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Educators walk out in protest of Washington legislative funding

SEATTLE - Teachers rallied in a downtown square and kids had the run of the city as a one-day teacher walkout to protest education funding gave 70,000 students an unscheduled holiday.

"We're here today because there's a crisis in the schools," John Dunn of the Seattle Education Association told the gathering of about 2,000 teachers and supporters at Westlake Center. "We need to tell people to go back to the Legislature and tell them it isn't enough."

Teachers were protesting the amount of money set aside for raises, classroom operations and other funding in state budget proposals. They contend that lawmakers are thwarting the intent of two citizen initiatives passed last year to provide money for annual teacher cost-of-living increases and smaller class sizes.

Proposed budgets from the governor and Legislature contain education cuts, meaning local school officials might have to use some of the initiative money to maintain current programs.

Lawmakers say they are fulfilling the requirements of the initiatives, and there is simply no extra money.

More than 5,000 teachers walked out in the Seattle and three suburban districts, according to their union, the Washington Education Association. Informational pickets were up at some schools, and teachers went door-to-door in school neighborhoods to pass out leaflets.

Some teachers at the downtown rally carried yellow balloons that read: "No more broken promises. Fund schools now."

Rik Katz, a geography teacher at Washington Middle School in Seattle, said lawmakers have to figure out their priorities.

"Are they going to wait for there to be a block in education the way there is in transportation right now, where it's a crisis?" he asked. "We're so far behind now, I don't think we're ever going to catch up."

Sara Monroe, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Alternative School No. 1 at Northgate, attended the rally.

"My mom is a teacher. I just think teachers should get more money because they deserve it. They are helping us become who we are going to be," she said.

WEA spokesman Rich Wood said the protests were aimed at legislators, who teachers believe are ignoring the intent of initiatives voters passed to improve teacher pay and reduce class sizes.

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

Wood said it was only a coincidence that the walkout came on May Day, the traditional day of labor demonstrations around the world. Tuesday just happened to be a convenient day for teachers in some districts, he said.

Lynn Steinberg, spokeswoman for the Seattle School District, said the district also supports teachers' aims, but it doesn't support their methods.

"We're not convinced teachers walking out is the most effective way to communicate that message," she said.

The missed day of school will be made up in June, she said.

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