PSD teachers walk out to send message to legislators

Alice Kinerk Peninsula School District teachers participated in a half-day walkout on May 19. Here, a group of elementary teachers march on Borgen Boulevard in North Gig Harbor. Photo by Ed Johnson, KP News

Question: What happens when thousands of Washington state teachers believe that education is not being adequately funded? Answer: They schedule rolling one-day walkouts to bring attention to the issue.

In 2012, the state Supreme Court issued the McCleary decision, ruling that Washington is not fully funding public education. While the state provides a portion of necessary funds, they are not sufficient to fund salaries, transportation and the myriad other expenses associated with K-12 education. As a result, local school districts have come to rely more and more heavily on the passage of local levies.

Throughout the spring, school districts in Washington have participated in a series of one-day walkouts protesting the legislatures budget decision not to fully fund public education. According to many, their grievances include the lack of a COLA (cost of living adjustment) for employees during the past seven years (which stands in stark contrast to the 11 percent pay increase Legislators are likely to receive themselves), as well as a lack of increase in healthcare funding.

Kari Gulbranson, a PSD teacher, wants the community to know the message is aimed at the Legislature. “I love what I do and care for the students, but it is our right to get COLA raises,” Gulbranson said.

Further, with the passage of Initiative 1351 last year, voters throughout the state agreed that class sizes in the state should be reduced. But budgets proposed in Olympia failed to do this.

Peninsula School District teachers met on Wednesday, April 29, to discuss and vote on whether or not to walk out. The vote determined that 71 percent of the teachers present were in favor of joining the walkouts. The decision was made to do a half-day walkout on Thursday, May 19.

Because the walkout was made a half-day, not a full day, the last day of school for students in the district will remain Friday, June 19. Further, the last day of school will remain a half-day. Teachers will need to return to school on Monday, June 22, for an additional half-day in order to make up for the walkout.

The Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and the Red Barn stepped up to offer free child care for the afternoon of May 19.

Elementary, middle and high school teachers wore red and carried signs at various locations throughout Gig Harbor. spending the afternoon walking and waving to bring attention to the issue.

Peninsula Education association president Jim Falcocchio said, “We need to do better for our students.

“The critical focus is that our community and our students deserve better. Lower class sizes benefits all students, lowers caseloads and allows professionals to do professional jobs," Falcocchio said.

Parents and community members had mixed feeling about the walkout, with many taking to social media to voice their thoughts.

Although some argued that what teachers were doing was illegal, the majority who posted comments were in support of the walkout. Washington law has no specific penalties for a teacher strike.

Jenn Senius, a PSD parent, was glad to see teachers fighting for adequate pay.

“Our teachers dedicate their lives to our children and they should be compensated fairly,” Senius said.

In Olympia, legislators are continuing to meet in a special session until the issue is settled.