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Kent Education Association Calls For Two School Board Directors To Step Down

Ashley Gross

Schools in Kent started on time this week after teachers approved a last-minute contract agreement. But the contentious negotiations left many union members feeling frustrated and they’ve voted on a resolution requesting that two school board directors resign.

Christie Padilla, president of the Kent Education Association, said that after teachers approved the contract agreement, they voted unanimously to call for School Board Directors Karen DeBruler and Debbie Straus to step down.

Teachers are frustrated that Straus and DeBruler have supported Superintendent Calvin Watts even after the union took a vote of no confidence in his leadership earlier this year, Padilla said. And she said teachers hold the two board members responsible for limiting teacher pay increases in spite of additional money the district is getting from the state.

“They’re good people, but at the same point, they have to realize that their leadership might be doing more harm to the community than it is helpful,” Padilla said.

DeBruler and Straus didn’t respond directly to requests for comment. Watts said in a statement that the district is aware of the union’s requests for them to resign.

“We recognize that this has been a challenging summer as we prepare for the 2018-2019 school year,” Watts said. “As a district, we are committed to continuous improvement and financial stability, and we still have work to do. Each of our board members, including Directors Straus and DeBruler, are committed to our mission of successfully preparing all students for their futures. As challenging as the decisions our board must make, everything they do now is to ensure the financial solvency of Kent School District for years to come.”

The Kent school system has been mired in a budget crunch after overspending in recent years and has been trying to reduce costs through layoffs and attrition. Some community members have also said the district wasted money on a sole-source software purchase totaling more than $250,000 that Watts recently said didn’t work as expected.

Padilla said teachers approved an agreement for a 10 percent raise this school year and another 4.5 percent next year. But she said teachers were disappointed because the Washington Education Association had calculated that a 15 percent raise this year would be reasonable, given the money the district received from the state to satisfy the McCleary school-funding lawsuit.

“The school board of course set the parameters on our bargain, and people were really frustrated that those parameters were so restrictive and the bargaining team was not able to negotiate the full amount of the McCleary money that was due to them,” Padilla said.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

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