Nearly 200 teachers from the Franklin Pierce School District rallied Friday morning at Gonyea Playfield in Parkland before moving their protest against the Legislature out to the sidewalks of Pacific Avenue and elsewhere. They are part of a statewide movement of rolling one-day walkouts by teachers protesting a lack of legislative progress on several state education issues, including teacher raises and funding for smaller class sizes.
The 500-member Franklin Pierce Education Association is the first teacher union to stage a one-day strike in Pierce County. Teachers in the Peninsula and University Place school districts have also planned walkouts this month. University Place teachers plan a one-day walkout May 20. Peninsula teachers announced earlier this week that they will strike on a half day, May 19.
They join teacher unions in Seattle and elsewhere around the state. So far, 40 local unions have joined the one-day walkout movement.
Officials with the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers union, say that teachers in the Puyallup, Bethel, Clover Park, Steilacoom and Fife school districts are meeting next week to decide whether to join. Union officials in Tacoma have not announced their plans.
Pam Kruse, Franklin Pierce’s union president, spoke to the morning rally of her members, saying that it’s time for the state to adequately fund schools and lower class size. WEA members backed a statewide class-size initiative that won voter approval in November, but legislators have said the state can’t immediately afford to fund it fully. The class-size reductions required by I-1351 would cost the state $2 billion over the next two years and nearly $4 billion more in the state’s 2017-19 budget cycle.
Ford Middle School math teacher Brandee Elliott also spoke to her colleagues Friday.
“I voted yes on the one-day rolling walkout because I’m scared,” Elliott said. “I’m scared that each new first day of school will be like the one I had this year, scrambling to find extra chairs because the 32 I have just aren’t enough.”
She also expressed fears about students and teachers both being judged by standardized test scores, which she called a “one-day snapshot.” In addition to funding issues, teachers are protesting state proposals, driven by federal mandates, that would include growth in student test scores as part of their job evaluations.
Franklin Pierce parent Chalu Harris-Adams, who attended the rally with her two sons, said she wants lawmakers to hear her voice.
“There are already too many students in my kids’ classes,” said Harris-Adams, a former teacher. “There is no space for another body.”
Her son Steven, 13, said there are 33 students in his science class at Ford and nearly 40 in his art class.
“You have to free up the revenue to make this happen,” his mom said. “This is essential. We have money for other things.”
Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) also spoke at the rally Friday. He said the current proposed budgets contain the first cost-of-living raises for Washington teachers in seven years. The House version of the budget calls for a 3-percent increase in the first year and a 1.8-percent increase the second year. The Senate version contains lower increases.
But WEA spokesman Rich Wood said teachers lost much more over the years as their wages stagnated and health care costs increased.
Conway reminded teachers that lawmakers are now in a special session focused on education funding.
But he said teachers also need to let the public know what’s happening in education, because lawmakers respond to the public.
“Let’s go out and let the public know about it,” he said. “That’s what you are doing here today.”