20,000 rally for better teacher pay, smaller classes

Seattle Times


OLYMPIA, WA— Thousands of union teachers, along with sympathetic students, parents and others, descended on the state capital today to defend voter-approved initiatives that provide money for yearly teacher raises and smaller class sizes.
Gov. Gary Locke has proposed freezing both initiatives to help balance the state’s budget. Today’s rally was planned even before Locke’s proposal gave it extra urgency.

By midmorning, busloads of protesters began to arrive, many wearing blue rain ponchos reading “Keep the Commitment.” By noon, the main street leading from downtown Olympia to the Capitol campus was closed and clogged with people.

“The legislators need to listen to the voice of the people. If they’re not paying attention, I’ll be very disappointed. Parents support the teachers,” said Karen Treneer, a parent from Milton.

Organizers with the Washington Education Association estimated as many as 20,000 people would participate, said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the 75,000-member union.

“You can’t complain about something unless you take action. At least we can say we tried,” said Mickey Wolf, who teachers at Monte Cristo Elementary in Granite Falls.

The rally prompted school to close in about 100 school districts around the state. That left parents scrambling to look after hundreds of thousands of kids.

Some of the children made it to the rally.

Union organizer Ben Ideale of the Seattle Education Association brought his 4-year-old daughter, Madison, to the rally. Sitting on her father’s shoulders, the would-be kindergartner waved a sign reading, “Give my teachers a future because I want one.”

Ideale taught in Issaquah for six years before deciding he couldn’t live on the salary. Many of his classmates in the Seattle University masters of education program have made the same decision, Ideale said.

“For the governor to cut our funds, their priorities are not right,” Ideale said. “The teachers are committed, but so many have left because they just can’t make it. They can’t keep up with the cost of living.”

The Olympia School District was one of many districts that willingly canceled school to support the teachers.

“We are committed to our children, and we want the legislators to back us,” said Bob Currie, who teaches fifth grade at Madison Elementary.

The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation, one of the WEA’s most vocal opponents, staged a small counter-protest nearby.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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