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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Teachers begin walkout to protest Legislature’s failure to increase school funding

By Scott Maben and Chad Sokol The Spokesman-Review
Spokane and East Valley teachers began their one-day walkout Wednesday morning to protest the Washington Legislature’s failure to meet a state Supreme Court demand to increase school funding. Teachers began gathering around 8 a.m. at the intersection of Ash Street and Northwest Boulevard and at Manito Center at 29th Avenue and Scott Street. They said large classes and too much standardized testing are cutting into the time and resources available to students, and school staff aren’t being paid enough for their work. “I put in a lot of hours that I don’t get paid for,” said Brian Monger, a math teacher at The Community School on West Knox Avenue. “And unfortunately that’s the only way to be an effective teacher right now. That’s the only way to make a difference in the kids’ lives.” At Ash and Northwest, drivers were honking every few seconds at the hundreds of protesting teachers lining the intersection. The teachers, joined by school nurses and other staff, wore red in solidarity and cheered after each honk. Teachers and school staff were still trickling in around 9 a.m. to join the crowd. Jenny Rose, president of the Spokane Education Association, said some parents dropped off boxes of donuts and bottles of water to show their support, although many parents were left looking around for supervised programs for their children or opting to take the day off from work. “I know this is inconvenient for parents, but we teachers have been ignored for far too long,” said Christian Perreiah, an eighth grade history teacher at Chase Middle School. “I’ve taught for 20 years, and I’ve seen my pay chipped away at over the years. And I’m at the top of the pay scale. I can’t make more money.” State leaders are debating how to increase funding for schools – as mandated by the state Supreme Court in its 2013 McCleary decision. Legislators also are considering ignoring an initiative approved by voters last November that calls for lowering class sizes. “Legislators need to do their jobs,” said Angela Bina, a music teacher at Audubon Elementary School who also protested standardized testing. “Our kids are being inundated with testing rather than teaching. They’re sitting in front of a computer instead of exploring.” More than 65 percent of the nearly 2,500 Spokane Education Association members voted in favor of the one-day strike. It’s the first time the union has approved a strike since 1979, following more than 60 school district workforces across Washington that have staged one-day strikes. At a rally later on Wednesday in Riverfront Park, Vice President Debby Chandler said statewide more than 40,000 educators have walked out. After the union voted for the strike, several churches and community centers decided to open their doors and gather volunteers on Wednesday to care for the children who would normally be in school. James Young dropped off his first-grade son, Jai’Dyn, 7, at the East Central Community Center, which was staffed to take 75 kids from kindergarten through sixth grade. “This place is a godsend,” Young said. “His mother and I both work day shifts.” He said he’s glad he didn’t have to miss work to watch his son. “It throws a wrench in your plans, especially when you’re trying to save your vacation days for family vacation during the summer,” said Young, who works at Sun Ray Court drug and alcohol treatment center. “I completely understand why the teachers are doing it, I do. I’ve always thought that teachers deserve to get some of the best benefits out there.” Georgianna Tarrant (pictured, right, with her two sons), a community health worker, said she had planned to take the day off from her new job at Better Health Together so she could look after her sons, second and fourth graders at Lincoln Heights Elementary School. Then she heard about the day-long activities at East Central Community Center. “I don’t think it’s fair because I don’t think we have the money to fund what they’re asking for. So walking out, in my opinion, is not going to do anything except frustrate a lot of families,” Tarrant said when she dropped off her children. Seferina Medrano took her granddaughter, 5-year-old Olivia McCullar, to the community center, where the staff had prepared such activities as tennis lessons, planting seeds in a community garden and creating edible beaver dams to teach kids about stream ecology. “They need the raise. I don’t think they get paid enough,” Medrano said of the teachers. She also said she favors spending more to lower class sizes and allow teachers to devote more time to each student. “I just hope they get what they want. They need it, I know that.” All classes and other school-related activities were canceled on Wednesday for the strike. To make up for the lost day, students will have to attend school on June 18, one day longer than originally scheduled. Additionally, the district canceled its early start schedules on Thursdays starting May 28 until the end of the year. Pilgrim Lutheran Church opened its preschool Wednesday to provide free, supervised care for up to 50 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The church’s youth group members (pictured, right), also out of school for the day, volunteered to help lead the kids in kite-making and other activities. “It doesn’t sound like there’s a ton of options out in the community,” said Heather Davis, the preschool director at Pilgrim Lutheran. She arranged to have her own schoolchildren, ages 6 and 7, join the group at the church. “We support our teachers, but we also need a safe place for our kids,” Davis said. Three candidates running for position 3 on the Spokane School Board have differing opinions about the strike. Incumbent Rocky Treppiedi, who has served on the board for nearly 20 years, is strongly opposed. “It’s a breach of their contract, which says they will not engage in this type of activity. It’s a pure disruption to our students and families,” Treppiedi said. “Professional educators should not take actions against their students. Doctors don’t take actions against their patients. Lawyers don’t take action against their clients.” Treppiedi’s challengers are Donald Dover and Jerrall J. Haynes. Dover strongly supports the strike and Haynes said he could see “both sides of the issue.” Back on the strike lines on Northwest Boulevard, Vicki Sax lamented that she can’t effectively reach all 24 students in her first-grade class at Ridgeview Elementary School. “I can’t give them all the attention they need,” she said. “If I had fewer kids I could get to all of them. Not every teacher can teach after school on their own time.” Mike Page, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade at the Bryant School on Ash Street, said, “I don’t think the issue is with constitutionality. We’re frightened and angry at the way education is being eviscerated. Our leadership is ineffective.” With a heavy focus on standardized testing, mandated by the federal government, public schools have spent weeks preparing students for their end-of-year exams. For Dan Ankcorn, who works with students who struggle with reading at Ridgeview and Longfellow elementary schools, that cuts into important instructional time. “I had to actually spend some of my time prepping them for the test, which is above their reading level and probably too difficult for them anyway,” Ankcorn said. “It’s not an accurate measure of how well our kids are doing in school.” Rachael Manz, a special educator at Ridgeview Elementary School, said she’s worked with children who have been beaten, starved and abused psychologically. Because classrooms are so crowded, Manz said, those children have a hard time learning alongside other students. “When we’re dealing with children who are hungry, we pour our pay into making sure they have food, even over the weekend,” she said. “When they come from a place where they fear all adults, we work really hard to build relationships with them.”