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Start of school in jeopardy; SKEA votes to strike if agreement is not reached

The start of school depends on contract talks between the South Kitsap School District and the local teachers
The start of school depends on contract talks between the South Kitsap School District and the local teachers' union.
— image credit: Dannie Oliveaux/Staff Photo

Talks continue between South Kitsap School District officials and the local teachers’ union, in hopes in reaching an agreement before the Aug. 31 deadline.

During a three-hour meeting Monday night, South Kitsap Education Association members voted to strike if a contract agreement is not reached before Saturday’s deadline. Nearly 78 percent of the group voted in favor of a strike. About 90 percent of the members attended the meeting.

SKEA reported that of the 446 members who voted, 346 voted in favor of the strike, while 94 opposed and six abstained.

The teachers’ union wants smaller classroom sizes and for the district to hire more teachers. The district is reporting a budget shortfall for the upcoming school year because of declining enrollment, which means less money coming from the state.

After the meeting, SKEA spokesperson Judy Arbogast told reporters that teachers have been unhappy for a long time.

“It’s about the kids,” Arbogast said. “We just reached our limit.”

Arbogast said the district’s classroom sizes are larger than other districts on the Kitsap Peninsula.

“We need to be able to address their (students) needs as well as the curriculum needs and requirements put on us,” she said.

Arbogast said she believes SKEA is not asking too much from the district.

“They cut 57 to 61 teachers,” she said. “That is 10 percent of our staff.”

She said because the district received more money from the state, the district can afford to hire more teachers and she claims the district has more money that last year.

“With the nearly $5 million in cuts to teachers, we have $6 million from the state and the levy,” Arbogast said. “We have more money coming in from the levy which amounts to about $11 million more than the district had last year.”

Josh Morton, who teaches eighth-grade language arts at Cedar Heights Junior High, said this is the first time in his nine years in SKSD that he felt the district is endangering its students and voted to strike.

“We wanted to show our solidarity because we are tired of overcrowding and kids are not learning in that environment,” he said.

Morton said it stems from the vote of no confidence for the district’s chief financial officer Sandy Rotella.

“It’s all trickled down from there and we are sending a message loud and clear to our district,” Morton said. “This about the kids and nothing to do with teachers’ pay.”

Lora-Jean Piper, who teaches at-risk students at the Explorer Academy, was emotional after the meeting.

''I want to cry because we have to strike to deal with our students,” she said.

Piper said overcrowding in the classroom eliminates more one-on-one teaching with too many students in a room and test scores declining.

She said she’s glad the tension of the vote is over.

“We’re heartbroken we have to go on strike to make our point,” Piper added.

Superintendent Michelle Reid said the district was disappointed about SKEA voting to strike, but she remained confident that both sides can reach an agreement.

“While we are disappointed that the South Kitsap Education Association has chosen to strike; we remain committed to reaching an agreement that is both educationally sound and fiscally responsible prior to the start of the upcoming school year,” Reid said in a written announcement. “We realize and understand the potential impact a strike would cause to our school and community and are therefore focused on reaching a fair agreement as soon as possible.”

The school board asked Reid to monitor projected enrollment and class sizes at all schools.

As of Aug. 27, overall enrollment shows that 9,030 students have enrolled — 32 less than the projected September enrollment of 9,062.

There are 4,714 students enrolled in the elementary schools (112 less than September’s 4,824 projection), 2,165 enrolled in the junior high schools (7.5 more) and 2,153 in the high school (72 more).

This school year’s enrollment is budgeted for 9,086 students, 242 less than the 9,328 budget for 2012-13.

On Wednesday, Reid said she authorized the additional allocation of three teaching positions to address “hot spots.” She provided an updated report on class size ratios on her blog.

Reid said that elementary school class sizes have been mitigated with the addition of 1.5 new teacher positions, while the junior high and the high school class sizes are being mitigated with the addition of one new teacher each.

“As the actual student enrollment numbers become more clear as compared to the projected student enrollment numbers, we will continue to mitigate class size concerns as we are able,” she said.

Reid reiterated the challenge that the district is facing with its budget.

“We are in a precarious fiscal position due to the continued use of one-time dollars from our reserves in order to support enhanced staffing,” she said. “We must live within our current resources and ensure that staffing positions are paid for with on-going revenue sources in order to rebuild our reserve. We are also concerned that our student enrollment continues to decline, which translates into an additional loss of revenue.

The district announced in May that it was cutting 61 teaching positions.

The district’s proposed budget for the 2013-14 is $95.6 million with $72.4 million going toward employee salaries and benefits. About $40 million is for certificated employee salaries.

The ending general fund balance for 2013-14 is $3.6 million — compared to $4.4 million for 2012-13.

During the 2011-12 and 2012-13, the district budgeted 615 and 617 FTE (full-time equivalents), respectively, while student enrollment declined from 9,406 to 9,328 during the same period. The district did not cut any teacher positions and used money from the district’s reserves to pay teachers.

The board voted on Wednesday to adopt the budget.

 

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