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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Voting starts on Spokane teacher walkout

Spokane teachers will start voting today on whether to stage a walkout May 27 as a statement to legislators about funding smaller class sizes and pay raises.

An unofficial vote taken last week showed Spokane Education Association’s membership is “overwhelmingly” in favor, union President Jenny Rose said. Before taking any action, “the leadership wanted to know if we should even go there,” Rose said.

If teachers leave school for the day, activities and athletic events would not be interrupted and teachers and students would make up the day at the end of the school year.

“We share the frustrations that the legislature is not meeting its constitutional obligation to implement full funding for K-12 public education this session,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger wrote in a letter to staff. “However, a walk-out may deliver a different message to the local community than one that is intended for the legislature.”

A large number of school unions around Washington have staged walkouts to show solidarity around their disappointment with state lawmakers. Shoreline School District teachers and support staff walked out on Monday. Mercer Island Education Association members decided Tuesday they would walk out on May 19.

Rose emphasized that union members’ frustration is not with the district, it is with the state.

“People are tired of being beat-up on,” Rose said. “Membership is feeling energized. They were ready to do something about this, like, yesterday.”

Teachers in Mead, Central Valley and East Valley school districts also are considering walking out. Votes are planned in the next week.

“We’ve had some members call for a general meeting to take a vote,” and that’s likely either Thursday or Friday, said Vicki Arnold, Central Valley Education Association president. She said to approve a walkout, at least 468 members must participate.

A recent straw poll of Central Valley union membership, however, is showing they are not in favor of a work stoppage, she said. They are in favor of doing something to make a statement.

Rose said if teachers in other districts also vote to walk out, she hopes they walk out on the same day.

The last time Spokane teachers considered a walkout was in 1985. However, administrators and union leaders reached an agreement.

The last Spokane teachers’ strike was in 1979.

Mead School District teachers had a labor strike in 1974, which was believed to be the first school strike in Eastern Washington history.

Rose expects support from the community, which passed bond and levy measures in February to build and remodel schools and pay for classroom materials, more teachers and extracurricular activities.

“Yes, our community supports the levy,” she said. “It’s us who knock on doors asking people to vote yes. We work hard to help get it passed. We are the community.”

School Board Vice President Sue Chapin said the board agrees that the Legislature must increase education funding and noted that the district joined the lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to provide schools more money.

“We disagree that a walkout will send the message they want to send. Their actions won’t directly impact the Legislature, but it will directly affect our kids and parents.”