Gregoire, teachers share concerns on education

TACOMA — Unless three standing ovations are considered just polite these days, Washington’s teachers still seem to love their governor.

Gov. Chris Gregoire got a warm welcome in Tacoma on Friday at a statewide meeting of the Washington Education Association. She thanked teachers for their wo

rk and promised she would fight to make sure their salaries are not cut more than any other public employee.

The governor told a room filled with more than 1,000 teachers and other members of the state’s largest teachers union that she has been getting some education of her own in Olympia these days, as lawmakers struggle to fill a $5.1 billion shortfall in the state budget.

She said she had to explain to lawmakers that teachers have already taken a salary cut when the Legislature decided not to pay them for training days. The governor also promised teachers she would veto a proposal to force school districts to lay off teachers according to their performance evaluations instead of seniority.

The governor called on teachers to help her educate the public that quality education that leads to good jobs for Washington’s young people isn’t free. She shared her dismay from last fall when voters rejected a soda tax and an income tax on the wealthy to help prop up Washington’s failing economy.

“Things are not going to change on their own,” Gregoire said. “We have got to let the public know the value of education. We have got to let them know we need money to make it happen.”

WEA President Mary Lindquist made sure the governor heard how much teachers value her.

“While we may not always agree with her on every issue, Gov. Gregoire has and continues to value our work and to respect our professional voice. This is not what other states can say,” said Lindquist, after attracting boos when she spoke about other governors in the news for the way they do not want to work with unions in their states.

Teachers said they were playing close attention to the special session of the Legislature.

Twenty teachers from the Monroe School District received layoff warning notices this week — an amount more than the past two years combined — said Shaerie Bruton, the local union president and a middle school humanities teacher. Based on her understanding of the state and district budgets, Bruton expects half of those teachers will probably lose their jobs.

“It all hinges on what the Legislature does,” Bruton said.

Pam Kruse, a fifth grade teacher in the Franklin Pierce School District on the edge of Tacoma, said she asked the parents of her students to do three things this year: Read to their kids, help them with their homework and register to vote. She said her district plans to save money next school year by eliminating all elementary physical education and cutting library services.

Although it was a stressful time for teachers, Christine McClafferty, a second grade teacher from Vancouver, Wash., said she is worried about the impact of the economy on her students.

“I have some very high-needs students,” McClafferty said. “I can’t meet all of their needs. And if I’m not meeting their needs, they’re not ready to learn.”

She said her district, in which more than half the kids are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, is trying to help with community outreach services at some schools, but there’s not enough money to offer them at every school that needs them.

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