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South Kitsap teachers' union approved new 3-year contract
School started on time Wednesday morning after South Kitsap Education Association members overwhelmingly approved a three-year contract which will lower class sizes over the next three years, a day earlier.
Of the 407 members that attended Tuesday’s meeting, more than 96 percent voted in favor of the new agreement.
Last Friday, the South Kitsap School District and teachers’ union reached a tentative agreement.
The ratified contract went before the school board for approval Sept. 4.
Both sides are pleased with the agreement, according to Superintendent Michelle Reid and SKEA President John Richardson.
“We are pleased to have an agreement with the South Kitsap Education Association and we are excited to get the school year started,” Reid said. “I want to personally thank all the stakeholders involved in the negotiation process for their dedication and commitment. I look forward to our continued work together as we maintain a relentless focus on the success of all students, no exceptions.”
“I’m very pleased it passed,” Richardson said. “We started making some good progress in lowering class sizes. But we still have some work to do.”
The new three-year contract includes:
• Secondary academic class sizes will be reduced from the previous contract levels by two students this semester and by one more student the second semester of this school year. Academic secondary class sizes will be reduced by one additional student during the 2015-16 school year.
• Elementary split classes (where students from two different grade levels are placed in one classroom) will be reduced over the next three years. The major focus is to eliminate grades 4/5 and 5/6 splits this year. In the second year of the contract, 2/3 and 3/4 splits will be added and in the third year, the district will concentrate on eliminating 1/2 splits.
• Elementary school class sizes will be lowered by one in the second year.
He said the new contract is a great start for teachers.
“It’s a victory for our students, our families and our teachers,” Richardson said.
He said the new superintendent came into a “very difficult situation” and handled it as a professional.
“I think she handled herself with grace and class,” he said. “When she came to the table, that definitely helped us to get to that settlement. Everyone involved wants lower class sizes. I think it was important for our students and their learning to get these lower and continue to make progress.”
Members of the bargaining team for the school district were Lynn Stellick, Dave Colombini, Shannon Thompson, Rita Reandeau, Darek Grant, Jerry Holsten and Jay Villars. SKEA was represented by Richardson, Judy Arbogast, Jenni Duggan, Mary Hawksley, Sue Hinkley Porter, T. Michael Burch and Randy Paddock.
Richardson said avoiding the strike was a “win-win” situation.
“Our teachers have never been on strike,” Richardson said. “But our students are that important. This community, these teachers care so much about their students and learning. They were willing to make that sacrifice for the students.”
As for teachers’ morale, Richardson feels it will improve as the school year progresses.
“There is still some healing to do, but I think with Dr. Reid leading and the unity that the teachers now have, I believe the morale will be better and better as times goes on,” he said.
Terri Messing, a teacher at Cedar Heights Junior High, is glad the contract was approved before school started.
“Nothing’s perfect,” Messing said. “In a perfect world, we have 10 kids in our class. The district and the teachers are headed in the right direction. We’re doing it for the kids. It’s all about the kids.”
She said she feels the new superintendent and school board will continue to work together for students and staff.
“Dr. Reid is going to be great for the district, along with the school board,” Messing said. “They listen and they work together.”
Richardson said the state Legislature needs to work on funding.
“We hope the state will put more money in the next biennial budget,” Richardson said. “They need to fully fund education and lower the class sizes.”
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said there are no state recommendations for class sizes and no maximum limits. Class sizes are up to local school districts and the building fire codes.