By Robert A. Vella
In this little corner of America, a pacific northwest suburban community of beautiful trees and green wetlands, adults had been anticipating the earlier than usual start of the new school year. Their rambunctious children, who have been
terrorizing frolicking across the landscape all summer long, should be attending class right now giving parents and elderly neighbors a much needed reprieve. But, they are not in school; and, worse yet, these pre-autumn days are filled with more commotion than ever.
On every major road intersection near a public school, red-shirted teachers carrying signs are on strike. Vehicle passersby are honking their horns in support. There are smiling faces, waving hands, and all manner of camaraderie. Every once in a while, some crusty old conservative curmudgeon with a scraggy beard and a beat-up pickup truck stops and complains about his taxes going up. The teachers politely explain to them that taxes won’t go up because the funds needed for teacher salary increases have already been paid for.
Indeed, the teachers are correct. A few years ago, a lawsuit reached the Washington State Supreme Court which subsequently ruled that the government was not adequately funding education and ordered it to do so. After much haggling and delay, the state legislature complied. Monies were distributed to local school districts which then decided against the teacher raises that had been expected.
Lawmakers sent funding to districts, including an additional $1 billion passed this session, to address the McCleary decision — a state Supreme Court case that determined Washington was failing to fully fund basic education. The new funding has meant that all 295 school districts in Washington state are renegotiating their teacher contracts. Some unions have been very successful getting their teachers raises up to a third of their salary. But the districts decide how to allocate the money and that makes for tough negotiations. Most of those districts are still trying to reach a deal.
This week, teachers from Evergreen, Vancouver, Ridgefield, Hockinson, Washougal and Battle Ground headed to the picket line. In Cowlitz County, Longview’s union voted to strike immediately and has been picketing since last week.
Most recently teachers in the state’s largest school district, Seattle, voted on Tuesday to strike if a deal isn’t reached by next week.
Joanie Hahn, a math teacher who has worked at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash., for 10 years, is one of thousands of teachers on strike in the region.
“We’ve been waiting a very long time for this and I just want to make sure that our voices are heard,” Hahn said. She feels that the school districts can now afford to pay teachers the double-digit increases they are asking for.
But superintendents say the money is not limitless. “There is a place that comes where you do have a financial limit,” said Mary Templeton, the superintendent of Washougal School District. “We’ve pushed the edge of the financial limit.”
So, the kiddies are still running amok making the geriatric crowd even more irritable than normal while the teachers walk and the parents cry. Meanwhile, the school district bureaucrats are nowhere to seen. Today was hopping! There were dozens of teachers covering a quarter-mile section of the intersection pictured above, and they were getting a lot of encouragement from the public… including myself.
I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to my 8th grade homeroom teacher Mrs. Green. We mischievous little monsters discovered that she would get physically sick at the sight or smell of grape bubble gum. Of course, a bunch of us went to class one morning all chewing that nasty stuff. Poor Mrs. Green ran to the restroom. I’m sorry, Mrs. Green! Please forgive me! 🙂