There’s a chance Kent Public Schools students won’t be starting school Thursday because of the looming threat of a teacher’s strike.

Kent Education Association (KEA) members voted overwhelmingly Monday night to go on strike if union leadership isn’t able to come to an agreement with the school district by Wednesday, said Layla Jones, union vice president. 

“This is not something our membership takes lightly,” Jones said in a phone interview. “It’s hard on our members and our members want to be at school. We really hit a wall and we’re not getting anywhere.” Kent’s Thursday start date is one of the earliest in the Seattle area; Seattle Public Schools do not begin until after Labor Day.

A third-party mediator is now at the bargaining table to help the process, Jones said. KEA was ready to begin bargaining in May, but the district held off until July — two months later than the previous year, she added.

The union is negotiating for more pay, manageable class sizes, and manageable case loads for staff working with English learners and students in special education, Jones said. The union is also negotiating for more mental health support for students. 

“There’s a teacher shortage nationwide and people leaving the profession,” Jones said. “It’s scary there are not enough teachers coming up to replace the ones leaving. We need competitive pay to maintain the teachers we have and recruit new ones.”

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At Monday’s meeting, around 1,600 union members showed up, Jones said, and about 94% voted to strike if the district and union don’t come to an agreement. There are between 1,700 and 1,800 KEA members, which includes classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, speech and physical therapists. 

Kent district officials could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Jones said it’s unlikely the district will be able to find enough substitutes for classes to begin Thursday if the union goes on strike. The last time Kent educators went on strike was in 2009, she said.

“This is a hardship on our members but it’s also taking a stand and holding the district accountable,” Jones said.