School to close as teachers flock to budget rally

Published on Thu, Jan 9, 2003 by Meg Olson

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School to close as teachers flock to budget rally

By Meg Olson

Schools will be closed on Tuesday as over half of Blaine’s teachers head to Olympia to tell Governor Gary Locke that his budget proposals undermine their ability to meet student’s needs.

“We have serious concerns both professionally as teachers and for what’s happening to students in our schools,” said Blaine Education Association president Janet Mumma, the professional organization representing the district’s 134 teachers.

Mumma said they had intended to send a small delegation to Olympia for the January 14 rally organized by the state teachers’ unions, but the budget Locke announced in mid-December was more spartan than anticipated. “The impact on our schools will be so great it pushed us to action,” Mumma said.

While the governor’s budget for 2003-2005 includes $10.6 billion for state schools, it also suspends two voter-approved initiatives that would have hired more teachers to keep class sizes low and guaranteed teachers an annual cost of living increase.

Initiative 728, approved by 72 percent of state voters in 2000, directs the state to direct surplus revenue and lottery proceeds to fund class size reduction, teacher training and other improvements to boost student achievements. Facing a projected $2.4 billion gap between money the state has and money it would need to spend just to keep existing programs afloat, Locke announced December 17 that his proposed budget would suspend the initiative’s 2004 class size reduction.

Locke also announced Initiative 732, adopted by 63 percent of voters in 2000, would be effectively cancelled. The initiative guarantees cost-of-living increases for teachers and all school employees.

“These decisions affecting teachers have been agonizing for me,” Locke said. “They work hard and we simply do not pay teachers enough. I’d like to do more but we do not have the money at this time.”

Mumma said suspension of the initiatives needed to be looked at in the context of a decade of decreasing per-student funding in the state. New funding from Initiative 728 in the past two years has been offset by cuts to other funding sources. The class limit set under the initiative, now 19 per class for middle schools, “does not reflect what class size is really like. My seventh grade language arts class is at 28,” she said. “With 28 to 30 kids in a class students probably get an hour a year in individual attention.”

According to the state’s League of Education Voters Foundation $173 million was cut from the state K-12 education budget for the 2001-2003 biennium, which in ten districts translated to more in cuts than in new funding from I-728. More and more schools rely on local levies to make ends meet. Statewide, the share of school district budgets supported by local levies has jumped from 7.9 in 1980 to 15.2 percent. “More local funding for schools means our community pays more,” Mumma said.

Despite voter approval for automatic pay increases for teachers, Locke said he was canceling the cost of living increases in Initiative 732 because all state employees were paying the cost of tough economic times. “State workers will feel the pain of this budget,” he said. “Again there will be no cost-of-living increases and again state- funded employees will pay a larger share of their health insurance.”

Mumma said pay cuts and higher insurance payments would hurt teachers but “it’s not our biggest issue.” She said the association membership was more concerned about proposed cuts that would undermine their ability to provide the highest quality education to their students. For example, two learning improvement days in each teacher’s 182-day yearly contract are being eliminated. “Those are days we get together to meet and look at solving problems and improving curriculum,” she said.

School superintendent Gordon Dolman said he felt for parents who would have to make childcare arrangements for the one-day closure on short notice. He said the Blaine Boys and Girls Club is preparing an all-day program on January 14 to give parents another option.

“We realize this is a short period of time to prepare but we also understand the Blaine Education Association’s frustration with the state budget,” he said. “I know they’re really going down for the kids in the classrooms.”

Dolman added the Blaine school board had yet to take a position on the budget proposals. “We believe it’s too preliminary. This is the governor’s budget, not the official state budget,” he said. “The board is definitely concerned about voter approved initiatives being set aside.”

According to the district, the closure will affect all grades. The missed day will be made up on Thursday, March 13..

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