Seattle teachers' walkout gives 70,000 kids a holiday

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ Teachers in Seattle and three suburban districts staged a one-day walkout Tuesday to protest state school funding proposals, shutting down classes for 70,000 students.

``We're doing this because every day our students are being shortchanged,'' said John Dunn, president of the Seattle Education Association, which represents 4,800 teachers and staff at city schools.

Teachers picketed schools and planned a midday rally at Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. Many also went door to door to distribute leaflets.

It was only a coincidence that the walkout came on May Day, the traditional day of labor demonstrations around the world, said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood. He said Tuesday just happened to be a convenient day for teachers in some districts.

The missed day will be made up at the end of the school year, said Lynn Steinberg, spokeswoman for the Seattle School District. She said district officials support teachers' aims, but not their methods.

``We are marching arm in arm with them on this issue,'' she said. ``At the same time, we're not convinced teachers walking out is the most effective way to communicate that message.''

Teachers were protesting the amount of money set aside for education in state budget proposals.

In November, Washington voters approved two education initiatives, one aimed at cutting class sizes and another mandating annual cost-of-living raises for school employees.

But because of proposed budget cuts, some funds earmarked for cutting class sizes may instead have to be used to maintain existing education programs, according to critics of the budget plans.

In addition, the spending plans provide cost-of-living raises only to school employees who are paid by the state, leaving local districts to cover the rest.

Lawmakers have maintained there is no money to fund teachers' demands. Dunn disagrees, saying ``rainy day'' funds should be tapped.

``All of the cuts are going to hurt the children of the state of Washington,'' he said.

Teachers in Issaquah, Enumclaw and Maple Valley also walked out. Teachers in Stanwood plan to walk out Thursday, and Edmonds teachers on Monday.