Tri-City teachers intend to send a resounding message to state legislators with a walkout approved for May 21.
Pasco teachers led with 94 percent approval for the walkout, while 85 percent of Richland teachers and 81 percent of Kennewick teachers voted for the day of protest.
A sea of red-shirt clad teachers poured Thursday night into Kennewick High School to vote on whether the unions should participate in a series of rolling walkouts statewide meant to let legislators know just how fed up teachers are with their actions and inaction.
State legislators need to obey the state Constitution and Supreme Court and start fully funding education, said Greg Olson, president of the Pasco Association of Educators. And they need to follow the will of the voters and raise teacher pay and reduce class sizes.
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Sally Wright, a Pasco High School science teacher, said the Legislature needs to do a better job taking care of the students of the state. Tests just aren’t the way to do it.
“I’m all for standards,” Wright said. “I’m all for accountability. But I think we’ve gone too far.”
What Tri-City teachers decided was critical because legislators have been trying to say that it’s a west side problem, said Jim Gow, a regional UniServ director with the Washington Education Association.
Gathered teachers cheered after comments like “Teachers are not the problem, our legislators are the problem,” and applauded when Ken Hays, Richland Education Association president, said the state is sending schools and the teaching profession in the wrong direction.
“We want great public schools to survive in Kennewick, in Pasco and in Richland,” Hays said.
Teri Staudinger, Kennewick Education Association president, said it’s been hard to hear from a number of teachers that they do not plan to return next year. From even more, she’s heard that they aren’t sure how much longer they can continue.
“You love teaching, but you can’t keep teaching like this anymore,” she said.
Pasco has about 1,070 teachers, while Kennewick has about 1,000 and Richland 600.
Right now, legislators are working behind closed doors to reach an agreement on a single biennial budget, Gow said. None of the budgets proposed by the Senate, House or Gov. Jay Inslee meets the obligation to pay for education, but the Senate’s proposal is the worst.
Among the concerns cited were efforts to limit bargaining rights and how local levy dollars are spent; a proposed creation of a new, separate state health care program for teachers; tying test scores to teacher evaluations; and increases to class sizes in grades fourth through 12th.
Of particular frustration is a proposed 3 to 4.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment for teachers, when legislators want an 11.2 percent adjustment for themselves.
With the economy recovering, the state expects to see $3 billion in new revenue, Gow said. “They have money, but they just don’t want to give it to you,” he said.
Steve Aagaard, Richland School District spokesman, said, “We think of Richland School District teachers as some of the best in the state, and frankly the fact that the Legislature hasn’t granted any cost of living increases in six years or more is just plain wrong.”
Richland school administrators are waiting until May 8 to send a letter to parents and staff, Aagaard said.
Kennewick and Pasco administrators publicly discouraged the walkout idea, though they said they were empathetic to the concerns expressed by teachers.
Superintendents Dave Bond of Kennewick and Saundra Hill of Pasco issued identical letters to parents and community members explaining their concerns with a walkout — rescheduling the missed day, cancellation of activities and athletic events on the walkout day, the break in the tight testing schedule and parents having to find childcare or miss work.
“Both the Senate and House budget have significant increases for education, to the tune of nearly $1.5 billion,” they wrote. “While we all may want them to move faster in fully funding education, this represents significant progress.”
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.