Ballot measures such as Referendum 52 and I-1098 that promote healthier schools for children have the support of public school teachers in Benton County, but they oppose measures that would reduce taxes and allow more liquor stores through private sales.
Teachers and representatives of the Washington Education Association explained their positions on the Nov. 2 ballot issues during a news conference in Kennewick on Monday.
R-52 would extend a tax on bottled water to retrofit schools to save energy, while I-1098 would impose an income tax on the state's high-income earners.
The common refrain cited by the teachers group Monday was to preserve money to keep and hire more teachers.
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"We are very concerned about overcrowded classrooms, with some kindergarten classes having 30 students," said Teri Staudinger, a fourth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Kennewick.
Krista Calvin, a third-grade teacher at White Bluffs Elementary School in Richland, said there has been no increase in faculty while the number of students has grown since last year from 750 to 800. "We have not hired any new teachers so it feels like a cut," she said.
"We have no paraeducators but we have more needy students," Calvin added, noting teachers are having to spend their classroom preparatory time to take on non-teaching duties.
Barb Thomas, a math teacher at Kiona-Benton City Middle School, said her sixth-grade classroom has more students this year, making it difficult to get to each child. "If we are going to meet high standards, then we need smaller classes," she said.
And Ted Raihl, who teaches seventh and eighth grade social studies at Mabton Middle School, said his school lacks a certified librarian and a half-time art teacher.
"We have a lot of English learners and no paraeducators," Raihl said, adding that students in his school are forced to use "ancient" computers at least 5 years old.
According to the Washington Education Association, state budget cuts have resulted in 3,684 fewer teachers for kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2009-11 biennium, while the state has seen 6,700 more students enroll.
Staudinger said R-52, which would see $505 million in bonds issued to do energy retrofits at schools and colleges across the state by extending a sales tax on bottled water to pay the bill, would be good for students and teachers.
"It will provide healthy schools for our kids and about 30,000 construction jobs," she said.
Calvin said five schools in Richland are more than 30 years old and need retrofits.
And I-1098, which also is being supported by the Washington Education Association, would dedicate $2 billion annually for education, Staudinger said. The measure calls for a state income tax on individuals with incomes over $200,000 ($400,000 for couples), with 70 percent going to education. The balance would support health programs in the state.
Staudinger said healthy children can be better learners.
The teachers group also is recommending voting no on measures I-1053, I-1082, I-1100, I-1105 and I-1107.
-- I-1053 would reinstate a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature for any statewide tax or fee increase.
-- I-1082 would authorize private insurance companies to offer coverage for on-the-job injuries starting July 1, 2012. It would replace the state's monopoly on the sale of workers' compensation insurance. It also would end requiring workers to pay half of the premium tax for workers' comprehensive medical coverage, which amounts to about 18 percent of the overall workers' comp tax, according to the Association of Washington Business.
-- I-1100 and I-1105 would privatize state liquor stores.
-- I-1107 would reverse certain 2010 amendments to state tax laws, ending sales tax on candy and a temporary sales tax on some bottled water. It conflicts with the purpose of R-52.
-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org