With only two weeks until classes resume in the Kent School District, teachers there are threatening to strike.
Unless the district's teachers union and district officials reach a deal on higher pay, teachers say they will walk out the day before school starts.
The threat comes during a hectic negotiation season for teachers unions, whose contracts reopened statewide this year following the resolution of the landmark school-funding lawsuit known as McCleary.
On Tuesday, the Kent Education Association, which represents teachers in the South King County district, reported that more than 700 of its 1,500 members attended a meeting Tuesday; 97 percent of them, the union said, voted to authorize a strike — but only if there's no agreement on higher pay by Aug. 29. The first day of school is Aug. 30.
"We absolutely do not want to strike," union president Christie Padilla said in a statement. "We need to keep the best teachers in the district because that's what's best for kids. Competitive salaries is one way to ensure we keep the best teachers." During the 2017-18 school year, teachers in Kent earned between $46,463 and $87,575 depending on their experience and education level.
District officials were not available for comment Wednesday — a Kent spokeswoman said they were all on a retreat. But on its website, the district warned families about a potential delay to the start of the school year.
The online notice also said the union and district have jointly requested a mediator from the state Public Employment Relations Board to help both sides renegotiate the teachers contract.
"As a district, we remain hopeful that we will start school August 30 as scheduled," the district said. "We respect and value all (Kent School District) staff, including our teachers."
Kent isn't the only school district experiencing tensions between its teachers union and administrators this summer.
Contract negotiations opened in virtually all 295 Washington state school districts after lawmakers in March approved a nearly $1 billion boost in its budget for public schools to pay for teacher and other school staff salaries.
Some districts, including Bellevue, Edmonds and Lake Washington, already have reached deals with their unions to provide teachers with double-digit pay hikes. Others, such as Kent, have had more tense negotiations as district and union officials disagree on whether lawmakers intended to limit the size of teacher raises this year.
The disagreement centers on whether the new state budget caps teacher raises at about 3 percent or whether districts have the flexibility to go above that limit.
The state's largest school district, Seattle Public Schools, only recently started talks over compensation with its teachers union, the Seattle Education Association. But new Superintendent Denise Juneau already launched a public campaign to paint the district's financial future as bleak.
When the Seattle School Board met Wednesday afternoon for a closed-door meeting on bargaining, they were greeted by teachers rallying outside the district's SoDo headquarters.
About 200 people attended the rally in support of Seattle teachers fighting for a stronger contract.
"We want the school board to know that we need and respect all educators here at Seattle Public Schools," Seattle Education Association president Phyllis Campano told the crowd. "Each of us plays a role in educating our children and we need to be treated as professionals."