Kennewick paraeducators approve contract, won’t strike

Kennewick paraeducators and supporters rally near the school district office last week.
Kennewick paraeducators and supporters rally near the school district office last week. Tri-City Herald

Kennewick School District paraeducators have approved a new pay agreement with the school district, avoiding a possible strike.

The deal gives them an 8 percent raise this school year, retroactive to Sept. 1, plus an additional 1.5 percent increase for longevity.

It also provides for a 4.1 percent increase next school year, plus a similar longevity bump.

The workers approved the deal during a meeting Thursday evening.

“The members have spoken,” said Brandy Strait, a Kennewick paraeducator and co-president of the union chapter, in a statement.

“We believe that we reached an agreement with the district that is fair and equitable to all of our members,” she said.

In its own statement, the district said, “we are delighted that the paraeducators have approved the district offer. The next step is for the contract to be ratified by the board of directors at their next business meeting on Jan. 23.”

The district and the union have been negotiating over pay for months, and paraeducators early last week authorized a strike vote to be taken Thursday if a deal couldn’t be reached. But then the two groups reached a tentative agreement ahead of the session.

“We care for the most vulnerable students in our schools, and we felt overwhelming support as we stood up for a livable wage,” Strait said in her statement. “Thank you to the parents, the community, and the teachers. We appreciate you standing with us.”

The union chapter includes more than 600 paraeducators, cashiers and licensed practical nurses, and is represented by Public School Employees of Washington SEIU Local 1948.

Similar negotiations over teacher and support staff wages have played out in other districts across the state since the summer, prompted by an overhaul of Washington’s education funding system that included a $2 billion infusion for educator pay statewide.

All school districts in the Tri-Cities have settled with their teachers unions, and many support staff contracts also are settled here.

The Richland School District is in mediation with its paraeducators, with another mediation session planned next week.

Sara Schilling writes about what makes the Tri-Cities home, including cool people doing cool things. She also pays special attention to children’s education, schools, health care and the arts. She grew up in Kennewick and attended Seattle Pacific University.