News

Federal Way educators part of the 'action'

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

Wearing ponchos and waving placards calling for legislators to “keep the commitment” to public education, thousands of teachers and their supporters stormed the capital during Tuesday’s “Day of Action” rally.

Federal Way teachers boarded buses rented by the local teacher’s union and made the trek to join the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 education supporters descending upon Olympia to encourage the governor and the Legislature to spare education funding and to preserve two-voter approved education initiatives.

Just how to balance the commitment to public education will be no easy task for legislators, who are confronting a recession, the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate and a record-high $2.4 billion budget deficit.

In his proposed budget, Governor Gary Locke called for a nearly $600 million cut to public school funding, including a two-year suspension of two initiatives, I-732 and I-728, that limit class sizes and guarantee teachers annual cost-of-living salary increases.

While teachers rallied outside, Governor Gary Locke presented a plan to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in a 31-minute State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature and other elected state officials.

The throng of teachers clamoring to make their voices heard on the capitol grounds did not go unnoticed by Locke, who affirmed that teachers “are not paid enough.”

Still, with tough times come tough decisions, and Locke said that “tough choices today mean a better tomorrow.”

Tough choices won’t come at the cost of public education or teacher salaries if state Sen. Tracey Eide (D-30th District) gets her way. Eide, whose son attends Federal Way High School, has spent time in the classroom as an aide and mentor, and she said education was one of the reasons she first ran for office.

“This is going to be a very difficult session, but I believe education should be our number one,” said Eide. “Constitutionally, we are bound to make sure that education is fully funded.”

Calling education “preventive medicine,” Eide looks to education as the stepping stone to a stable career that will give today’s kids the means they need to support themselves and to be a benefit to society in the future.

Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy showed his support for teachers during a brief visit to Eide’s office Tuesday morning. Murphy was back in Federal Way by noon for a lunch and bus tour updating citizens on the district’s bond construction projects.

Murphy has been a vocal opponent of cuts to education funding and said during his state of the district address last week that he “will not stand by and agree that I am thankful for the smaller cuts we have received” in the governor’s proposed budget.

The district is preparing for a $6 million to $8 million budget reduction, and administrators expect to eliminate programs and lay off some teachers and support staff next year.

“I don’t think we can take that as a community,” said Murphy. “I don’t think we should stand for that as a community.”

The Washington Education Association, the state’s 76,000-member teacher’s union, agrees.

“The proposed cuts by Governor Locke would have a very real impact on the quality of schools throughout the state,” said WEA spokesman Rich Wood. “Public schools supporters should contact their legislators and encourage them to uphold the will of the voters by funding initiatives 732 and 728, but also emphasize the need for stable and adequate funding for public schools.”

The WEA will be doing just that as the session drags on. The state teacher’s union president, Charles Hasse, testified Thursday before the Legislature about the impact of the proposed governor’s budget on schools.

The union also will run a series of television, radio and newspaper ads encouraging the Legislature to keep the commitment to education.

The Day of Action was only the beginning, Wood said.

“The 30,000 people in Olympia (Tuesday) will continue to contact their legislators,” said Wood. “There will be community meetings about public schools, and meetings with the legislators themselves back home in their local districts.”

The message teachers, parents and students hoped to send during Tuesday’s rally did not go unheard, Eide said.

“It was wild. It was just a sea of blue, because they were wearing those ponchos that say ‘Keep the commitment,’” said Eide. “I went out there and I walked around and said I am commited to them.”

Staff writer Jody Allard can be reached at 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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