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"Teachers, state remain at odds"

"Washington's teachers and the state Legislature are in showdown mode this week as the fight continues over school funding.Teachers are increasing public pressure as the Senate today is expected to release its proposed education budget. Meanwhile, the Washington Education Association is polling its members to gauge support for a possible statewide strike or other job action.Scott Mauk, president of the South Whidbey Education Association, acknowledged Tuesday that local teachers are being polled. Each teacher is being asked to fill out a questionnaire asking his or her reaction to what Mauk described as different scenarios, depending on what the Legislature does.According to the WEA, a statewide teachers strike is one option. Others are one-day walkouts, rallies in local communities and protests in Olympia.The polling is being done quickly with results due by the end of this week. If results show what the WEA calls significant support for a statewide strike, it will immediately conduct a strike authorization poll of its members, with those results to be reported back to WEA by April 13. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn April 22, barring a special session.According to the WEA, various proposed state budgets would cut or shift up to $500 million in education funding, despite two initiatives passed by voters last November. One initiative guaranteed teachers an annual cost of living increase, and the other directed state money toward reducing class sizes. Legislators, including Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, have said there is no more money for education at a time when other state programs are being cut.Dr. Martin Laster, South Whidbey superintendent of schools, addressed the controversy at Monday's school board meeting. The Legislature has very, very difficult choices to make, he said. One worry is that the state will reduce the number of in-service days it provides for teacher training. Local districts may be able to use initiative money to make up the difference, but class sizes would inevitably rise, Laster said. I-728, the class-size initiative, was supposed to give South Whidbey $4 million over five years to reduce class sizes. "

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