Hundreds of teachers protest in Bellingham, Ferndale

Hundreds of teachers crowded downtown Bellingham on Friday, April 24, holding signs and chanting during a one-day strike over the state Legislature’s failure to provide ample funding for K-12 education.

Bellingham, Blaine and Ferndale teachers skipped work for the day while they rallied at the Depot Market Square on Friday morning. They then carried their signs reading “stop blaming teachers, start funding schools,” and, “good schools require good funding,” to Holly Street in Bellingham, where they lined the street and cheered when passing drivers honked their car horns in support.

The strike forced all three districts to cancel school for the day. Other Whatcom County school districts, whose teachers chose not to skip work, remained in session.

The Washington Education Association, which represents teachers across the state, encouraged the one-day strike because it contends the state Legislature is not fully funding K-12 education or following a voter mandate to reduce K-12 class sizes.

Both House Democrats and Senate Republicans have proposed budgets that would fund class size reductions in kindergarten through third grade, but no proposal has included money to reduce class sizes in fourth through 12th grades. Both would give teachers their first cost-of-living adjustment in six years.

Senate Republicans have proposed having teacher salary negotiations go statewide, transferring local levy dollars into a state tax to pay teacher salaries and preventing local districts from handling basic education salaries.

Striking teachers said Friday the Legislature is not going far enough to fund basic education, or to keep teacher salaries competitive and maintain their health benefits.

“I’m a primary wage-earner for my family,” said Karen Anastasio, a teacher at Squalicum High School. “And every single year, my benefits go down ... and my premiums go up.”

Another Senate bill that teachers oppose is one that would tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. Teachers at the rally said there will be some students in every class who struggle to meet state testing standards no matter what, and especially with larger class sizes.

“We need them to support smaller class sizes, we need them to keep supporting us in terms of keeping our salaries competitive at the current levels — we don’t want those to go backwards,” said Alan Doud, a Squalicum High School teacher. “If they can’t support us in those ways, at least don’t put roadblocks up.”

Amanda Blue, a teacher at Vista Middle School, said her classrooms are overcrowded and the public doesn’t understand how tying state assessments to teacher evaluations in crowded classrooms makes it difficult for teachers to do their job.

Her friend, Hannah Mead, who is not a teacher, joined the teacher strike because she has noticed “good teachers are going elsewhere.”

The walkout Friday followed similar strikes earlier in the week from teacher unions around the state. On Wednesday, April 22, teachers from the Lakewood, Arlington and Stanwood-Camano school districts walked out. Teachers in Sedro-Woolley and Oak Harbor will have one-day strikes next week, and Lake Washington teachers will have a walkout May 6.

Teachers protested in Ferndale early Friday before joining Bellingham and Blaine teachers in Bellingham around 10 a.m. Other Whatcom County teachers say they support the teachers in the strike but chose to stay on the job instead of forcing schools to close.

The teachers do not have a legally protected right to strike, but there is no legal penalty in doing so, according to a 2006 opinion by the state Attorney General’s Office. Collective bargaining agreements between the teacher unions and districts in Bellingham, Blaine and Ferndale all have a no-strike clause or statement. Blaine and Bellingham contracts both explicitly state the board shall deduct pay for one day during each day of a strike. But since a school day will be added later in the year, there will be no impact on teacher salaries.

Jacqueline Brawley, Bellingham School District spokeswoman, said the district will not take any legal action against the Bellingham Education Association, adding, “the school district wants the state to fully fund education — and that includes increased compensation for teachers.”

Bellingham School District will make up the lost day on Tuesday, June 23. Blaine School District has submitted a recommendation for the next school board meeting to make up the school day Monday, May 4, and Ferndale School District will make up the day Friday, June 12.

Some people feel there should be consequences for the teachers who chose to walk out on their job.

“The law requires citizens to pay taxes and levies for schools or they face consequences. The law requires students to attend school or they face consequences. Even the Legislature faces consequences for its education budget. How is it that union agitators can disrupt these services without consequences?” said Jami Lund, senior policy analyst for a conservative group called the Freedom Foundation.

Shirley Potter, president of the Bellingham Education Association, said the teacher strike was for the good of not only teachers but also the district and students. She said the Legislature is doing less than the minimum requirement that was mandated by the 2012 state Supreme Court McCleary decision, which scolded the Legislature for not providing ample funding for basic education.

On Saturday, April 25, thousands of teachers from all around the state will be standing on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia in an attempt to put more pressure on the Legislature.

The Legislature was ending its regular 2015 session Friday but will come back next week to work on the state budget, with education as the focus.