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South Whidbey teachers join march in Olympia

An umbrella held high by Langley’s Will Collins was a beacon for South Whidbey teachers and supporters during the Day of Action rally Tuesday in Olympia. The oversized purple, beige and white striped golf umbrella could be seen for blocks. - Gayle Saran / staff photos
An umbrella held high by Langley’s Will Collins was a beacon for South Whidbey teachers and supporters during the Day of Action rally Tuesday in Olympia. The oversized purple, beige and white striped golf umbrella could be seen for blocks.
— image credit: Gayle Saran / staff photos

By GAYLE SARAN

Staff reporter

South Whidbey teachers hope lawmakers are quick learners. About half of the district’s 140 teachers joined thousands of other educators to give legislators a math lesson Jan. 14.

The lesson: Fund education.

A bus carrying 50 South Whidbey teachers followed by a caravan of cars with 20 to 25 parents, school administrators and other supporters joined nearly 30,000 people in a rally in Olympia Jan. 14.

The “Day of Action,” sponsored by the Washington Education Association, drew teachers from more than 100 school districts, about one-third of the state’s total.

“It was an incredible experience to be shoulder to shoulder with so many people who believe in public education,” said Rachel Kizer, vice president of the South Whidbey teacher’s union. “The message I heard was about honoring what the voters have already told the legislature to consider as priorities.”

The state’s teachers want lawmakers to protect Initiative 728, which provides money to reduce class sizes and makes other investments to improve student achievement, and Initiative 732, which gives teachers annual cost-of-living increases.

“I want the state to commit to education and to what the voters approved,” said Karen Jeffers, South Whidbey Primary School librarian.

“I know there are a lot of people out of work and teachers are fortunate to have their jobs and health insurance, but providing a good education for students is a necessity.”

Hundreds of school buses and cars poured into Olympia Tuesday morning filled with people wanting to make a difference for public schools.

As they marched up Capitol Way to the park across the street from the Capitol Building, clad in bright blue ponchos imprinted with the slogan “Keep the Commitment,” some chanted, drummed or rang bells.

State lawmakers face a $2 billion shortfall, so Gov. Gary Locke has proposed a kindergarten through 12th grade budget that cuts $600 million during the next two years.

South Whidbey’s superintendent and assistant superintendent, Martin Laster and Dan Blanton, joined the South Whidbey teachers at the rally site in the park across the street from the Capitol building.

“I hope it (the rally) makes a difference. I was happy to see so many people from South Whidbey there, pulling together,” Blanton said. “There is no doubt the state has a budget problem, but with everyone working together, toward the same goal, I think it can be addressed.”

One bystander along the parade route carried a sign accusing teachers of being greedy. South Whidbey’s Rachel Kizer and Rocco Gianni stopped to set him straight.

“We spend a lot of our own money on school supplies. I spend $1,000 a year of my own money on teaching supplies for my own students,” Kizer said.

The bystander said he appreciated the information.

A number of parents joined South Whidbey’s educators on the march.

Jim Simpson, father of a 10-year-old, says the state has been put on notice.

“For every person at the rally, there were at least six at home supporting them. The Legislature and the governor can’t turn a blind eye to that many people,” Simpson said.

Parent Will Collins said that although the rally had a festival atmosphere to it, the message was serious.

“I hope it helps to get a stable budget for health care and education that doesn’t depend on the health of the economy,” Collins said.

Two South Whidbey Board of Education directors, Helen Price Johnson and Bob Riggs, marched with the teachers.

“It was really energizing to be with so many people with a passion for education,” Price Johnson said. “Public education needs don’t change with economic times. We must find a way to adequately fund education to support our students and teachers.”

As a protest, it was peaceful and orderly, but for some participants it was reminiscent of the 1960s anti-war protests.

Karen Jeffers compared the Day of Action Rally with Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful marches.

“It was a positive experience. I felt proud to be a part of it,” Jeffers said.

Jim Simpson agreed.

“It was a magical experience for me. What it did was remind me that most teachers have the attitude anything is possible. They refuse to give up,” Simpson said.

Intermediate School principal Doug Hale said he was impressed with the numbers of people in Olympia.

“The rally was a positive vehicle to deliver our message, to hold the legislators accountable,” Hale said.

He said when he got home Tuesday night his daughter asked him if he won or lost.

“I told her neither one,” Hale said. “It was about delivering a clear message and educating our legislators.”

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