Kennewick para educators turn down district's final offer and threaten strike

Teachers in Kennewick have backed the paras. They say they will strike if the paras do.

Tensions are high in the Kennewick School District. Para educators rejected a contract from the district Tuesday night and a possible strike is looming in the distance. This potential strike wouldn't involve just the paras, teachers say they'll strike with the para educators.

Paras are hoping the district will come back with another "final" offer before the 17th where they will vote on a strike.

"To me it felt like they didn’t respect our job as a whole,” said Public School Employee co-president and para educator Brandy Strait.

Para educators may be instructing your kids more than you think. From reading teachers to recess aides, teachers say they can't do their jobs without them. There are over 600 para educators in the Kennewick school district and seven substitute paras.

“We want them to know their kids are in good hands, also we need to have a living wage,” Strait said.

A Washington Supreme Court decision ruled in 2012 that the state must fully fund education. After several years of debate, it ended with $2 billion given to the state for educator salaries.

The Kennewick School District avoided a strike in August and reached an agreement with teachers, but no deal has been reached with paras.

"It hurts,” Strait said. “We were over the moon for the teachers but what they offered us it really hurt.”

The district came to the para educators last night with their final pay raise offer. The offer puts starting para educators at just over $14 an hour. With less than a $5 raise through the course of an entire career.

"It comes down to dollars and cents,” Strait said. “Having a living wage, being able to provide for your family, there are paras that are working two or three jobs and it's tough.”

The school district released this statement saying to Action News Wednesday:

"We are disappointed that our para educators did not approve the school district's offer. The offer puts the para educators raises in the same range as our other classified bargaining groups and is comparable to our neighboring districts."

Richland schools are currently in negotiations with their para educators. The district says they are confident they will avoid a strike.

In Pasco, Para's signed an amended contract for a pay raise after the McCleary decision. They currently make between $17.22 and $18.35. Their contracts are up at the end of this school year.

"I'm a big proponent of honesty,” said Strait. “It felt very dishonest.”

The paras will vote on a strike on the 17th. The district says it's too early to tell what their next steps will be.

Strait said $14.50 might seem manageable, but when you factor in that most paras are parents and only working a few hours and less than 200 days a year, they say the small raise they would be getting with the district's offer is still not liveable.

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