Rolling one-day strike closes Washington state schools

PORT ANGELES, Wash.-Thousands of union school workers in 60 districts across the Evergreen State are staging a “rolling one-day walkout” to protest the Republican-controlled State Senate’s refusal to fully fund public schools. 

Hundreds of classroom teachers and para-professionals, nurses, and other school employees closed schools in Sequim and Port Angeles Monday, May 18. Wearing bright red T-shirts, they gathered for a spirited rally at the Veterans Memorial in Port Angeles at noon, waving placards that read, “On Strike Against the Legislature! WA. Senators Ignore Voters. Defy the Supreme Court. Cheat Our Kids. Get 11% Raise?”

Teachers across the state went out on strike today, joining the rolling walkout already underway by other school workers. The teachers are striking too, they say, to protest against the legislature’s refusal to fully find public education.

Motorists passing the picket lines answered with a clamor of honking horns, thumbs up salutes and shouts of solidarity.

Jonathan Eekhoff, President of the Sequim Education Association, told the crowd that 12 years ago he joined other teachers in a rally in the state capital, Olympia, demanding full funding of education. Twelve years later, he said, teachers, students and communities across the state are still waiting as real funding for public education dwindles down.

He likened teachers in Washington State to a housekeeper trying to make a queen-sized sheet fit a king-sized bed. Teachers often dip into their own meager income to pay for urgently needed supplies, he said.

He castigated the State legislature for stalling once again on any steps to fully fund public education. The $1.3 billion statewide public education budget the legislature is proposing contains a pitiful 3 percent salary increase for teachers stretched over two years even as the legislators propose an 11 percent pay increase for themselves.

The Republican-controlled state senate proposes increased class size for all classes, kindergarten through grade 12, even though Washington voters last November approved I-1351, a ballot initiative requiring lower class sizes for grades K-12.

“We’ve waited. We’ve lobbied. We’ve written our representatives. It’s time!” he said. “Today we are here to say it is time to fully fund education, time for a sheet that fits the bed.”

Sarah Methner, president of the Port Angeles School Board, praised the teachers and other school employees for their dedicated service. She told the crowd she has four children in the city’s public schools. “I am tired of hearing the legislature say they need more time,” she said. “How long did it take the legislature to approve that $10 billion tax break for Boeing? Three days!” It is time, she said, for the legislature to quit stalling and come up with the funds to fully fund education, she said.

Kianna Miller, a seventh Grader at Sequim’s Middle School, stood holding a placard that read, “I am more than a test score.” Miller said she fully supports the teachers who are also striking to win reduced class size and also an end to the crazed practice of endless testing of students. “For about a month, we’ve been studying the same material over and over, then testing. It’s just too much. I feel we should spend more time learning.”

She added, “I think the legislature should try harder. I think most of the students feel it is not fair. Class sizes are ridiculous. We can’t get enough help from our teachers. That is not the students fault and its not the teachers fault. Where does the blame lie? With people who are giving themselves a raise, like the legislature. If they have enough to give themselves a raise why not a raise for our teachers and for education.”

Buddy Bear, a 26-year veteran social studies teacher at Port Angeles High School, told the People’s World that the legislature turns its back on public schools and students, forcing hard-pressed working people in the districts to shoulder the burden, repeatedly approving tax levy’s to keep the schools open. 

Last fall school bond issues on the ballot in both Sequim and Port Angeles to build new high schools were voted down despite the aging, crumbling condition of the existing facilities. A major factor underlying the crisis is the extremely regressive system of taxation in Washington State, worst in the nation. Washington has no income tax and relies solely on a soak-the-poor 8.5 percent sales tax to generate tax revenues.

“Emotions are running high,” he said. “This strike is not against our city, our school district. Its against the legislature,” Bear said.

The legislators have been found in “contempt of court” he said, referring to the State Supreme Court’s finding last year that the legislature has flagrantly violated a ruling they handed down in 2012 that the State Constitution requires the legislature to fully fund public education as a “paramount duty.” Bear asked, “Who is going to go to jail?”

Photo: Teachers and supporters at a Washington Education Association rally April 25, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Teachers, union members, and other supporters were demonstrating for better funding of schools, cost-of-living pay increases for teachers, smaller class sizes and other issues. Ted S. Warren/AP




Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.