Kennewick, Pasco and Richland teachers will vote May 7 on whether to walk out for a day to show state legislators their frustration with the lack of progress in fully funding K-12 education.
The three teacher unions will meet at Kennewick High School to talk it over and then vote.
Statewide, teachers in almost 30 school districts have either participated in the rolling walkout or have a day scheduled. More teachers are considering doing the same.
The walkout has nothing to do with the local school districts, said Teri Staudinger, Kennewick Education Association president. Teachers are specifically considering sending a message to the Legislature about a lengthy list of concerns.
“(Teachers) feel like they have been disrespected for so long, that they just can’t take it anymore,” she said.
In particular, teachers are concerned about a state Senate proposal to increase class sizes in fourth though 12th grades, the lack of cost of living adjustments, increasing testing requirements and more, said Staudinger, a teacher for more than 20 years.
Teachers will split into their individual unions to take a vote after a brief presentation at 5:15 p.m., with votes accepted until 7:30 p.m. Ballots will be counted that night.
If teachers decide on a walkout, it would likely be one day during the week of May 18, Staudinger said. The exact date will be announced if it’s approved.
Pasco has about 1,070 teachers, while Kennewick has about 1,000 and Richland has 600.
The state Attorney General’s Office in the past has said that teachers do not have a protected right to strike. However, a walkout is not considered a strike because it lasts just one day, and officials with the Washington Education Association say teachers have the right to protest.
But Randy Dorn, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a statement, “I think this is the wrong approach and I question why they are walking out. Just today, the Legislature addressed many of their concerns, including teacher pay and lower class size. It also creates chaos in families that will need to arrange for child care.”
It’s rare for Tri-City teachers to stage a walkout protest. The last one in Kennewick was in 1999.
Staudinger said teachers know a walkout is inconvenient for parents, but some of the legislative proposals would be a far longer lasting burden.
Voters have told legislators twice through initiatives that they want smaller classes, but that, and a voter-approved cost-of-living adjustment for teachers, have been ignored, Staudinger noted.
Class sizes are critical in all grades, she said, and it’s something that affects struggling students and those who need to be challenged. “Any teacher will tell you class size matters,” she said.
Another particular frustration is the proposed 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for teachers, when legislators want an 11.2 percent adjustment for themselves, she said. Teachers have not had a cost-of-living increase in six years.
“We want the best and the brightest to be teachers, and we need to be able to attract and retain people into our profession,” Staudinger said. That’s hard to do, she said, when some teachers with families have their children qualify for free and reduced lunches.
The problem with stagnant pay is that the state hasn’t changed its contribution for health care as well, leaving teachers taking home a smaller paycheck than they did six years ago, she said.
Ken Hays, Richland Education Association president, said that for some veteran teachers who have reached the top of the pay scale, the six-year lack of cost of living adjustments is affecting their retirement, and making some consider retiring early.
He said teachers also commonly spend $1,000 to $1,500 a year out of their own pockets to buy supplies and more for their classrooms and students. The $300 a year that teachers get to buy supplies has not changed for some time, and it is being used for basics like pencils and printer cartridges and not the addons it was meant for, he said.
Teachers are also concerned about the ever increasing number of student tests and efforts to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.
For example, Richland third-graders recently spent nine days taking tests, Hays said. In all three districts, testing takes more time because there aren’t enough computers for everyone to be tested simultaneously, and it takes those computers away from kids in classrooms.
Tri-City teacher union presidents said another issue involves a proposal in the Legislature to take away the ability for unions to bargain extra paid days to cover teaching preparation days. “That is a huge chunk of money out of their paychecks,” Staudinger said.
Teachers also are concerned about an attempt to create a new state health care program just for educators that could mean fewer benefits, Staudinger said.
“We are fighting for our kids,” she said. “We are fighting to have the Legislature fund our schools as the Supreme Court has demanded and as our Constitution demands.”
The Legislature ended its regular session last week and reconvened Wednesday in a special session to approve a budget. The Supreme Court ruled last fall that the state was in contempt for failing to submit a complete plan for funding education.