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School Starts in Kent

Phyllis Fletcher

Today (Tuesday) is the first day of school in Kent. The first day was supposed to be August 31. Teachers there have been on strike, but yesterday they approved their contract and went back to work. It got nasty for a while. Details about the strike were aired in court, where the district won an injunction against the teachers.


The district admitted in court its administrators took photos of teachers so they could prove who came back to work, and who went on strike. The court said it would fine teachers $1,000 each starting yesterday, and $200 for every additional day they stayed out of work.

But on Sunday night, bargaining teams for the union and the district finally had a "TA" — a tentative agreement. And yesterday, as teachers were about to vote on their contract, union leaders said it was like Christmas.

McCorkle: "Well, there's a lot of buildup, and then you get the TA and it's like the package, and then you've finished opening the package, and then you have to go back to work. Your vacation's over."

Cristi McCorkle accepted hugs from teachers as they streamed into a high school gym to vote. She's a crisis coordinator for the statewide teachers' union. She says the strike was no vacation.

McCorkle: "It's been a lot of hard work. It's been like stringing lights every single day."

The result of all the work on both sides is a two–year contract. It limits class sizes to 29 students up to third grade, and 32 students in grades four through six. Teachers get a break on the amount of time they have to spend meeting with their bosses. And they get a couple raises: 3 percent this year, and 1.5 percent next year, on average.

Spokespeople for both sides say they want to improve their relationship for the sake of the kids. Teachers aren't allowed to talk to students about the strike unless students bring it up.

But one parent is on a mission to recall two members of the school board. Charles Allen founded a parent group last week. He's upset that the Kent Superintendent filed an injunction against striking teachers — a move districts usually win, but often avoid, to keep things from getting nasty. Allen says when the Kent District went there, he got angry.

Allen: "It became just blatantly apparent that the administration and the school board were abusing their power. And I'm talking as a parent, up until now, who hasn't cared."

Other parents blamed teachers for the strike. In some other districts, teachers agreed to work while the contract is negotiated. Teachers' strikes are illegal in Washington state.

The National Education Association said last week the Kent strike was the only one in the country.

A version of the Kent school calendar that's outdated now says the district will make up lost school days at the end of June.

I'm Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News.

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