Kent School District labor group calls for resignations of district’s top leaders

KENT, Wash. — A Kent School District labor group is calling for the resignations of the district’s top leaders, Superintendent Israel Vela and School Board President Meghin Margel.

The Kent Labor Alliance, which is made up of several unions that represent school workers, said it had no confidence in the district’s executive leadership and school board members, according to the group’s written document.

“This letter is an expression of our ‘Vote of No Confidence’ in Israel Vela and Meghin Margel and their ability to function in leadership roles in the district,” the document wrote.

The alliance listed eight concerns it had, including failures of the Capital Projects and Technology Levy.

Voters rejected a levy that would have supported health and safety upgrades, facility equipment replacement and improvements and technology education, the alliance said. Instead of recognizing there is a lack of trust from the community, the alliance added, the district’s leadership blamed the failures due to voter apathy and taxation fatigue.

Leaders of the group also pointed to the passage of Resolution 1669.

The alliance said the resolution silenced a board member, whose wife works as a teacher within the district, from speaking on all union contract negotiations, even though he recused himself from speaking on negotiations involving teachers. The resolution was passed before the board spoke with all labor groups; the alliance added.

“The Board refused to consider this information before forcing the vote to silence Director Cook and the community that he represents,” the alliance wrote.

The Kent Labor Alliance also accused the district of replacing union employees with non-represented workers and disregarding the concerns from constituents and stakeholders.

In addition to the concerns, the alliance said Superintendent Vela also failed to address the lack of support staff and resources to support students’ mental health, staffing shortages and the lack of supplies and properly working equipment.

KIRO 7 News spoke with Tim Martin, the president of the Kent Education Association, which is part of the Kent Labor Alliance.

“We would like the superintendent and the school board to change their position on Resolution 1669 because ultimately what’s going to happen is it’s going to cause difficulty in retaining our teachers and other staff in the district,” said Martin. “But we would be happy if they would change their position on 1669 as well as helping to improve the learning conditions and safety for our students and staff.”

“It’s an anti-labor passage. That’s what this resolution truly is,” he said.

The union’s president also said the current working and learning environment for staff and students are not ideal.

“Mental health. We need counseling. We need more support. We need more accountability and that goes on all levels. Is it the best learning environment? No. Do we want to improve it? Yes,” he said. “Our students need more support. Our staff need more support.”

Martin said the alliance has reached out to Vela and Margel, but they have not heard back.

“There hasn’t been a response. The school board president has not responded in any way through email or through conversations or phone calls. My phone is open Megan. Give me a call. Israel Vela, nothing has come from that,” he said.

We also spoke with Jason Powell, the president of Teamsters Local 763, which represents around 150 Kent School District bus drivers and transportation assistants.

“In multiple occasions, bonds or levies have failed. That shows that the community members are not buying what the current superintendent and board are selling them. They are not reaching the voters in a way that at their level of leadership they need to have the ability to do,” he said.

While the union has a good relationship with transportation management and other departments, Powell said, it’s important for them to support other union workers.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” he said. “You either take responsibility or you don’t. If you take responsibility, you got to be able to fix it. And if over some time you’re not, then it’s time to move on.”

“I think they had an opportunity to lead the district in the right direction, and the only direction they’ve gone so far is the wrong direction,” he added.

KIRO 7 News also spoke with parents to get their thoughts.

Manmohan Singh, a Kent School District parent, said he understand the concerns shared by the unions, but he doesn’t necessarily agree.

“There should be enough evidence or other stuff before you go in with any of this stuff because any time you’re making a change, it’s cost money, like everything else associated with it,” he said.

KIRO 7 News reached out to the superintendent and the school board president. We’re still waiting to hear back.

We also reached out to the district and requested an interview.

A spokesperson declined our request, but said, “We remain committed to working with our labor partners on any issues pertaining to their collective bargaining agreements.”

Martin told KIRO 7 News the alliance has a meeting scheduled with the district in early June.

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