No deal. No school. Kennewick teachers to continue to strike on Thursday

Strike begins by Kennewick teachers

Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association, talks about the strike by Kennewick teachers starting on what would have been the first day of the school year.
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Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association, talks about the strike by Kennewick teachers starting on what would have been the first day of the school year.

Kennewick schools will be closed for a third day on Thursday as talks continue with striking teachers.

Teachers returned to picket lines instead of classrooms Wednesday, while negotiators from the school district and the Kennewick Education Association went back to meeting.

The last salary offer posted by the district was a 7.5 percent increase for teachers next year. Teachers at the lowest end of the pay scale would receive $51,860 and the highest level would be $102,450.

The union posted no information all day on its response to that salary offer or to other contract demands.

The union’s blog on Tuesday said that negotiations were “like yesterday ... only a little worse because sometimes we take two steps back to take one step forward.”

There were few updates from either side on what was happening in bargaining on Wednesday, after the district’s initial morning posting.

However, the district posted information about student safety in response to social media concerns that the negotiations are about more than pay.

District officials countered that their latest survey of students show they feel safer than the previous school year. School officials also outline other safety improvements made to schools.

State mediator

A state mediator sent home both sides about 7 p.m. Tuesday to get rested for Wednesday’s talks for the three-year contract.

It was the eighth day in the series of marathon sessions that lasted until after 10 p.m. some nights.

“The Kennewick School District negotiation team is committed to staying as late as it takes to reach an agreement,” said Robyn Chastain, director of communications and public relations.

Union officials wrote Tuesday: “Send good thoughts to negotiators who are, currently, still bargaining. We hear that they really want to have a dinner with their families.”

Strike Day2 KEA crowd
Hundreds of Kennewick teachers and their supporters line West Fourth Avenue near the Kennewick School District administration office Wednesday morning during the second day of their strike. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Each side is giving information to a state mediator, who carries it to the other bargaining team in a separate room to be discussed.

Posting contract offers

In May, the Kennewick School Board changed its policy to allow the district to publicly post its contract offers as a way of cutting down on misinformation.

However, the union is not allowing copies of their counter-offers to be given to district bargainers because then they would become public documents.

They contend negotiations are more focused and more fair if the discussions stay within the bargaining sessions and not released to the public until a tentative agreement is struck.

Kennewick Superintendent Dave Bond told the Herald earlier this week that practice has prevented district leaders from better analyzing the union’s proposals.

KEA Strike signs
Striking Kennewick teachers and their supporters wave signs early Tuesday morning on West Vineyard Drive near Amistad Elementary School. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

While the district and teachers have reached tentative agreements on multiple items, they remain split over pay, and some other issues including teacher safety in special education classes.

In particular, teachers want the same pay for the same amount of experience and education as teachers in Pasco and Richland.

The district’s contract offers have been slowly increasing.

The district initially budgeted for 3.5 to 4 percent. Then they offered 6.3 percent, before reaching 7.1 on Monday, then 7.5 by the end of Tuesday.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.