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Teacher strike possible

"A teacher strike is possible but not imminent, says the leader of Federal Way's teacher union. Coming off the heels of a recent rebuke of Gov. Gary Locke, the Washington Education Association is exploring the possibility of a statewide strike. Federal Way Education Association members could follow suit. At issue is the governor's budget proposal, which refuses to pay cost of living raises to teachers whose salaries are paid from local levies or federal funds. That would mean cuts of about $265 million in school funding, according to the WEA. The Legislature still is drafting its budget and debating the issue. An assessment team has begun reaching out to the statewide union's 70,000 members to learn whether they want to strike. If the team finds a significant amount of support, a strike could be called, but local education associations can still make their own decisions about whether to form picket lines. Assessment teams are likely to talk to the FWEA's 1,700 members on Tuesday. FWEA president Teri Packard admits a strike would be difficult and might be a public relations struggle. She said she doesn't know how Federal Way's teachers would vote. I will have to do what my membership indicates they want to do, Packard said. Michael Joiner, an English teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School, said he wouldn't look forward to a strike, but would support his fellow teachers either way. It's a very sensitive issue, Joiner said. I'm 100 percent supporting my colleagues' decision. Locke's view, according to his office, is that voter-approved Initiative 732, passed in November, covers only those teachers and other school employees paid by the state.The move has the FWEA and WEA crying foul. Union leaders say Locke's stance will inhibit attracting and retaining high quality teachers. The move prompted the union last month to retract its endorsement of Locke in the November election. I'm not happy with the Legislature and with what they're doing, Packard said. The public definitely showed the Legislature they supported public schools. Never in our wildest dreams did we think this would turn out this way. Locke has said I-732 does not require raises for all school employees and that the Legislature hasn't traditionally given pay boosts to the teachers the WEA says he is excluding. To help himself better understand the conflict, Joiner said he's reviewed the I-732 text and believes the bill's intent was to fund all teachers, not just a specific group. State leaders have said they consider education a high priority, but that budget constraints are a reality they have to acknowledge. Everybody is upset with budget cuts this year, said Marty Brown, Gov. Locke's budget director. I haven't heard anyone coming into my office telling me they got enough money. Still, Brown said, most groups have recognized it's a tight budget year with few opportunities to increase spending. Just walking off the job is not going to help, Brown said. I don't see why we should punish school kids for something that's not anyone's fault at this stage. Every child deserves a quality teacher, countered WEA President Lee Ann Prielipp, That means compensating all public school employees fairly. "

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