Yadda yadda disclosure: I am stating these opinions as a parent and not as a PTA member.
Kent School District is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment free from harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and bullying. Employees, volunteers, parents, and students can expect to be treated with dignity, respect, and understanding. [Kent School District Parent Handbook]
As a parent of students at both Park Orchard and Meridian Elementaries, I’ve been concerned about the bargaining process since I first began hearing rumblings about a strike in May or June.
I sympathize with what the teachers are asking for, but I also understand that the district does not have unlimited resources. Both sides are faced with difficult decisions, and I do not envy those who have participated in the bargaining process.
My previous employer, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, went through a strike in 2000. I had been promoted to a non-union position just weeks before the strike, and for six weeks I worked while watching my colleagues outside fighting for what they believed in. It was a difficult time for everyone, and it took a long time after the strike ended for the anger, bitterness and mistrust to dissipate.
Because of my personal experience, I hate the very idea of striking. I believe that strikes do more harm than good in the long run, in most cases. I believe that strikes reduce the level of civility on both sides, and hamper the communication of reliable information, as everything gets reduced to sound bites and phrases that will fit on a picket sign.
That said, I completely respect and support our teachers’ decision to strike this year.
Our teachers are not greedy. They are not striking for more money. They are not striking because they believe the district has some magical pool of resources and is holding out on them. They are striking because they believe their voice has not been heard, that they do not have any power to make a difference in the way the district chooses to run the schools unless they strike. The hope was that by striking, the district would see that they are serious about these issues, and thus would be taken seriously.
In this process, there has been a great deal of misinformation. Both sides have, at times, used numbers out of context to make their argument better. But where I have seen the union make attempts on their blog and in other places to clarify the information, the district continues to blow smoke with misleading phone messages, emails that don’t tell the whole story, and much insincere hand-wringing as they take advantage of their existing communication structure (meant to communicate relevant information to families in the district) in order to position themselves as the victims.
The district continues to say it’s about the kids. But I wonder what kids they’re talking about — or, more specifically, how many. For example, the district posted a “class size database” on their website, but the numbers are off in many cases by 2 or 3 students per class. Total enrollment at Park Orchard, according to the district’s site, was 412 students last year, while even the State Superintendent’s website reports the more accurate figure of 469 students. That’s 57 students — too large a number to be within any margin of error.
Teachers I talked to today shared the same inaccuracies with other schools’ figures, and also pointed out that one of the teachers listed at another school as having 27 kids in 5 periods left the school two years ago. These kinds of inaccuracies make me think twice about any other figures I’m hearing from the district.
For months, we as parents have heard rumors that the district is not bargaining in good faith, that they have maintained an all-or-nothing stance at the table. The fact that the same issues that we heard about in June are still the issues being complained about confirms this for me. The fact that the district is now seeking an injunction after only two days of missed classes further confirms this for me.
What message does it send to our children when we try and try to teach them to use their words, to resolve their differences, to work it out, and yet the district goes running to the court for an injunction after only six days?
The legality of a strike by public school employees is not entirely clear; if it were clear, there would be no strike. The teachers are exercising what they feel is a legal option — and their only option — in this matter in order to make their voices heard where they feel they are not. If the district was filing for an injunction strictly because they believed that the strike was an illegal action, they should have filed for an injunction on the day of the union vote. The fact that they have waited until now, to me, indicates that they are only doing this because they are done playing and would now like to take their ball and go home.
The teachers have not made this choice lightly; they really feel that, in this case, they have no other choice. Students are not being harmed yet; many districts in the state will not even start classes for another week, so our students are not “behind” in any sense. It’s my hope that the court will allow the strike to continue for the time being and use the power of the court to order more frequent bargaining or bring in additional mediators.
The district’s Parent Handbook states that the Kent School District is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment free from harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and bullying. Employees, volunteers, parents, and students can expect to be treated with dignity, respect, and understanding.
I hope that the court will use its authority to send a message to the district that, for the good of the students, they must work together with their educators to bring a resolution to these issues, that they must set an example for the very students they exist to serve, that when we roll up our sleeves and really set to work out our disagreements, we get much farther than when we bully others into doing what we want.