Mercer Island teachers will take to the streets Tuesday, May 19 after the Mercer Island Education Association (MIEA) voted to hold a one-day walkout appealing for more education funding by the Washington State Legislature.
Demonstrators will wear ‘Red for ED’ on Mercer Island and wave signs at 8:30 a.m. before heading to Seattle Center, where they will join teachers from the Seattle and Issaquah School Districts for a march at 11 a.m. through downtown Seattle. The march will culminate with a rally around noon at Westlake Center.
The vote to walkout was taken by the MIEA on May 11. The missed school day will be made up on June 19, which was a previously scheduled make-up day for school closures.
“This wasn’t a pre-planned thing. It’s really been a grassroots, spontaneous response to the legislators when they ended session without doing their jobs,” said Tani Lindquist, Mercer Island Education Association president.
MIEA discussions of taking action against the Legislature had been in the works for several weeks, beginning in April after educators in Anacortes and Bellingham staged a local walkout. With the end of the current special session approaching, the MIEA wanted to do something while legislators were still deliberating.
In a letter the MIEA planned to send to Mercer Island parents last week, the MIEA detailed its reasons for walking out against the State Legislature, citing loss of local control of levy monies, a failure to reduce class sizes for grades 4 through 12, a failure to provide professional compensation and a failure to fully fund schools. The MIEA also stated the vote to take action was against the Legislature, not the Mercer Island School District.
“There was definitely a concern among members that we didn’t want to punish members of the Mercer Island School District. Not the parents, not the students,” MIEA member and school district parapro William Gurdes said. “These people are educators first and foremost and got into this job to help children grow. Anything that gets in the way of that is concerning to them and they don’t want to be the cause of instability in a kid’s life. At the same time, they’ve been working hard for years doing their duty and our Legislature is not doing its duty.”
Lindquist emphasized the importance of the control of local monies, noting the additional dollars Mercer Island puts into school programing and staffing beyond what the state allocates. Under the current senate budget proposal 6109, such additional funding wouldn’t be allowed, meaning cuts for resources like tutors, parapros, and some of the additional music and AP courses offered at Mercer Island schools.
“They’re looking at property tax monies for certain communities like Mercer Island. But we wouldn’t get those monies; they’d be redistributed to other districts,” Lindquist said. “We’d be paying more, and it actually looks like we’d be getting less for what we use for schools. It could be really dramatic for how it would negatively impact our school district. It’s pretty scary.”
MIEA member and high school science teacher Patricia Weston said the demands imposed through the uses of state funding and state testing have grown increasingly difficult on both teachers and students.
“It’s less of an issue in Mercer Island, but Seattle, Highline, Tukwila and Federal Way are districts where there are really high-need students struggling with poverty in large numbers. You need large numbers to deal with those issues, with smaller class sizes and more support staff,” Weston said. “Teaching science is a lot easier to teach with a class size of 12-16 than 22-34. It’s harder to engineer that type of attention if you have struggling students. If you have large class sizes, it’s harder on both the teachers and the students.”
The MIEA stated in its letter the walkout comes after teachers have “tried everything else,” including meeting with legislators, holding a rally in Olympia on April 25, and engaging in other lobbying efforts to no avail. With Mercer Island joining the growing list of school districts voting for teacher walkouts, the MIEA hopes their message will be heard loud and clear in Olympia.
“We want them to fully fund schools and make sure every school has adequate money and local control over money,” Gurdes said. “The legislators need to step up and do more; they’re not doing their job.”
Demonstrators will wave signs at sites near the Park and Ride, Island Crest Way and S.E. 40th St., and the East Mercer and West Mercer I-90 exits, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.