Politics & Government

More teachers joining walkouts; senator seeks to dock their pay

As more teachers unions join in rolling one-day strikes to oppose education proposals in the Legislature, a state senator introduced legislation Friday to ensure that teachers lose pay if they go on strike.

The latest of 12 local teachers unions to vote for a one-day strike is in the Lake Washington School District, which serves 26,700 students mainly in Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish. Members of the Lake Washington Education Association will strike on May 6, and school in the district will be canceled that day, the statewide teachers union announced Thursday.

Teachers unions are staging the rolling walkouts and one-day strikes to protest lawmakers’ plans to roll back parts of a class-size initiative voters passed last fall. The teachers also object to proposals from the Republican-led state Senate that would mandate the use of statewide testing data in teacher and principal evaluations, as well as Senate plans for pay and benefits that they say are insufficient.

As of Friday morning, no teachers unions in Pierce or Thurston counties had voted to join the strikes, which involve about 5,000 teachers statewide so far. However, teachers in the Franklin Pierce School District were planning to vote soon on whether to stage a one-day walkout, the union president said Friday.

“We are fed up with the Legislature and it's time to take action,” Pam Kruse, president of the Franklin Pierce Education Association, wrote in an email.

Teachers in the Arlington, Lakewood (Snohomish County) and Stanwood-Camano districts held strikes on Wednesday, and the teachers unions in Bellingham, Blaine, Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Conway and Ferndale staged walkouts Friday.

Teachers in Sedro-Woolley will walk out April 29, while those in Oak Harbor will strike May 1.

While some of the teachers unions scheduled their strikes on half-days or training days that won’t need to be made up, most of the school districts will schedule makeup days later in the school year to compensate for the day their teachers go on strike.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, introduced a measure Friday that would forbid school districts from counting days that teachers strike as sick days or snow days. According to a news release from Sheldon’s office, those makeup days can be added onto the end of the year and teachers get full pay for them.

“I don’t think people realize teachers get paid when they go on strike,” said Sheldon, who caucuses with the Republican Senate majority, in the news release. “It’s not supposed to be that way. But during my 25 years in the Legislature, we’ve had plenty of teacher strikes, and I’ve never seen teachers lose a day’s pay for walking off the job.”

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the statewide teachers union, said Sheldon and his colleagues should focus on passing an education budget that complies with the state Supreme Court’s order that the Legislature fully fund basic education, rather than punishing striking teachers.

Lawmakers are adjourning Friday, two days before the scheduled end of their 105-day session, and then returning next week for a special session to finalize a new two-year state operating budget.

“Sen. Sheldon and rest of the Senate majority are the ones walking out on our kids,” Wood wrote in an email. “They’re leaving Olympia early without an education budget, and they’re in contempt of court for violating our students’ constitutional right to an amply funded public education.”

In addition to the walkouts, more than 1,000 teachers will rally at the state Capitol Saturday as part of an event organized by Wood’s organization, the Washington Education Association.

Wood added that “it’s clear (Sheldon) and the Senate are not serious about fully funding our kids’ education.”

“And that’s why thousands of teachers are going on strike against the Legislature,” Wood wrote.

Staff writer Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this report.