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Washington State strikes out

Teachers ditch classroom for picket lines

By Vee Glessner

Teachers (from left to right) Sarah Fitzpatrick, Scott McComb, Katie Carper, Steven Davolt, Garrett Shiroma, and Dana Dyer assemble on 1st Street wearing red to protest the legislature’s actions. Photo by Chris Hendrickson.

Teachers and school staff statewide have been rallying against Washington State Legislature over class sizes, educational funding, and Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA) since late April, and on Thursday, May 21, Highline School District teachers staged their own rally.

Adequate funding is not being provided to educators, according to teachers striking statewide. Reuters News reports that a cost-of-living adjustment has been suspended for six years.

Among the attendees were counselor Katie Carper and teacher Marcie Wombold, who assembled at RAHS’ assigned location on 1st and 128th in Burien. Striking educators had passerby seeing red due to their coordinated shirts and signs.

The teachers’ union wants to make clear that this strike is not against the district, and certainly not against the school, but instead against the state. Teachers are protesting the vast lack of progress in the educational system–Kiro News reports that if the state had kept up the yearly COLA, educators would be making 15 percent more.

“The teachers’ union voted that they are protesting the Washington Legislature’s lack of funding in public education,” said Wombold, “and in light of court cases that have been brought before them and lots of public protest, it seems like they still aren’t funding.”

To make up for the adjustments Washington State has been lacking since 2008, Kiro News says they would spend an additional $300 million in salaries. This would mean thousands of dollars for individual school staff, but the debate lives as to whether the strike is the best way to resolve it.

“I think it’s a tool that we have at our disposal when we need it,” said Carper. “A couple years ago I testified to the legislature about testing, and it had seemed like for especially the last five years, they had been trying everything.”

On the other hand, some educators like Troy Hoehne are of the opinion that the school day should not be changed by an event like a strike.

“Disrupting the school schedule,” said Hoehne, “I thought, was kind of unproductive.”

Though the disturbance can be inconvenient and frustrating to schedules, a walk-out is a powerful option for educators to take and may have the most significant results, since it appeals not only to the lawmakers, but the citizens, students, and parents.

“A strike gets visibility, and visibility gets voters,” said Wombold, ”thus putting pressure on the next voters to act toward the current legislators.”

Even if they couldn’t get the direct attention of legislators, the striking educators needed to attract the eyes of citizens–who can equally make a difference. Their votes and voices are able to change the lives of educators just as lawmakers’ are.

Though Hoehne sees disrupting the school schedule as a downside, part of the reason a strike or walk-out can be so effective is that the surrounding observers see educators taking risks and consequences to make a change.

“When communities see people willing to do something that is extreme,” said Carper, “to miss out on things at school that are important, when we do something like that, I think it is noticeable.”

Throughout the few pre-determined blocks in Burien, the educators assembled, coordinated, and using their presence as as much of a statement as the signs.

“There was a map, essentially, of where different schools were assigned to be,” said Wombold. “There were a bunch of people in red with signs, groups of people around the visible community, so that as they drove through town they would see us and feel like we were everywhere.”

The complicated assembly and omission of a school day are two reasons some educators aren’t on board with a strike as a method of inducing change. Other districts in the state made other plans to prove their point that are more on par with what some educators want.

“I think Tacoma schools came up with a really good alternative. They did a rally at their local government offices,” said Hoehne, “and had the teachers go out front and grade papers as a demonstration of how teachers’ work very often goes home with them.”

Although the event has hardly been ignored, Wombold says this scale of an issue won’t be an immediate fix, and a resolution in the distant future would be difficult to attribute to the strike. At the very least, educators had passerby seeing red.

“I haven’t heard of them saying, ‘Oh my god, there were so many people out and about in red, I was terrified, and now I’m going to vote for more funding for education,’” said Wombold.

Though there hasn’t been immediate action, the educational staff made the decision to walk out to make a statement to the legislature.

“It makes an impact,” said Carper. “Maybe not if it was just us, but the sheer number makes impact. All of these districts are saying, “We’ve been patient, we understand there’s been an economic crisis, but when you’re asking us to do more with less…we actually have to do less.’”

Carper holds on to optimism, but the trends the Washington State lawmakers have set don’t leave everyone so hopeful.

“As it was, it was pretty small,” said Wombold, “and I can’t even hope: it has been so long and they have proven themselves so unwilling to fund education that I’m pretty heartsick about it all.”

Fortunately, the educators are already hearing results, according to Carper. The good news is that their message is beginning to come through.

“There have been some anecdotes,” said Carper, “where some legislators are feeling pressured because so many districts are saying, ‘Hey, we don’t have enough support to do the things that we want to do or even the things we are legally required to do as schools.’”

Teachers statewide have been striking for months, and at the end of the day, the educators just needed to prove one point.

“We could be doing a better job with public education in Washington,” said Carper, “and that’s the key.”

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