Teachers to protest school funding, proposed bill with 1-day strike

  • By Kari Bray, Amy Nile and Jerry Cornfield Herald Writers
  • Monday, April 20, 2015 8:01pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Teachers in the Arlington, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano school districts are planning one-day strikes and rallies this week protesting what they say is a lack of funding for schools and legislation they think would hinder learning.

An estimated 2,600 teachers from eight districts throughout the state are participating in walkouts, according to the Washington Education Association, the teachers union.

Teachers in Arlington, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano plan to protest Wednesday. Educators in Bellingham, Ferndale, Mount Vernon, Blaine and Sedro-Woolley also have decided to strike, most of them Friday.

The Stanwood-Camano and Lakewood school districts canceled school for Wednesday. In Arlington, Wednesday already was a scheduled half-day, so teachers there plan to have normal morning classes and protest in the afternoon.

Teachers from the three districts plan to gather in downtown Arlington around 1:30 p.m. for a march and rally.

Local education associations approved walkouts last Wednesday, and teachers in other districts are considering similar action.

Their key concerns are class sizes, performance evaluations, and salaries and benefits. They say the protests only focus on statewide issues.

The protesting teachers say they want the Legislature to fund smaller classes for all grade levels. Voters approved an initiative in November to decrease class sizes. Lawmakers have moved to shrink class sizes in kindergarten through third grade but say the cost to do so in all grade levels is too high. They’re putting the class-size measure back on the ballot this November, a year after it passed with 51 percent of the vote.

Protesters also say teachers are overdue for a pay increase and better health benefits.

“When it comes to funding, it’s really those two issues: smaller class sizes and professional, competitive compensation,” said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association.

Protesters also oppose a bill that would tie teacher performance evaluations to how well students do on standardized state tests. “It’s a policy that isn’t based in research and doesn’t help our kids and certainly not our teachers,” said Nyda Goldstein, an elementary school teacher and president of the Stanwood-Camano Education Association. Teachers and administrators have worked to find fair evaluation systems, and the bill would undermine those efforts, she said.

“We’d rather be in the classroom on Wednesday,” Goldstein said. “This isn’t our first choice, but eventually you get to the point where you have to do something.”

Two Republican lawmakers who represent the Stanwood-Camano School District aren’t happy with the teachers’ tactics and said there are ways to spread their message without forcing schools to close.

“I support their efforts. I don’t necessarily support their means when it comes down to inconveniencing the families,” said Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island. “It doesn’t help the kids.”

He and Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said the Legislature is poised to make the largest investment ever in education in the next budget.

“I am not sure what union representatives are saying to teachers in the classroom,” Smith said. “I would just ask that they give them all the facts.”

Teachers in Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano plan sign-waving in the morning, followed by community service projects before the rally in Arlington.

“We understand that it is an inconvenience for families in our communities,” said Larry Delaney, a high school math teacher and president of the Lakewood Education Association. “But our goal in inconveniencing families for a day is to vastly improve the quality of education for years to come, so we think it’s a fair trade-off.”

The Legislature isn’t listening to teachers, said Eric Grant, middle school teacher and president of the Arlington Education Association. He hopes to get the community’s support in pressuring lawmakers to prioritize education.

Every day at Haller Middle School, morning announcements end with the school’s motto: “The choices you make today will shape your world tomorrow.”

“After listening to that for years, you’re compelled to act,” Grant said. “Hopefully what teachers are doing today will shape our students’ world for many tomorrows.”

There are lawmakers empathetic to the intent of Wednesday’s action.

“This makes a big statement as to how important this issue is,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee. “I think we take for granted how important it is for them.”

Proposed House and Senate budgets contain additional dollars for schools and teachers, but there’s no guarantee it will be the same sum in the end.

“If no one makes a noise, nobody listens and our teachers need a raise,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

It’s hypocritical to require students to go to school but allow teachers to walk out when they’re unhappy, said Jami Lund, an education policy analyst at the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank in Olympia.

He believes lawmakers are prioritizing where to spend state dollars the way most families would want them to.

“I’m always annoyed by disrupting student services for adults’ interests,” he said.

The walkouts likely won’t end with this week’s protests. Teachers in other districts are considering their own walkouts.

Snohomish School District educators have not planned a protest but are talking about it. They’re just as frustrated with lawmakers as their protesting counterparts, Snohomish Education Association President Justin Fox-Bailey said.

“I anticipate people will continue to get angry,” he said.

Union leaders in Sultan are supportive of a strike, Sultan Education Association President Andrea Fuller said. Teachers are set to vote later this month. If they decide to walk out, Fuller hopes to coordinate with neighboring districts.

A rally for Washington teachers also is planned Saturday on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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