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Teachers in 32 Washington Districts Stay Out as Strike Enters 2ndWeek

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Teachers in 32 districts in Washington State stayed off the job late last week as the Washington Education Association entered the second week of a strike that has suspended classes for 316,000 students.

Teachers and instructors in several district and community-college locals returned to work after participating in one- or two-day walkouts to show support for locals that had pledged to strike indefinitely.

Several school districts had geared up to petition judges for back-to-work orders. At least one local, however, the 105-member Sequim district, voted on Wednesday to defy a court order, according to the w.e.a.

After drawing 13,000 teachers to a rally at the state Capitol in Olympia early last week, the union was planning another demonstration for last Saturday. Some 2,000 teachers were picketing there daily.

Some 21,000 teachers in the Puget Sound region walked out on April 18 in protest of the state legislature's education funding level. (See Education Week, April 24, 1991.)

One possibility the legislature is considering is to adjourn for two weeks while6members of the budget conference committee stay in town to hammer out an agreement. Some observers interpreted that effort as a way for the legislators to escape the teachers temporarily.

Union and state spokesmen indicated that there has been some movement, though admittedly imperceptible.

"The big change is for the first two days of the strike, the legislature and Governor tried to treat this as though it weren't happening,'' said Teresa Moore, a wea spokesman. "This week they know it's real and they are talking to us."

Gov. Booth Gardner reportedly softened his tone somewhat during a radio address last Thursday in which he called for all the parties in the dispute to come together.

Judith Billings, the state superintendent of public instruction, offered a three-part plan for ending the strike. It calls for the Governor to create a blue-ribbon commission to recommend proposals for future education funding and associated issues; the Senate to drop its plan of adding $66 million to the $260-million contingency fund; and the state to give school districts authority to apply a second-tier property-tax levy earmarked for special non-basic education programs, according to Marilyn Jones, the superintendent's spokesman.

Meanwhile, school districts had begun to use a $2-million emergency appropriation to serve school breakfasts and lunches to children. Seattle and Tacoma, the two largest districts, set up meal sites at community centers, Ms. Jones said.

Already the strike, which observers say could be protracted, is expected to disrupt the plans of students with work or travel plans, graduating seniors, and teachers who work or attend summer school. The state requires a 180-day school year, although there is a five-day cushion for seniors.

Because the eastern part of the state is still in school and classified employees are working, Ms. Jones said the legislature may be reluctant to relax the 180-day rule.--kd

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