Local teacher unions are asking their members to weigh in on a potential one-day walkout May 13, with the goal of sending a clear message to lawmakers that it’s time to fully fund education.
Of course, it’s a message legislators have heard before.
And yet, they failed to agree upon a budget in the 105-day legislative session and have been called back to Olympia for a 30-day special session to address one of the state’s most pressing needs. Lawmakers are under a court order by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling to adequately fund the public school system and equalize funding across school districts.
“That’s the thing about unions, the union’s only job, their only resort is to withhold the labor,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. “That’s it, so they are functioning the way they are supposed to function.”
And, Moeller added, “message received.”
On Tuesday, The Columbian spoke with union leaders in Vancouver, Evergreen and Camas school districts. All three unions are talking to their members and their districts about a possible walkout in two weeks.
On Wednesday, the president of the Washougal Association of Educators said he is contacting its 195 members and district administration about a potential walkout. Rather than calling a special general meeting, the union is meeting teachers in the schools.
“We’re going through the process to see if this is the right action to take. We’d like to know by early next week, so we can inform our parents and students,” said Frank Zahn, union president. “We aren’t protesting against our parents or district. We’re trying to send a message to Olympia that they should follow the letter of the law.”
The Columbian reached out to union leadership in the Battle Ground, Hockinson, La Center, Ridgefield and Woodland districts, but did not hear back from them.
It’s likely that more information will be available after May 5, when unions in both Vancouver and Camas are meeting with members to discuss the issue.
Last week, teachers in some Puget Sound school districts held one-day walkouts to send a message to legislators.
If the May 13 walkout occurs, participating districts would have to tack another day onto the end of the school year in June so that students would attend the required 180 days.
In 2013, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, wrote a Facebook post telling teachers who weren’t pleased with their pay to get a new job. The post was ill-received and incited outrage from teachers statewide.
At first, Pike was reluctant to comment on the news of a possible walkout.
“My official comment is no comment and you will not hear me say that often,” Pike said. “I practiced saying that five different ways. … No comment, no comment.”
But Pike did comment.
“I have spent a lot of time in classrooms over the last three years, and I have been educated about the challenges,” Pike said. “We don’t walk in their shoes, so no comment.”
And, she added, school funding must be addressed quickly, so school districts and teachers have certainty.
“I will say one thing about McCleary. … (It is) all about equal funding model for every school in the state, no matter the socioeconomic level in the community,” Pike said. “And until we address that, we will be in contempt.”
The Supreme Court has placed the Legislature in contempt, but the state’s top justices are holding off on sanctions.