Kent School District backs off plan to lay off teachers

VIDEO: Plan to avoid teacher layoffs

After weeks of packed school board meetings and hundreds of complaints, the Kent School District Administration has decided to back off of a plan to potentially lay off 127 teachers and possibly other staff.

The school district made the announcement Friday after weeks of speculation over whether the district would make the cuts that proved so unpopular they lead to two school board meetings that lasted past 11 p.m. with hundreds of students, parents and teachers making public comments on the cuts.

In mid-March, and this past week the school board hearing room at the district offices were filled to capacity with overflow rooms to accommodate all the people wanting to speak about the proposal that would have cut teachers, and likely increased class sizes.

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Parents who are still concerned said they expect the next board meeting to be full of people as well. The school district said the layoffs have been averted, but at least two families that spoke to KIRO 7 said they would believe it when they saw it, and this story is very far from over.

At the school board meeting on Wednesday, a student broke down in tears when she offered her public comment. She cried through her entire statement at one point saying “many of my teachers have to buy what they want to teach us, now they're going to pay for it by getting laid off.”

It’s not clear if moments like that, with teary students or angry parents swayed the opinion of the administration.

Leanne Struble said she’s still not convinced, “I'm still angry I still want to know.”

Whatever made the difference the Kent Schools did appear to back off a plan to lay off teachers.

Christie Padilla is with the Kent Education Association which is the union representing the teachers. She admitted that from the outside it looks like the district caved to public pressure.

“They did consider the pressure the public was putting on the district considering their options they took the best one they possible could,” Padilla said.

She wasn’t taking a victory lap over the news and only seemed cautiously optimistic. “It is definitely a victory for students classrooms and our teachers, I'm happy for that but I do worry about the long-term effects,” Padilla added.

In a statement the KSD said: "As a result of the re-evaluation of district revenue KSD will be eliminating 60 full-time educators from Kent Education Association through natural attrition as opposed to 127 full-time educators."

Padilla said the district never informed KEA Friday about the new plan, and they learned about it when teachers in the district schools were informed over email, some saw the posting on the district page.

Leanne Struble was not convinced by any of it. “No not yet,” she said.

The Struble family was among hundreds who went to board meetings to rail against the layoffs. Noe Struble said one of his French teachers was slated to be a victim of the layoffs.

Leanne Struble voted for levies that gave the district millions, only to see KSD float a plan to lay off teachers.

Much of the anger over the layoffs has focused on superintendent Calvin Watts, trust even now with "good" news is hard to come by, according to Noe Struble. “I think the students and parents who are informed are really going to have a hard time trusting them for years to come,” Struble said.

We did contact the district to see if the Superintendent or the district spokesperson would be willing to speak to us on camera but did not hear back.

Since the layoffs were announced, KIRO 7 has been told repeatedly that the Superintendent will not be doing interviews. A student walkout and parent protest at the district building is being advertised for April 4. It's not clear if that will still take place - some said they’re still committed to it.

The Kent School District passed two levies and is still laying off more than 100 teachers.

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