Washington State Plan Irks Teachers

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The new legislative year has not eased tensions over school funding between Washington State educators and Gov. Booth Gardner. The Governor made little mention of education reform in his state-of-the-state address last month, and he requested that the supplemental allocation for education be limited to $8.4 million to accommodate an increase in the number of children classified as handicapped.

Less than a week after his address, however, he asked the legislature to allocate funds from the state's $140-million reserve to raise the salaries of all state employees--including teachers--by 3 percent, effective Sept. 1.

But that action was not enough to prevent the Washington Education Association, long irritated by the state's failure to fund education-reform initiatives and pay raises for teachers, to mail strike-authorization ballots to its 41,000 members.

"Three percent is simply not adequate," said John A. Cahill, communications director for the W.E.A. The union, along with 12 other state-employee associations that make up "The 5 Percent Coalition," has called for a 5 percent pay raise. The average teacher salary in the state is $24,500.

The strike-authorization ballots, mailed last week, are expected to be tabulated by Feb. 20, Mr. Cahill said. The action marks the first time in its 97-year history that the W.E.A. has called for a strike vote.

A 60 percent affirmative vote by the membership and the approval of two-thirds of the W.E.A.'s board of directors is required for the action to pass. The W.E.A. has taken no position on the vote.

The union's action is the latest chapter in a push by educators to boost state aid for education reform.

Last year, the state was poised for reform, having heard from three education study groups that argued primarily for change in the areas of teacher compensation, preparation, and development. But Governor Gardner, who had succeeded Gov. John Spellman, cautioned that because the state was just beginning to emerge from a recession, the time was not right for rebuilding the education system.

W.E.A. Responds

In response, the W.E.A., the state's largest teachers' union and an affiliate of the National Education Association, threatened a one-day protest strike.

Lawmakers eventually approved a 1985-87 biennial budget of $9.14-billion, with $4.25 billion going to elementary and secondary education; the new budget represented almost no growth from previous levels. And lawmakers declined to enact any tax reform to enhance revenues. The state remains one of a handful with no income tax; it funds 90 percent of school costs.

This year, the Governor, in his second state-of-the-state address, told legislators he was "acutely aware of the commitment to learning" that exists in the state. And he added that he was "equally aware of the continuing problems that exist."

Among those problems, he noted, are levy inequity, restrictive state funding, and low teachers' salaries.

"As I look back over the past year," he said, "my greatest frustration as Governor has been the state's inability to provide adequate resources necessary to make substantial improvements in education."

The Governor waited several days before announcing his 3-percent raise proposal, according to an aide, in order to get an accurate assessment of the state's reserve level.

The Governor's supplemental budget calls for additional general-fund expenditures totaling $23.8-million and non-general-fund expenditures from federal matching and various dedicated fund sources of $156.4 million. Of that amount, $8.4 million would go for the needed special-education supplement. The schools will also benefit from an additional $27.5 million because of lower-than-anticipated K-12 enrollments, the aide said.

Mr. Gardner also asked legislators, who convened last month for a 60-day session, to change the state board of education from an elected body to one appointed by the Governor with Senate ratification. Such a move, he said, would foster "a more intense and visible discussion about the future of education in the state."

The Governor also proposed that legislators allocate $3 million to the Department of Community Development for an early-childhood-education program for 1,000 disadvantaged preschoolers; $455,000 to the Department of Social and Health Services for a program to aid homeless children; and $300,000 to the Office of Financial Management for a study of K-12 testing.

Based on a report issued last month by the Governor's Task Force on Children's Day Care, Mr. Gardner also proposed that the state allocate $2.8 million to the Department of Social and Health Services to increase the number of low-income parents eligible for day-care aid.

And he asked lawmakers to approve legislation making liability insurance both available and affordable for day-care providers; encouraging the utilization of the public schools for day care; and aiding the state, as a model employer, to assist employees with day-care responsibilities.

Vol. 05, Issue 21, Page 19

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