Education

It’s done! Kennewick teachers, administrators reach tentative agreement to end strike

Striking Kennewick teachers start community food drive

Park Middle School teacher Crystal Green tells about a community food drive started by the striking Kennewick Education Association members at their rally locations.
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Park Middle School teacher Crystal Green tells about a community food drive started by the striking Kennewick Education Association members at their rally locations.

Just as the legal fireworks started to fly, the Kennewick teachers association and administrators reached a tentative agreement that would bring an end to a strike that has closed classrooms this week.

The Kennewick Education Association announced at 6:30 p.m. that a tentative agreement was reached with the district.

Robyn Chastain, executive director of Communications & Public Relations for the Kennewick School District, indicated in a statement that teachers would have a general membership meeting on Friday at 10 a.m. to hold a ratification vote.

School will be canceled Friday as teachers review the new contract proposal, a process that could take hours.

“We are extremely relieved,” said Rob Woodford, the president of the Kennewick Education Association. “We are very excited to get back into the classroom, and we have the community and the teachers of Kennewick to thank for the opportunity to go back and do what we do best.”

The teachers canceled a rally planned for 8 a.m. Friday at the Kennewick School District.

Outside of announcing the agreement, district officials have been quiet about the new proposal. They are waiting for the teachers to ratify it before announcing the terms.

If the members approve the proposal it will bring the three-day teacher strike to a close, after more than a week of intense negotiations by both sides that lasted late into most nights.

The end of a wild day

The breakthrough came as both sides fired legal shots at each other, and the school board broke its silence on the issue.

The district started the day with its customary announcement about the latest pay request, which was summarily rejected by the union at the start of the day. When the union responded by asking for more pay than Richland or Pasco, the district rejected it and the school board stepped in.

In an afternoon message from the district, the school board called on the association to take the district’s latest proposal back to teachers for a vote.

At the same time, the district went to Benton County Superior Court to file a 140-page injunction.

The Kennewick School District filed an injunction in Benton County Superior Court with the hope of a judge ordering teachers back to work.

The document claimed the strike was interfering with the district’s “primary responsibility and obligation of insuring the opportunity of all district students to attain their educational objectives.”

The injunction’s wording appears to be taken directly from a similar court order filed against Pasco teachers when they struck in 2015.

It even mentions the former Pasco Association of Educator’s president rather than the current Kennewick Education Association president.

Day3 KEA stirke food drive
Striking Kennewick teachers from Park Middle School collect donations for a community food drive Thursday at their rally location on West 10th Avenue in Kennewick. Watch a video: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

The Kennewick Education Association responded with a complaint to the state Public Employment Relations Commission claiming the district was involved in unfair labor practices, including snooping on the head negotiator’s computer.

The claim includes an accusation that district technology employees accessed the lead bargainer’s computer remotely on Sunday without any prior notice, said Kennewick Education Association Attorney James Gasper.

“In fact, this invasion occurred while the KEA bargaining team was convening in their caucus room at the district’s administration offices on Sunday,” he said.

While union leaders didn’t see any files opened or copied, they said it was the only computer accessed in that manner, even though five others were in the same room.

The union also claimed the district was sending over a series of proposals that backtracked on previous agreements.

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.
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