KENT, Wash. – Contract negotiators reached a tentative agreement Sunday night aimed at ending a teacher strike in Washington, the only such walkout in the nation.
The accord came around 7 p.m. during weekend talks between the Kent School District and union negotiators, union spokesman Dale Folkerts said.
“Our bargaining team has been working day and night trying to get a compromise agreement,” Folkerts said. The teachers’ main demand was smaller class sizes.
The pact was greeted by cheers from hundreds of teachers and their supporters who rallied in downtown Kent as Education Association President Lisa Brackin Johnson made the announcement.
Officials say the district – the fourth-largest in Washington – witnessed the only school strike in the country last week. More than 26,000 students have been out of their classrooms in 40 schools for the past two weeks.
Tentative approval followed a judge’s warning. Strikes are illegal in Washington, and the school district went to court to force the teachers to return. King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas ruled that each teacher would be fined $200 day and the Kent Education Association $1,500 daily if they didn’t return by today.
Folkerts said the elementary through high school instructors will vote on the tentative contract this morning. If approved, classes will resume on Tuesday, he said.
He refused to disclose any details of the contract, saying they would be revealed only after the district’s 1,700 teachers were informed.
The teachers were supposed to begin classes on Aug. 31 but instead were on the picket line. Talks between the two sides halted last Tuesday but resumed Thursday and were held over the weekend.
The walkout, unlike many labor disputes, was not centered on wage and contract issues. Kent teachers sought the smaller class size with the argument that the district should spend some of the $21 million it has in reserve to alleviate overcrowding.
The district maintained that it needs to hold on to the reserve funds during such poor economic times and that classes are not as crowded as teachers claim. Some teachers have complained that they don’t have enough desks for students, with more than 30 students in some elementary and middle school classes.
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