Teacher protest will cancel classes in Bellingham, Blaine, Ferndale schools on April 24

Bellingham, Ferndale and Blaine schools have canceled classes for Friday, April 24, because teachers are joining a protest of the state Legislature’s failure to provide ample funding for K-12 education.

The Washington Education Association, which is the teachers’ union, is coordinating the walkouts of teachers in districts around the state.

More than 2,600 teachers from eight school districts will stage one-day strikes, according to a media release from the Washington Education Association.

Bellingham, Ferndale and Blaine education associations decided to stage a walkout April 24. Arlington, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano teachers will strike April 22. Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley teachers have approved a strike but have not selected a day yet.

Mount Baker, Meridian and Nooksack Valley teachers have indicated they will not participate in the protest. Lynden School District officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

The striking teachers oppose the Legislature’s failure to comply with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, which mandated the Legislature provide ample funding for K-12 education. While the Legislature has discussed proposals that include funding to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, no proposal has included money to reduce class sizes in fourth through 12th grades.

Republicans in the state Senate on Wednesday, April 15, proposed having teacher salary negotiations go statewide. That would prevent local districts from handling basic education salaries, transferring local levy dollars into a state tax to pay salaries.

The proposal from House Democrats includes $203 million to boost K-12 employees’ health insurance, which the Senate Republicans left out of their proposal.

Shirley Potter, president of the Bellingham Education Association, thinks the Republican-controlled Senate is shortchanging teacher pay and benefits. The strike will pressure the Legislature for a larger pay increase and more funding for the class-size initiative. Potter said they also oppose using state test scores in teacher evaluations.

“Instead of making the investment in public education that our children need and the Constitution mandates, the state Senate majority is lowballing the education budget and passing bills that scapegoat teachers,” Potter said.

The teachers’ union has been discussing the walkout since the beginning of the month, Potter said. She said it is the best way to get attention to the issue, even if that means inconveniencing parents for a day.

“It’s in the interest of their children. We’ve got to get those class sizes down, and it has to be brought down at all levels, not just kindergarten or pre-K through third grade,” Potter said.

Without teachers, the districts cannot carry on with classes. Ferndale will make up the school day Friday, June 12. Bellingham and Blaine school districts have not yet determined the make-up day.

“This isn’t about our school district, but is an effort by teachers’ associations to influence the Legislature,” wrote the Bellingham School District in a letter to families. “We agree that lawmakers have failed to fully fund K-12 education for too many years. The walkout is a political strategy that teachers’ associations are choosing to use.”

Steve Lawrence, president of the Meridian Education Association, said Meridian teachers shared many of the same concerns and are bothered by the attempts to cut funding of health insurance and class-size reductions at all grades. But the Meridian teachers voted not to participate in the walkout.

“While we share the views of those participating in the walkout, we believe being in the classroom is a more valuable use of our time,” Lawrence said.

The Whatcom YMCA plans to offer at least one location for all-day child care on April 24, though Melinda Yost, director of family enrichment, said Friday she was not sure if the YMCA will be able to use district buildings for child care. They will post options for families on their website when more information is available.

The Boys & Girls Club was unaware of the walkout until the Bellingham School District sent the letter to parents, and the club will be unable to open for students during the day due to a fundraising event on the same day, said CEO Heather Powell.

This year’s legislative session is scheduled to conclude April 26. Legislators are still hashing out the budget, including school funding.