By Megan Saunders, for the Kent Reporter
Dozens of parents, students and teachers rallied at the Kent School District headquarters on April 4, pushing for the resignation of the district’s superintendent and for more financial support for their schools.
Last week, KSD revoked its original plan to eliminate 127 full-time staff positions after Gov. Jay Inslee signed SB 6362, allocating $75 million to the district. Sixty positions are still being eliminated through attrition at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, which the district says will offset revenue loss.
Community members came in droves to the rally, braving the rain and waving signs in the front of the KSD headquarters, along Southeast 256th Street. Attendees expressed worry over lack of transparency about district budgeting under Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts’ leadership.
“One minute we have no toilet paper in schools and the next minute we’re talking about implementing new computer technology,” said Dana Rosenberg, a mom of a kindergartner and third grader in the district. “Where is all the money going?”
At the Kent Education Association meeting, which was simultaneously occurring with the rally, the KEA voted no confidence in Watts’ position as superintendent.
Many parents who attended the rally felt betrayed when they learned of the district’s financial woes.
The concerns became clear after the initial decision to cut staff positions, despite recently passed levies.
The levies were in place to allocate more tax dollars to district programs and teachers. Proposition 1 specifically was put in place to raise $94 million to fund 20 percent of the district’s budget.
“Like many of the parents here, I voted yes on the levy because we thought the district was being truthful to us with our funds,” said Diana Paoletti, who has two kids in KSD schools.
“Now a lot of us are very upset. We voted yes, we did what they asked, we passed the levy and now we are seeing these cuts.”
Rosenberg noted Watts’ failure to provide further information into the district’s budget usage, which prompted her and other community members to create a petition for the superintendent to resign.
“Last (week) I had a meeting with some other parents and some key decision makers in our area and at the end of the meeting we looked at each other and we said, ‘we need to publicize that there is an issue’ and so that is when we decided ‘let’s start a petition and see where it goes,’” she said.
The petition calling for Watts’ resignation garnered more than 500 signatures. The most important part was that it gained attention from the public and school board, Rosenberg said.
Melissa Laramie, KSD director of communications, said the district has been transparent from the start, providing a full budget update at each of the board meetings.
“What’s important to understand is that we entered this school year in a deficit and no other school district of the 295 school districts in Washington State entered their school year in a deficit like KSD did,” Laramie said.
The recently passed levies, she said, do not address this deficit, which was $5.67 million at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
“The February levy was a replacement levy that begins in 2019,” Laramie said, regarding Proposition 1. “That money will be collected through property taxes in April and October of 2019 and 2020.”
Austin Freeman, a junior ASB officer at Kentridge High School, explained the fears of many of his peers attending a school that is experiencing budget cuts.
“I’m a junior and a lot of other 11th and 10th graders specifically were really concerned about AP classes,” he said.
“Not only would it reduce classes they could take but it would impact college admissions. The University of Washington might say ‘why didn’t you take AP Psychology during this year?’ then you would have to explain in your application, ‘sorry, it wasn’t offered because our school district was millions of dollars in debt.’”
He echoed a common theme of the gathering: Kent students and teachers, deserve better.
At just 11 years old, Ismail Moalim spoke in unwavering support of his teachers as well.
As people continued to rally in front of the administration building into the evening, a Kent teacher returned from the KEA meeting that occurred at Kent-Meridian High School, presenting a message to the ralliers that the Kent Education Association unanimously voted no confidence in Watts and called for his immediate resignation.
Hearing this news elicited cheers from the ralliers.
Shannon Jephson-Hernandez, a science teacher at Mill Creek Middle School and mother of children in the district, was unable to make it to the KEA meeting but was at the rally during the time of the announcement of the vote against Watts.
She said she is pleased with the goal to remove Watts, although acknowledges there will surely need to be more work done by the district.
“Even with him (potentially) gone, we still have the opportunity for those same problems to rise again with another superintendent,” Jephson-Hernandez said. “I feel that those issues need to be corrected and that’s a systemic problem within the district and how it runs its board.”