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Teachers vote to rally, close schools

They're not calling it a "strike," but South Whidbey teachers will not be in school on Jan. 14.

Instead, they will join personnel from 98 other Washington state school districts to lobby the Legislature for more education funding.

Members of the South Whidbey Education Association met Tuesday to vote yea or nay on whether to join the Washington Education Association's statewide "day of action." At the event, educators will to try to persuade lawmakers to protect public school funding while they struggle with the state's $2 billion budget deficit.

But to go to the event, teachers had to be willing to leave their jobs on a school day. SWEA's vote to close district schools was made by 63 percent of the members present at Tuesday's meeting, said SWEA president Lynn James. James said this is not an action against the school district or the community.

"This was not an easy decision because we have great support for our schools here," James said.

She said she hopes other members of the community will join teachers in Olympia that day.

The rally, which is scheduled for the second day of the new legislative session, is part of a major lobbying campaign by teachers and other education supporters. Teachers want the state to increase education funding, grant automatic cost-of-living raises for teachers and find long-term solutions to education funding.

Washington Education Association officials assert voters made public education a priority by passing Initiative 728, the class size initiative, and I-732, which provides an annual cost-of-living adjustment to school employees. These initiatives are in danger of being gutted to balance the budget.

'We are not politicians. Lobbying the Legislature is not common for teachers," said Rachel Kizer, vice-president of SWEA. "I have 100 reasons -- my students -- to stay in school that day, but for them I am compelled to ask our state to fully fund education."

Former SWEA president, Scott Mauk said education funding in this state is appalling.

"More teachers are leaving the state for better salaries, and some are actually leaving the profession," Mauk said.

SWEA representatives believe good education is a community issue.

"We invite parents, school board members, administrators, students and other supporters of education to join with us to send a unified message to the Legislature that quality education is not a choice," Kizer said in a prepared statement this week. "In order to continue improving the quality of schools and continue the progress on raising academic standards, teachers expect the state to invest in the future of all students by developing a long-term plan that provides equitable, stable funding for public education."

Teachers and classified staff members in other school district unions have elected to attend rallies on Jan. 14 in Olympia, Spokane and the Tri- Cities.

James and Kizer asked the South Whidbey Board of Education on Nov. 25 to support teachers at the rally. Board members supported the union's cause, but some were reluctant to support the walkout because of the lost class day. The lost day could mean extending the school year by a day or eliminating a scheduled day off for students.

Board directors Helen Price Johnson and Bob Riggs both said they were going to Olympia, whether the schools are open or closed. Board president Ray Gabelein, Jr. was a bit more circumspect.

"I want to send a message to Olympia to fully fund education, but I also want our schools to say open," he said. "I would be more likely to go if our schools stay open."

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