Teachers rally for support

While thousands of Washington teachers flock toward Olympia to rally against proposed cuts to education in the state’s budget, others stayed to rally support on the homefront.

Motorists driving through Oak Harbor Tuesday saw a smattering of picketers lining busy corners throughout the city on the damp, foggy morning to remind drivers of proposed cuts to schools.

“We’re here to raise awareness and support and keep I-728 and I-732 committed to our schools,” said Craig Nurdic, a physical education teacher at North Whidbey Middle School. He was referring to two voter-approved education initiatives that the governor has recommended ignoring, in part, due to the budget shortfall.

Oak Harbor schools were closed Tuesday as more than 100 district teachers boarded two tour buses and headed to Olympia to join an estimated 15,000 teachers from around the state attending the rally.

Those who stayed home spent the morning waving signs to encourage a commitment to recent voter initiatives.

“We’re looking for support within the community so people understand what we’re doing,” said Holly Wright, a school psychologist at Olympic View and Hillcrest elementary schools.

Teachers want the state to remain committed to the spirit of I-728 and I-732 which were supposed to help reduce class size and guarantees cost-of-living pay increases for teachers.

“We have to fund education and have lower class sizes so we can accommodate kids at different levels,” said Ken Bender, computer-aided drafting teacher at Oak Harbor High School.

Teacher were riled when the governor’s proposed budget included more than $500 million in cuts to the 2003-2005 budget. The cuts are to help make up a $2 billion shortfall in the budget. Education officials said these cuts nullify the intent of the voter-approved initiatives.

While some teachers were walking up and down the highway to garner support, others spent the day indoors e-mailing and writing letters to their local legislators.

Although the Oak Harbor School District was closed for the Day of Action activities, the neighboring Coupeville School District remained opened Tuesday, choosing to send a delegation to Olympia instead. South Whidbey was also closed.

The state Legislature convened Monday for what many predict will be a lengthy, heated session dealing with budget cuts and possible tax increases.

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