Wednesday night I sent a copy of my post below to the school board and Superintendent Vargas. Thursday morning, to my surprise, I received a response from Dr. Vargas. In the interest of the same transparency I asked them for, I’m posting his response here.
First of all, on behalf of the Board of Directors I want to thank you for your email and taking the time to convey your thoughts and views to the Board, including sharing your experiences while at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and both the professional and personal insights from that experience. It is very much appreciated. As Superintendent, please allow me to respond.
Please know the decision to request intervention from the courts was not an easy one for the Board or me. After calling for the intervention of a mediator earlier and the district’s continued efforts to work towards a fair, transparent and fiscally responsible contract we sincerely regret that –despite our best efforts and despite our responsiveness—our teachers have chosen to strike. Our intention is to have our students back in the classroom where they belong while continuing our efforts to bargain in good faith toward a speedy resolution. As you know, this strike directly impacts not only the more than 27,000 students who are entitled to their education and start school as previously agreed to by the Kent Education Association and the school district in the school calendar. This strike not only affect these students, of which comprise over 41% who are eligible for but cannot receive proper nutrition though their free and reduced breakfast and lunch program, but also our working parents who have to seek care for their children while they are on the job, over 1,100 other employees who get paid only when school is in session, and if the strike is prolonged risk missing paycheck or a potential loss of health and medical benefits which can be devastating to them and their families, as well as the entire community.
In our efforts to be transparent, we have been posting district and school level data from the database on the district website, including data on class size. The data comes from our official student information system. This system is used on a daily basis during the school year by teachers to take attendance and track grades (secondary level). When students are enrolled in a school, they cannot be assigned to a class until they are entered into the system.
As noted on the website, the data presented is a snapshot taken at the end of the year for elementary schools and at the end of the first and second semester for secondary schools. The data also represents student counts based on students that teachers actually entered grades in for during the 08/09 school year. Given the high level of student transiency we have in the district and the fact that this system based on number of students who actually received a grades, this has been one of the more static methods for presenting class size. The only way to provide a 100% accurate class size data is dynamically and provide class size information individually for every day of the 180 day year because students are allowed to (and some very frequently) enroll or leave the school and/or district during the school year as parents move in and out of the district and/or change schools within the district. This is particularly true in a good number of our schools in KSD. We are looking at also posting trimester grade data to reflect those figures at intervals during the year. I certainly agree that class size is very important, and most importantly the quality of instruction inside the classroom for each and every one of our students.
Also, please know that the district’s bargaining team has negotiated in good faith since the bargaining process began in April and we do not want to see any disruption, for any reason, of educational services to our students. After 12 negotiation sessions, the district determined that sufficient progress was not being made and an impasse was declared. Fortunately, the Public Employees Relations Association immediately responded to our request for assistance and a state mediator began directing the process and has now met with the teams almost every day. Over the past sessions, the district has responded to each of the proposals initiated by the Kent Education Association. So far, the teams have reached 16 tentative agreements regarding proposals initiated by the Kent Education Association and we are hopeful the teams will soon reach agreement on others, including district proposals. Again, we want speedy resolution to the issues.
We do understand the nature of your message and your concerns, and certainly also agree that we must all work together and put students at the center of our decisions. I can assure you that we have been making every effort to negotiate a reasonable and fiscal responsible contract with the resources the state has provided. We are also being extremely sensitive to everyone that this is effecting as we have an obligation to do so.
We will continue with our commitment to keep everyone posted and we encourage you to visit the KSD website (www.kent.k12.wa.us) for additional information and for ongoing updates as we work towards resolution. You may also submit additional questions at Facts@kent.k12.wa.us, or call our information line at 253-373-7466.
Thank you Paul, again, for your support of our teachers, Park Orchard and Meridian Elementaries, and the entire Kent School District community.