The Kent teachers union passed a resolution calling for the resignation of the Kent School District’s superintendent and human-resources chief after threats of more than 100 teacher layoffs.
For the past year, the Kent School District has grappled with not having enough money, resulting in slashed supply budgets, larger class sizes and threats of more than 100 layoffs.
Those budget shortages, say the teachers in the state’s fifth-largest school district, are a result of district leaders’ failures. Earlier this week, 2,000 members of the teachers union called for the resignations of Superintendent Calvin Watts and human-resources chief Moriah Martin.
“The membership of the Kent Education Association has NO CONFIDENCE in the leadership provided to the district by top administrators,” the union wrote in a resolution approved last week.
The union attributes the budget crisis to administrators, including Watts and Martin, who, members say, overestimated student enrollment, overspent their budget and tried to balance a budget at the expense of teachers and students.
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The district had no comment on the resolution, said spokeswoman Melissa Laramie, because district officials haven’t received it yet. The district declined to make Watts and Martin available for interviews.
Kent’s school year has been punctuated with bad news about the district’s budget, starting with an announcement just before school started in August that it had a $6.9 million budget shortfall for the 2016-17 school year. The district said in February that it was eliminating 45 positions in the central administration center, was reducing benefits for nonunion administrators and taking away salary increases for other staff members. Those changes, Watts said, totaled about $4 million in savings.
The final straw, Kent Education Association President Christie Padilla said, was when the district said in early March that it was slashing dozens of positions across its 42 schools.
Teachers were told at 8 a.m. on a school day that the district planned to eliminate 127 staff positions and nine administrator jobs, Padilla said, then told to teach for the rest of the day without any other information. The announcement came only a few days after voters passed a $94 million enrichment levy — by only 266 votes — that accounts for 20 percent of the district’s budget. Union members were under the impression that the levy passage meant there wouldn’t be a need for teacher layoffs.
“There was a lot of uncertainty because people were really scared and weren’t sure how it would affect the Kent education community as a whole,” she said. “It was a shock to everyone.”
District officials walked back the warnings about layoffs two weeks later, after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a state-funding bill that will bring an extra $75 million to the district. Watts said the district plans to eliminate 60 staff positions through attrition, not layoffs. Padilla said she learned about that plan through a television news story; the district said information was available to “informal and external stakeholders as plans developed.”
In a prepared joint statement, the Kent School Board said members respect the opinions of teachers and have heard community concerns, and pointed to the projection that the district will be better off financially next year.
“We are committed to continuous improvement, and we still have work to do. We know that Superintendent, Dr. Calvin Watts, is committed to our mission of successfully preparing all students for their futures,” board members said in the statement. “As challenging as the decisions are that we must make during this time, everything we are doing now is to ensure the financial solvency of Kent School District for years to come.”
At a recent School Board meeting, students and parents spoke about the emotional strain caused by the district’s budget woes. The district’s budget for materials and supplies has shrunk by about 20 percent since last year, and teachers have reported spending up to $500 of their own money for items such as paper and printer toner. Students see those effects on their teachers, one parent said.
Students also asked board members about cuts to school programs and how it might impact graduation requirements. Laramie, the district spokeswoman, said last week that some course sections might not be offered next year because there will be fewer teachers, but no programs have been eliminated.
During that meeting, Watts said he appreciated hearing from the community and that he’s learned more about the importance of communication. Funding structures are complex, he said, and require more than just a 45-minute face-to-face conversation to explain. The district will host four community conversations next week for the public to learn more about the district’s goals, budget and projects.
Brianna Kamran, a Kent-Meridian senior, asked the board how the district would attract new high-quality teachers in the future.
“Why would quality teachers want to come to the Kent School District … if the education is largely disproportionate to the surrounding districts?” Kamran asked.
Padilla said that when the teachers union voted on the resolution, someone asked the audience: “How many of you are considering leaving?” and “How many of you know someone leaving?”
Every person raised their hand, she said.
“It was a really emotional time during that meeting,” she said. “People who have been in the district for years are looking to leave. I think that that is the biggest travesty of all of this.”