and maintain the best educators out there,” the teachers union said in a Facebook post.