Teachers take a stand against legislature’s lack of progress

Aidan Harris, Journalist

Christine Burris

Christine Burris
On Tuesday, May 19th, teachers district-wide joined together to reveal their frustrations with the state legislature to the public. In the 2014 election, citizens voted that the legislature should provide funding for smaller class sizes, more supplies, and an increase in teachers’ salaries, but the legislature is not fulfilling  the voters demands.

Limited funding for education is preventing schools from decreasing class size. I have over thirty students in the majority of my class periods. Compared to the different state schools I have attended, Washington classes have the most students by far.

Washington is 47th in the nation for class sizes. The lack of relationships with students and teachers are decreasing grade percentages as a consequence of packed classrooms. Research shows that smaller class sizes lead to more students receiving individual attention from their teachers.  This causes a deeper subject understanding which then results in higher achievement.

“The voters voted for smaller class sizes (Initiative 1351)…. Well thats going to take some money. If you are going to reduce class sizes, you’re going to have to construct more classes and hire more staff, but the state is not providing funding for those actions. So they [the legislature] is kind of ignoring what the people’s wishes are,” Mr. Messersmith, a PHS Civics teacher, said,  ”

It is impossible for schools to reduce class sizes because they do not receive the appropriate funding for an increase of classrooms, supplies, and teachers. I am not an all-knowing authoritative figure in education but I have seen enough packed classrooms to realize that the legislature is not funding schools to find a solution to this problem. Therefore, Washington will remain the 47th ranked state and students will continually be forced to have limited communication with teachers.

The lack of funding is not just affecting class sizes, it is also substantially decreasing teachers’ salaries.  The state constitution declares that a government employee’s salary must adjust to financial inflation. An employee’s wage must increase as the cost of gas, groceries, mortgages,  insurance, and healthcare rise. The legislature has not adequately provided these state mandated needs to teachers for the past eight years.

“In the past eight years, teachers have not received a C.O.L.A. [cost of living adjustment]. Personally, I have seen my paycheck go down year after year by about 13%. Not because my salary has gone down but my salary has not kept up with inflation. We  [the teachers] are about 13% behind inflation rate,” Mr. Messersmith said.

The voluntary statewide walkout was meant to make the public aware of, not just the teachers’ decreasing salaries, but also the of funding for education as a whole.

“The legislature isn’t doing their job.They [the teachers] want to draw attention to the fact that the state legislature has been told by the courts to fully fund education and the legislature continually refuses to do so. So, teachers walked out to make that statement,” Mr. Blair, a veteran English Teacher, said.

Unfortunately, their statement was not heard as effectively as the teachers intended.

All teachers for grades K-12 met with the teacher union to vote on a walk out. The vote concluded that the teachers would walk out on Tuesday, May 19th.

Shortly after, the executive board of the teacher association agreed a full day walkout would be appropriate, so they approved the proposal. However, when the president of the union, Jim Falcocchio, reviewed their plan, he unconstitutionally denied it, and reversed the executive board’s decision. Therefore, the union and the teachers had to do a re-vote which concluded that a half-day would be the best possible action.

“Evidently, the association’s president received a little bit of pressure from the district, school board, and parents. In my opinion, he buckled, he caved in. He was able to convince people to change their mind, to go for a half day, which overstepped their bounds. He and the executive board did what they should not have done,” Mr. Blair said.

In my opinion, the association’s president and the legislature have proven that, although they care about education, they care about their reputations more. The legislature seems to be all for school funding until it affects their chance of getting elected again, and the teachers’ association seems broken by lack of leader communication.

This half day walk out was much less effective than a full day walkout would have been. The full day strike would have interfered more with people’s daily routines. The community would actually realize the legislature’s neglection of funding education if the strike was more problematic to the students’ and the parents’ daily schedules.

Individuals are complaining about their children’s’ educators’ demands and not about the fact that each legislature member is only required to work 40 days (which is less than a fourth of the days teachers work) and they are paid $50,000 for that period (about the amount the average teacher earns for a year of work in Washington), according to the Washington Post.

The community needs to realize that the teachers are not striking just because of their lack of C.O.L.A. Their actual purpose is to reveal that Initiative 1351 is not being fulfilled and the legislature’s funding for education is still very low.

I have had enough school experience to see that the legislature and the public have made it clear that education is not a priority. Without a doubt, much more support would been provided and action would have been taken immediately if the school district was profitable in the eyes of the community and the state government.

For example, Boeing is an extremely profitable company in Washington. So, when they suggested a strike, and threatened to move out-of-state, immediate government action was taken. The state legislature gathered $9.8 billion dollars in just two days. The government is not providing this amount of support to the school district because education is not profitable. The future of an educated citizenry looks bleak because school district funding will only be a priority when education can be stamped with a dollar sign.