Monday, March 27, 2023
March 27, 2023

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Teachers rally for funding around Clark County

Picketing to continue around the county today

By , Columbian Education Reporter, and
, Columbian Small Cities Reporter

Legislators to teachers: Have you seen the budget?

About 2,500 teachers from the Evergreen, Camas, Washougal and Hockinson districts hit the streets Wednesday, leaving classes canceled for the day for some 38,000 students, nearly half the county’s public school students.

At midday, teachers wearing red shirts gathered at Esther Short Park to send a message to state legislators: It’s time to fully fund public schools.

Their acrimony stems from the Legislature’s failure to meet the demands of the McCleary decision, a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling calling on the state to amply fund K-12 education. Frustration boiled over this spring after legislators waffled over how to fulfill a demand to shrink class sizes after voters passed Initiative 1351 in November. Teachers are also frustrated that the Legislature has not provided cost-of-living pay increases since the recession.

As Darcy Haberl, a Heritage High School teacher, distributed lyrics to rally songs to fellow teachers, one of her students greeted her.

Senior Raleigh Jagt, 18, said he’d learned the importance of participating in government in Haberl’s U.S. government and politics class. It was Jagt’s first public protest.

“I teach them civil disobedience is good,” Haberl said. “If people don’t stand up for what they believe in, they don’t have a voice. That’s what democracy is about.”

Battle Ground teachers voted not to strike, but Gina Lemberg and about a dozen of her fellow teachers used a personal day to attend the rally. When she returns to school today, Lemberg said she’ll tell her students why she rallied.

“We lobbied the Legislature, we’ve written e-mails, we’ve rallied in Olympia,” Lemberg said. “We even rallied here in town, but not even half of them (legislators) attended. We want them to listen.”

From the podium Rob Lutz, Evergreen Education Association president, asked and answered a rhetorical question: “Why this action now?” Because we’ve tried everything else. Because it’s time.”

More than 200 teachers from Evergreen Public Schools gathered at the busy intersection of Southeast Chkalov Drive and Mill Plain Boulevard.

“We printed 218 signs, and we ran out of signs,” Lutz said. “We have community members here in support, too.”

At Camas’ Crown Park, about 60 teachers and supporters gathered, then dispersed to hand out fliers door-to-door.

Teachers in Battle Ground, La Center, Ridgefield, Green Mountain, Woodland and Vancouver Public Schools voted not to cancel classes for the strike, and a spot check of absenteeism suggested that nearly all reported to work. In Battle Ground, 13 teachers took a personal day. That’s about twice the normal amount for a Wednesday, according to a district spokeswoman.

On the picket lines

Morgan Ryder, an Evergreen district parent, stood with her four children and more than 200 protesters at the corner of Northeast Burton Road and Northeast 112th Avenue on Wednesday morning. They waved at cars and held signs that read: “On strike against Legislature. Stop blaming teachers. Start funding schools.”

“It’s time we fund education appropriately,” Ryder said. “These teachers are raising our future leaders.”

A large group of teachers and students gathered at Grass Valley Elementary in Camas for their own protest and activities, said Chris Panell, the president of the Camas Education Association.

Recently, the Camas School District has used local levy money to help cover teacher salaries, Panell said.

“That money should be coming from the state,” he said.

The situation has been hard for many local teachers facing rising expenses, said Jennifer Ireland, a special education teacher at Skyridge Middle School.

“I have had to stop putting money in my own daughter’s college savings account in the last five years,” she said. “My paycheck keeps going down and down every year as my health care costs go up.”

Ireland, whose daughter attends school in the district, said class sizes are growing out of control. Some of Camas’ health classes have up to 42 students in rooms designed for smaller classes, she said.

“I feel strongly that the voters and the Supreme Court have told the Legislature what they need to do, and the Legislature’s breaking the law,” Ireland said.

After teaching all day, Vancouver teachers picketed at four busy intersections during the afternoon commute. Waving a sign in each hand, Lynn Maiorca, president of the Vancouver Education Association, stood on the sidewalk along Andresen Road as passing cars honked in support of the teachers. She spoke about frustration with legislators.

“Forget about the politics,” Maiorca said. “Get everybody in that room in Olympia and come up with a creative plan.”

Anger at Legislature

John Zavodsky, a retired Evergreen Public Schools teacher, spoke from the pavilion in Esther Short Park. Zavodsky was jailed for 43 days during the 1973 Evergreen Education Association strike that eventually led to Washington teachers having collective bargaining rights.

The strike, which also began on May 13, lasted two weeks, the longest teacher walkout in Washington at the time. Zavodsky and two other union leaders were arrested after disobeying a court order to return to the classroom. The ordeal ended after a judge threatened to impose a daily $3,000 fine on the union.

“We worked on class sizes,” Zavodsky said. “You know what that’s like.”

His voice broke. He started to talk, but his voice choked again.

“I get emotional,” he said. “Legislators aren’t doing their job. Go after them!” he encouraged the teachers. “Don’t stop!”

Since late April, more than 50 districts statewide have voted for one-day walkouts, according to the Washington Education Association. Districts did not condone the strikes, and schools will make up the day in June. Washington law mandates students attend 180 days of school.

Columbian Education Reporter
Columbian Small Cities Reporter