In Which My Plans Changed.

Today was the “full force” rally by teachers and parents at the district office. I took the boys toward the end of the rally because I didn’t think they’d last the two hours. We apparently missed the Teamsters truck, but there were hundreds and hundreds of people.

It was a good opportunity for the boys to see the scale of this strike. We took Peanut to the parents’ rally after the court hearing on Wednesday, but by that time most folks had gone home. Today they saw the hundreds of teachers lining the streets on both sides and we talked about how this is really affecting a lot of people and not just the teachers at our school. 

After the rally I was walking the boys to the car and my cell phone rang. On the other end was a friend of mine asking if I would be available in about 40 minutes to meet with a group of parents and Superintendent Vargas and the School Board President, Jim Berrios.

Haircuts rescheduled, throw the boys out the car window at grandma & grandpa’s, and I was there. Dressed for a rally on a hot afternoon rather than a meeting, but formality has never been a strong point of mine, anyway.

I’m too tired to edit my thoughts, so here are two versions of my thoughts on how it went: one brief, one loooooong first draft play-by-play.

Version One: Conversation good. Much talking and feeling like we got our point across. little.brain encouraged, maybe hopeful, but not convinced of puppies and sunshine to come. 

Version Two: There were eight parents in attendance, along with Dr. Vargas and Mr. Berrios. This meeting, it was explained, was a result of an informal breakfast meeting the two administrators had had with a group of teachers who initially were picketing outside Mr. Berrios’ house this morning.

In that conversation, it was expressed that many parents were frustrated by the progression of events, and particularly by the injunction action taken by the district. Mr. Berrios and Dr. Vargas asked to be put in touch with one of those parents and invited them to sit down this afternoon.

(That parent invited a friend of mine, who also invited me, for anyone who’s keeping score.)

The simple fact of the dialogue that had taken place this morning spread through the rally like wildfire and had already sparked some curiosity and murmurs that things were changing in the tone of the negotiations.

We were told in our meeting that last night, through the Governor, the union had communicated that they basically had no confidence in the mediator sent by the state, and so this morning Dr. Vargas had made the necessary phone calls to bring in a new mediator. The teachers this morning also voiced the frustration of many teachers and parents for the reader boards at the schools (“Teacher work stoppage continues / No school until further notice”), and by 1:00 this afternoon many signs had already been changed to reflect a more neutral message.

We agreed that the number one issue for us, as parents, was the tone of the conversation taking place. In general, the parents communicated a perception that the district was being disrespectful and misleading in even the simplest communications, and that this was indicative of a much larger issue — one parent described it as a “chasm” — of mistrust and a lack of collaboration between the teachers and the administration.

This is a long-standing issue that both administrators acknowledged, and both gave several examples of actions already underway to begin to address this divide. One parent said that the Superintendent’s role was to champion a vision larger than any us vs. them culture. 

One other major sticking point for us as parents was the district’s decision to file for the injunction — or, more specifically, the timing. Dr. Vargas explained that he was bound by his contract to make sure that the district adhered to state law, and that he had an obligation to file for the injunction. That seems reasonable, but one parent repeatedly asked why they made the decision to do it after only four days of negotiation. She said it really came across as the district saying they just weren’t interested in negotiating.

I, on the other hand, asked why they didn’t do it sooner, that if they had filed for an injunction the next day it would have been seen as an equal action in response to the union’s vote to strike, and whether or not you agreed with the action, it wouldn’t have been seen as an aggressive move the way that it was when it came four days after the beginning of the strike. I said that when they filed for the injunction, the bottom of that chasm we had been talking about dropped out completely.

One other interesting topic came up when we asked for clarification on the rumor that the district’s attorney, Chuck Lind, had asked in the injunction hearing that parents be restricted from striking. Dr. Vargas called him in to the room, and Mr. Lind explained that there was a portion of the motion by the district that detailed a request that the teachers be restricted from picketing. The KEA attorney had pointed out that the way this was written it could extend to anyone, including parents not associated with the KEA. Mr. Lind was asking for clarification on this motion, not asking that parents be restricted from exercising their first amendment rights. 

Because my bag of tricks is not very deep, I pulled out another P-I story as an example in my last comment. One of the core values at the P-I was to defy gravity, that whatever other responsibilities one had to remain ethical, to be a watchdog, etc., one should not limit themselves according to what they thought they could and could not do.

I expressed to Dr. Vargas that, for me, little and not-so-little things like changing the wording of reader boards and arranging for new mediators were indicative of a greater opportunity for him to be a hero in this situation, and that if that change in tone extended to the negotiations and brought about a good resolution, there were teachers out on the picket line that would buy him a cape and a utility belt.

It was a good conversation, and I felt like our concerns were heard. I also feel I have a better understanding of the administration’s position, and hope they will be more deliberate in the tone of their communications. I’m not convinced that everything is changing, but I’m encouraged by at least the appearance of a change in direction.

I’m proud to support our teachers, and hope to see them back in their classrooms soon.



Filed under KSD strike, politics

13 responses to “In Which My Plans Changed.

  1. darla

    worth waiting for … ty …

  2. Lori Fast

    Nicely said, my friend, nicely said.

  3. John Hamblen

    Some good thoughts here Paul. Thank you for taking the time to attend this meeting. I do have some additional thoughts.

    The problems being addressed are much bigger than the parents, teachers, and administrators. It is a Kent community issues of too many children, not enough facilities, nor enough money. I would suggest that the following groups sit down soon as a task force and get to work on the problem.
    Mayor and City Council
    Chamber of Commerce Leadership
    General population who do not have children in the school system
    PTO representives, including multi ethnic representation
    Teacher Union Leadership
    Non union teacher leadership
    Administration and Board
    The Faith Community

    Let’s work together to figure this out and stop dividing the community.

    • teachersarenottheenemy

      I agree with the premise but found in my lifetime and the experience I had with negotians in business, that you need as few people as possible while representing th stakeholders. Groups of more than 10 people have trouble reaching a good group decision. Just the key people, 1 from each group that can drive their internal buy-in process. Leaders and decision makers at the highest level only. That would work

  4. Pam Anderson

    Thank you, Paul. Well said and accurate accounts of our meeting. Hope our presence and voice makes a difference.

  5. Christy

    I am so glad that you got the opportunity to be a part of the meeting and thanks so much for sharing your experience with us!

  6. John,

    I couldn’t agree more. One issue that the administrators raised, which is the basis for a lawsuit that several districts have filed against the state, is the convoluted formulas that the state uses to disburse education funds. There are 200+ formulas being used to calculate funding from the state, and as a result Kent schools receive $580 *less* per student than the state *average.*

    Your suggestion of a task force is one I would wholeheartedly support, and if anything like that is to ever happen, I think the responsibility lies on the district administration and the teachers’ union to set the tone for such a conversation now if there’s any chance for an honest dialogue after this strike is settled.

  7. The Hammer

    Where to begin. . .I did hear, firsthand, about the AM meeting with the group of teachers, Jim Berrios and Supt. Vargas. I believe in holding onto hope, but I would also like to view the meeting through the eyes of a realist.

    Changing the negative reader boards and taking inaccurate class size numbers off the KSD website appears to be a good first move, but it’s much like closing the gate after all of the animals have escaped. I’m sure it was actually pretty easy to make the call to change to a more positive message on the reader boards, especially since the intended goal of shining a negative light on teachers had been accomplished. The damage was done. The reader boards had to be changed anyway to reflect the opening of school.

    It should have come as no surprise to either Jim Berrios or Supt. Vargas that the negative tone from the district through the reader boards, correspondence and robocalls created ill will in the teachers’ direction. Hopefully, my next “set” of KSD correspondence and robocalls will reflect a more neutral tone. I’m waiting.

    Both Jim Berrios and Supt. Vargas are charismatic and accomplished individuals who stand to lose a great deal if public sentiment does not sway back in their favor. It is imperative that they present themselves as concerned listeners. Hopefully their efforts are genuine and not mercenary. We cannot forget that there has been a great deal of spin, misinformation, and proven lies on behalf of the KSD. Because of this we should continue to watch what they do vs. listening to what they say. We can pull the masks and capes out once we actually see some promising action taken. We need to stay sharp, vigilant and remember what has transpired throughout our journey.

    As I see it, our union brothers and sisters attending the meeting did a fine job of sharing their thoughts and frustrations. They undoubtedly felt better about having the opportunity to hold a civilized conversation about the major issues that still remain. It’s human nature to feel better after we “get things off our chest.” I do, however, think it’s important to ask ourselves some questions. How did this meeting move us forward? Was KSD given new information to help them begin to bargain in good faith, or were these concerns and issues the same ones we have been vocal about? Are they just letting us vent?

    I’m just asking.

    • And they’re good questions to ask. I’m cautiously encouraged, but I wouldn’t yet say that I’m hopeful. Time will tell.

      As to the tone of the district’s messages creating “ill will in the teachers’ direction,” I, personally, haven’t talked to any parents who were swayed that way by those communications. My wife and I both have talked to several parents who said they were trying to remain neutral until those messages pushed them onto the teachers’ side. Maybe that’s just anecdotal evidence, but it’s consistent.

      Yesterday we talked about the update on the website that said that KSD negotiators showed up Thursday for bargaining and KEA didn’t, as it was misleading. Last night, that piece was still up, and I sent an email to Dr. Vargas and Mr. Berrios to point it out again and to say it would be a simple fix to either remove it or re-word it to include the fact that KEA was not present because they were in court.

      As of this afternoon, that statement is gone from the KSD website. Whether that request had already been made or if it was because of my prompting doesn’t matter; to me, it’s another sign that they are, at least outwardly, willing to try to change the tone.

      As neither of these men are directly involved in the negotiations, it remains to be seen whether any of this carries over to the bargaining table. And unless it does, none of this other goodwill accomplishes much of anything.

      Masks and capes are the property of heroes, but they can be just as useful in a raid. The actions — not just the words — of Vargas and Berrios will bring about change in this situation. It just remains to be seen whether it will be change as a result of, or in reaction to, their actions.

  8. The Hammer

    Thank you, “l.b.” I appreciate your words regarding the folks’ perceptions of the teachers. We do love our families!

    Just one more question. . . If the president of the school board and district superintendent are not involved in the negotiation process, what was the purpose of these meetings? Anybody???

    • The way they explained it to us, they are not directly involved at the table (I believe that Vargas even said he’s prohibited from bargaining), but they do instruct and direct the negotiating team. So they have influence, they just aren’t there personally.

  9. Cousin Cindy

    Wow Im so thankful for all the time put into this blog. Thank you for the explanations and verbage. You wrote exactly how I was feeling but I felt I had no voice.

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