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Originally published September 3, 2009 at 4:15 PM | Page modified September 3, 2009 at 6:16 PM

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Kent teachers' strike is illegal; teachers must return to work

The strike called by the Kent Education Association on the Kent School District is illegal and teachers have to go back to work.

IT is illegal for public-school teachers to strike. Attorney General Rob McKenna has said so, and Gov. Chris Gregoire said it when she was attorney general. So now says King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas, who has ordered Kent teachers back to work next Tuesday, with classes to start on Wednesday.

The judge should be commended for a good ruling.

Teachers are forbidden to strike because it disrupts the education of children, and the work and plans of parents and other school-district employees. Meanwhile, teachers make little sacrifice, since they are paid for the same number of days regardless. The school year merely stretches longer into summer.

If the Legislature wants to rewrite the law to permit teacher strikes, or if the citizens want to do it by initiative, they can. But there has been no political demand to allow teacher strikes.

For the union to ignore a law like this might be excused in an extreme circumstance — for example, if the teachers were being exploited in some gross and pressing way. But consider the actual disagreements.

The two sides cannot agree on how many meetings teachers have to attend before and after school.

The two sides cannot agree on what's to be done if there are more children in a class than the limit — for example, if there are more than 29 in a sixth-grade class. The district wants a teacher in that case to have an aide and the union wants the teacher to have a bonus.

The two sides cannot agree on pay. The average teacher (master's degree, 11 years of service) now earns $56,088 a year, which is somewhat less than the neighboring districts. The union wants a 3-percent raise the first year and 3-percent the second, and the district has offered 3 and 1.5 percent, which it says it is able to do only because it laid off administrators last spring.

These are the main issues. They are not matters of desperation that would justify a strike in contravention of state law. They are the ordinary stuff of labor negotiations.

The two sides need to settle these issues — and whether they settle them or not, teachers have to go back to work, under the old contract, on Tuesday.

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