Classes will be canceled on May 6 for Lake Washington School District (LWSD) students as teachers will participate in a walkout due to a Lake Washington Education Association (LWEA) strike against the Legislature to protest the lack of state education funding.
The LWEA, the organization of professionals and union that represents district teachers, voted to join in a statewide action over funding for smaller K-12 class sizes and professional pay and benefits for educators, according to LWEA President Kevin Teeley and LWSD Superintendent Dr. Traci Pierce.
LWEA is the 11th teachers union to call a one-day strike to protest the state’s failure to fully fund K-12 public education, Teeley said in a press release. Pierce added, in a letter sent to all LWSD families, that at least 15 other local teachers associations in the Puget Sound area have authorized votes by their full membership this week.
“It is important for families to know that this LWEA action is not directed at the Lake Washington School District or the Lake Washington communities. We share the LWEA’s concern that the Legislature should fully fund basic education,” Pierce wrote. “LWEA worked closely with the district to schedule this action on a day that would minimize disruption for students and parents to the greatest extent possible.”
Previously scheduled Advanced Placement tests and interscholastic competitions will still take place on May 6.
According to Teeley, teachers are outraged by the state budget plan approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, whose budget, he said, increases class sizes in grades 4-12 and in high-poverty schools. Teeley added that the Senate voted to put class-size initiative 1351 back on the fall ballot even though more than one million voters approved it in November.
The budget summary, produced by a non-partisan fiscal staff, according to Sen. Andy Hill’s staff, states that the Senate budget reduces class size in grades K-3 — prioritizing low-income schools to be the first to get the money — and maintains existing levels in grades 4-12, not increases, according to Senate bill 6088.
“Sen. Andy Hill, who wrote the Senate budget, pulled his kids out of Lake Washington schools and sent them to private schools so they would have small class sizes,” Teeley said. “Apparently, he believes his kids deserve small class sizes, but not the rest of the students in the Lake Washington School District.”
The Senate budget also has $370 million less for educator pay and benefits than what the House budget funds, the LWEA release states, and the Senate also passed a controversial, punitive bill that mandates the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations. Teeley said teachers have had enough.
“The Senate budget increases funding for public schools by more than $2.7 billion, the largest dollar increase in history and the largest percentage in 25 years. We also provide an additional $440 million for additional teacher pay and benefits,” Hill said.
“Prioritizing education in the budget is essential following the 30 years prior to 2013 when lawmakers put growth of general government over education by a 2-to-1 margin. However, in 2013 and again this year, our Senate budget prioritized education by a 3-to-1 margin.”
After six years with no state cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), and five years with no increase in funding for educator health care, Teeley said the Senate budget’s compensation proposal is an insult. The LWEA release added that Hill and other legislators are up for an 11.2 percent raise, and the Senate budget gives teachers a 3 percent COLA spread over two years with still no increase in health-care funding.
Hill’s staff added that the Legislature’s salary is set by the independent Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. They have made a proposal to look at an 11 percent increase, which wouldn’t be voted on until May.
“It’s amazing how the Legislature can meet in an emergency session and find the money to give Boeing an $8.7 billion tax break, but they can’t seem to find the money to fund schools as mandated by our state Constitution,” Teeley said.
Hill said the walkouts affect the students whom the lawmakers in Olympia are working to support.
“Research shows that teacher absence hurts student achievement, disproportionately impacting children from low-income communities,” he said. “In one of the few states not making progress closing the opportunity gap we need to make sure teachers, the Legislature, parents and school staff are doing everything we can to give every child a quality education.”
In making up the missed day of school, Pierce added that June 16 will become a full school day (as opposed to a half day, last day of school as previously scheduled), and the final day of school will now be a half day on June 17. There will be no change in graduation dates — June 4 and June 10-12 — or the last day of school for seniors. A revised school year calendar will be sent to families.
LWSD is the sixth largest district in the state with more than 26,700 students. LWEA represents more than 1,700 members.
At least one school’s PTA in Kirkland has voiced its support for the walkout.
“The Helen Keller PTA in Kirkland voted unanimously at its general meeting on April 21 to support the teacher walkout, if teachers voted to strike,” said Helen Keller PTA representative Barbara Ramey. “Now that the walkout is a reality, the Helen Keller Elementary PTA wants our community to know that we stand behind our teachers and our kids. The strike is a last resort and is not about Keller or the district. We know it will cause hardships for families in the short-term, but it is the only way to get the Legislature’s attention. Only through Legislative action can basic education get the long-overdue funding it deserves.”
Kirkland Reporter regional editor Matt Phelps contributed to this report.