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Spokane teachers approve May 27 strike

Spokane Public Schools teachers and staff voted Wednesday to have a one-day walkout on May 27 to protest a lack of state funding for schools.

More than 65 percent of nearly 2,500 Spokane Education Association members cast yes votes. All schools and work sites turned in ballots.

“We are sending a message to our legislators,” said Jenny Rose, union president. “Our students deserve it, and every single educator in Spokane Public Schools that are doing the hard work every day deserve our legislators to fully fund education. I am so proud of my members who stood up and said ‘It’s time.’ ”

Spokane’s union follows 60 school district workforces across Washington that have staged one-day strikes.

So far, no other Spokane-area school districts have announced decisions about joining in the walkout. Central Valley School District is planning a meeting to take a vote tonight.

“We share the frustration that the Legislature is not meeting its obligation to fully fund basic K-12 public education,” Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, this walkout impacts our families and community in Spokane.”

Wednesday’s vote is the first time Spokane’s teacher union has approved a strike since 1979.

State leaders are debating how to vastly increase funding for schools – as mandated by the state Supreme Court. Legislators also are considering ignoring an initiative approved by voters last November that calls for lowering class sizes.

All classes and other school-related activities will be canceled the day of the strike, and students will have to attend school on June 18, one day longer than originally scheduled. In addition, the district is canceling its early start schedules on Thursdays starting May 28 until the remainder of the year.

“I feel like it’s not going to do any good,” said parent Amanda Hargreaves, who has three children in the district. “It’s a waste of time. If you are going to have smaller class sizes, you need more school space. You can’t magic money out of nowhere.”

Hargreaves said she’s lucky because she’s a stay-at-home mom, so it won’t be a big inconvenience, but added, “What are you suppose to do if you work?”

Spokane’s Republican State Sen. Mike Baumgartner, who on Tuesday held a hearing on legislation that would dock the pay of teachers who go on strike, called the vote results disappointing. Although budget negotiators have yet to reach any agreement on spending or taxes, budgets from the House and Senate both have large increases in state funding for public schools and some cost-of-living raises for teachers, he said.

“We need teachers in schools, educating students,” Baumgartner said.

The bill that was the subject of the hearing could be brought to the Senate floor for a vote in a second special session, if there’s enough support for it, he said. There’s probably not time to advance it in what remains of the current special session, which by law must end next Wednesday.

Sen. Andy Billig, who is among legislators negotiating parts of the budget related to education, agreed that regardless of the one-day teacher strikes around the state, the Legislature is moving toward significant increases in education spending. But the strikes are a tool the teachers can employ to make their point, he said.

“I appreciate the teachers standing up to make the case for full funding of education,” Billig, D-Spokane, said. “Now it’s up to us to deliver.”

The Spokane Public Schools Board is “disappointed,” board Vice President Sue Chapin said.

“This action is a violation of the contract that expressly prohibits strikes and walkouts,” she said. “We believe there are much more productive ways to send a message. This won’t have an impact on the Legislature, but it will have an impact on our families.”

Jody Lawrence-Turner can be reached at jodyl@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5593.

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