April 12, 1999
Northshore teachers voted last week to vacate classrooms on Wednesday, April 14, to personally convey their displeasure with state legislators in Olympia, before the Legislature adjourns April 25.
Teacher unhappiness revolves around two main issues: they say they have been granted only seven percent of the total twenty-two percent cost-of-living increases since 1993; and their workload has doubled in that six years, according to Penny Pfiester, president of Northshore Education Association.
"Our work stoppage is a day for teachers to lobby legislators to fully fund the 15 percent in salary we've lost to inflation," said Pfiester. "The governor's offer of a four percent (biennium) salary increase is absolutely unacceptable. We use the theme, '0-0-4-0-3-0,' representing the percentage of salary increases given state teachers, by the legislature, in each of the last six years."
Last Thursday, the WEA (Washington Education Association) filed an initiative to implement yearly cost-of-living increases in education salaries. "I believe we need to make that change," State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, said. "We've tried to recognize teachers' worth, but I-601 has imposed a spending lid that limits funding."
"Since I-601 passed, K-12 funding has gone from 50 percent of the state budget throughout the '80s to the current 45.6 percent," said Pfiester.
McAuliffe said the legislature realizes teachers have to be taken care of this year. The legislative session's initial proposal by House Democrats calls for six percent salary increases for the next biennium, at three percent each year. House Republicans' proposed budget has similar numbers, but it would de-link teacher salaries from classified staff salaries, exclude classified staff from this budget, and decrease teacher benefits, according to McAuliffe. "You don't de-link those budgets; they've always been linked."
Separating the budgets would cause problems every time one group got an increase and the other didn't, she said. Many new programs and grant funds from the governor's education list, and $100 million from the Human Services budget, are being cut to fund this year's education salary increase, said McAuliffe.
State employee salary increases must be applied statewide. Although three counties, King, Pierce, and Kitsap, have had significant increases in living costs, legislators are not allowed to selectively raise salaries for some school districts but not others, McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe put the ball in the people's court noting how quickly they approved last fall's Referendum 49. That Republican-sponsored, $450 million road budget will come out of the upcoming biennium's state operating budget.
"When Washington citizens value their teachers as much as their roads, they will find a way to pay them," McAuliffe said.
Pfiester says teachers have had to use free time to redesign the curriculum, an expectation imposed by House Bill 1209 in 1993. That effectively doubled their workload since then, to implement Essential Academic Learning Requirement standards, she said.
Teachers are required to attend after-school training meetings, learning to teach in a completely different way; they are also expected to plan and implement the redesigned curriculum during class time, Pfiester said.
"We agree with the need to restructure the education system, but we need time and resources to do that," said Pfiester. "When Boeing wants a plane designed, they provide the necessary resources, personnel, and time at the job site. They don't expect engineers to work free overtime."
Northshore School Board President B-Z Davis supports the teachers' concerns, but disagrees with their protest method. "While we support the teachers, a walkout is difficult for everyone," said Davis. "But I'm sure teachers would rather be in the classroom than in Olympia. The district has always agreed with teachers on the salary issue, but we haven't always had a sympathetic legislature to work with. Teachers have tried everything to get legislators' attention. Hopefully this will work."
Experienced teachers are moving to private schools and industry, retiring, or moving to states willing to pay more, Pfiester said. Districts are increasingly unable to recruit new teachers into the profession.
"We are very concerned about loss of good teachers," said Davis. "We've been more fortunate than many districts in attracting good teachers, but we're having difficulty finding substitutes. We know it won't be long before we lose experienced teachers. That's hard to replace, after investing so many resources and years getting teachers familiar with our system and community."
Another downside contributing to that migration is the state-imposed salary structure, by which teachers' salary advancement stops after 15 years of experience. "What other professions stop salary increases for people when they achieve 15 years experience?" asked Pfiester.
"We are extending formal letters of invitation to our administrators, and an open invitation to parents and anyone in the community who wants to join us in Olympia," said Pfiester. "When politicians stop interfering with education, teachers will stop interfering with politics."
Pamela Steele, spokesperson for the Superintendent's Office, said the School Board and Superintendent decided to close Northshore schools when it was clear that the walk-out would happen. "For reasons of student safety and academic consistency, the schools had to be closed," said Steele. "There was also the possibility that classified staff employees represented by at least two unions might have joined the walk-out."
The walk-out does not legally violate teacher contracts, according to Karl Kaluza of the Northshore School District Communications Office.
"They aren't striking, which would violate labor agreements," said Kaluza. "This day will be made up on the last day of the year, June 22, which is always a two-hour day. The day missed from last month's storm will now be a full day makeup."
Teachers from four other Eastside districts will walk-out to demonstrate in Olympia on April 21 and 22.