Kennewick classes canceled. Teachers to strike starting Tuesday

Kennewick Education Association holds staff excellence rally

Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association, provides details about an early morning rally and contract negotiations with the Kennewick School District.
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Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association, provides details about an early morning rally and contract negotiations with the Kennewick School District.

Kennewick schools will not open Tuesday for the first day of the new school year.

The school district announced at 7:30 p.m. that a tentative agreement had not been reached with the teachers union.

The district faced a Monday evening deadline to reach an agreement with the Kennewick Education Association, which represents more than 1,200 teachers and certificated employees.

The union voted last week to go on strike if no deal was reached Monday.

The last offer presented to the union would increase teacher salaries by 7.25 percent and would pay teachers comparable to Pasco and other neighbor districts, according to the school district.

The Kennewick Education Association said it was still at the bargaining table with no tentative agreement reached just before 8 p.m.

“We will be on strike beginning at 8 a.m. tomorrow,” the union posted on social media. Both sides indicated the talks were continuing.

The strike will keep 19,000 students at home and would affect about 13,000 families.

The YMCA will offer on-site childcare from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Amon Creek, Cottonwood, Canyon View, Ridge View and Lincoln elementary schools.

All children must be pre-registered in the YMCA childcare program to participate.

School-based athletic practices and events will continue to be held at their regularly scheduled times, as coaching contracts are separate from the union contract.

Continuing negotiations

The two sides negotiated until midnight Sunday. But that was too late to wait on Monday night to make an announcement, Superintendent David Bond told the Tri-City Herald earlier in the day.

“We don’t think people can go to sleep without knowing,” he said.

Early KEA Rally
Kennewick educators and their supporters fill the parking lot of the Kennewick School District administration offices early Monday morning to hold a staff excellence rally to show solidarity for their bargaining team. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Negotiations entered a sixth day Monday under the eye of a state mediator from the Public Employees Relations Commission.

In separate meetings with the Herald, Bond and his counterpart from the union said they are encouraged that negotiations were proceeding with the mediator.

Both sides praised the mediator and said they believe she would not hesitate to cancel talks if there was no progress.

The two sides adjourned late Sunday following a 13-hour marathon session.

Monday rallies

Before talks resumed Monday morning, Kennewick teachers gathered at the district’s administrative offices for a rally to show support for their negotiating team.

They spent the rest of the day at their schools for training and to set up classrooms.

If the strike proceeds, Rob Woodford, president the union, said members will picket their schools from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The school district said the rejected the district’s offer of a 7.1 percent salary increase in the 2019-20 school year plus a 3 percent increase in 2020-21 on Sunday.

The union has not disclosed its position, saying it wants to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, not in public.

The union says its members want salaries comparable to those paid by the Richland and Pasco districts.

Kennewick counters that its offer is close but that it is hamstrung by changes in how Washington funds schools.

To settle the McCleary dispute over adequate funding, the state adopted a salary schedule that penalizes it for having teachers with above-average experience while reducing its ability to ask voters to approve levies to pay for extras.

Neighboring Richland receives almost $4,000 more per year per teacher for salaries while Pasco teachers are less experienced than average.

Rob Woodford, president of the union, said the goal was to avoid a strike.

However, the union said Kennewick has the resources to match the salaries paid by Richland and Pasco.

Bond said increasing teacher pay could force the district to cut budgets for supplies and equipment, to delay implementing new curriculum, updating text books and reducing staff.

Bond said they have already cut up to 14 teaching positions, as well as some secretaries, paraeducators and custodians.

The salary proposal presented Saturday included a 6.25 percent across-the-board salary increase.

That would bring the average teacher salary to nearly $79,000, with more than 200 teachers making the top salary of almost $101,900 and more than 450 teachers making more than $90,000, according to the district.

Figures updated to reflect Monday’s offer were not immediately available.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.