The Roundup: Teachers and Staff Fight for Higher Salaries; Kirkland Tax Evader Faces Prison

A weekly recap of news in King County

• The Renton School District and the teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement, the district announced on Aug. 22. However, while certificated educators have been offered a tentative agreement, classified district staff such as office administrators are still only being offered 3.1 percent.

At a Aug. 22 Renton School Board public hearing on the 2018-19 district budget, classified staff and their supports spoke against the 3.1 percent salary increase and called for a bigger pay bump.

One teacher, Zer Vue, said she has written more than 10 letters of recommendation for paraeducators who were leaving to other school districts for better compensation over the last four years. “It breaks my heart to lose them,” Vue said.

Many classified staff shared their pay stubs at the hearing, saying that earning around $1,600 a month is not enough to pay for rent or child care in King County. Many of them work two or three jobs, they said. One classified staff member who grew up in Renton said she had to sell her home and move back into her parents’ house with her 5-year-old due to the low pay offered by the district.

“I am not asking for fortune and wealth,” said Christina Park, another classified employee and PTA president. “I am actually making less than I did as a 22-year-old college graduate. I chose this because of my love for education and children. What I’m asking for is to take care of my family, while I take care of everyone else’s.” — Renton Reporter

• The Kent School Board approved a new budget for the 2018-2019 years during a special session at the district headquarters on the evening of Aug. 24 despite protests from school teachers who argued that staff salaries should be increased.

The budget approved by the school board includes a $33 million projected ending general fund balance for a “rainy day,” but includes no more than the district’s original offer of a 3.1 percent, cost-of-living bump to teachers. Kent schools will start on time on Aug. 30.

Kent is one of the many districts across the state renegotiating teacher salaries after recent appropriations by state lawmakers in response to the 2012 McCleary Supreme Court ruling guaranteed about $1 billion for teacher wages. The Kent School District, which is also trying to recover from a budget deficit, is expected to receive approximately $74 million for K-12 educator salaries from the state. The school district has said that funds need to be set aside to cover the future, uncertain financial health of local classrooms.

Kent teachers have been demanding higher pay beyond what the district has proposed. But these demands have not been accommodated by the district so far, according to leaders of the Kent Education Association (KEA), the union representing about 1,500 district teachers. Teachers voted Aug. 14 to authorize a strike if their bargaining team and school district negotiators cannot come to a tentative agreement on teacher compensation by Aug. 29.

“I’ve been here 27 years and I have never seen anything like this,” Kent Education Association President Christine Padilla told supporters at a Aug. 22 rally. “I speak with district administrators making over $200,000 a year. They put us in this mess and yet they want to deny us (a living wage).”

“We have teachers who can’t afford gas to come to work,” Padilla added. “I find that despicable, shameful.” — Kent Reporter

• A Kirkland business owner was recently convicted of 25 counts for evading over $560,000 in taxes over the past 20 years.

Daniel Nix, 58, owner and operator of Dannix Design, a medical interior design office, refused to pay taxes on $3.9 million in gross income and $1.9 million in net profit in 1998 and between 2000 and 2013, according to the original Nov. 2017 indictment. Nix also hid his income and assets by setting up shell companies along with filing bankruptcy claims and false claims against the government. Additionally, Nix transferred assets into sham religious entities that he had set up between 2010 and 2013, frustrating Internal Revenue Service (IRS) efforts to place liens on his assets. Nix also allegedly harassed IRS and Department of Revenue agents on multiple occasions.

After a four-day trial and one day of deliberation, the jury found Nix guilty of 13 counts of tax evasion, 11 counts of providing fictitious financial obligations and one count of corrupt interference with the administration of the Internal Revenue Code. The conviction was announced on July 15 by U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes.

“Nix enjoyed a lavish lifestyle with the proceeds of his crime,” Hayes wrote. “He owns a Kirkland home assessed for more than $1 million. He bought and owned at least 16 luxury vehicles over the years, including a Porsche, a Jaguar, a BMW, a Ford F-150, multiple Mercedes-Benz, Harley Davidsons, and other imported motorcycles.”

Nix will face sentencing on Nov. 9. Tax evasion is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Presentation of fictitious financial instruments is punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Attempts to interfere with the administration of the tax code is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. — Kirkland Reporter

• Federal Way police reported that a firearm was discharged inside the city’s Commons Mall during the late afternoon Aug. 26.

Police claim that two individuals were engaged in a physical altercation near Kohl’s and Target when the gun went off. It is unknown if the gunshot was accidental or was intentional, the department argued. Vendors inside the mall were placed on lockdown and people inside the shopping complex were evacuated. No injuries have been reported, according to the investigating authorities. — Federal Way Mirror