Tuesday, February 13, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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4,000 Teachers Strike For The Day

At least 13,000 teachers and other school employees, up and down the Interstate 5 corridor from Mount Vernon to Seattle to Longview, marched off their jobs today to protest what they consider inadequate salaries.

More than 200,000 students missed school because of the walkout, including about 40,000 in the Seattle School District.

The unprecedented one-day strike involved about 30 school districts, all in Western Washington. In every case except one - in Fife - schools were closed for the day.

More than 3,500 teachers from Seattle and Kent rallied this morning at the Seattle Center Arena. Teachers said the state's inadequate support for schools is forcing many of them to leave the profession or work under undesirable conditions.

``I didn't go into teaching for the money,'' said Stephanie Guise, a Kent-Meridian High School teacher who makes $20,000 a year. ``But now I feel so discriminated against, I'm not sure this is what I want to do with my life. We're simply not respected.''

Kuldbep Nagi, a math teacher at Roosevelt High School, said he has too many students in his mathematics courses and believes state money should be increased to lower average class sizes. ``Salary is not my prime concern,'' Nagi said. ``I'm more worried about our students being able to compete with the Japanese and the Germans. We teachers don't have the classroom tools to do our jobs.''

Many parents also attended the rally, some of them bringing their children.

Teachers carried signs reading: ``When I retire, who will take my place,'' and ``Funding today for citizens of tomorrow.''

About 700 Everett School District teachers braved temperatures in the 20s when they hit the streets at dawn.

``It's a process of frustration,'' said Heatherwood Middle School teacher Ed Lundberg, standing at the busy intersection of 164th Street Southwest and the Bothell-Everett Highway.

``I think this is going to make people aware, and it's going to make a difference.''

If it doesn't?

``One step at a time,'' he said. ``We're optimistic. You have to be when it's 6 a.m. and you're freezing.''

Lundberg and the entire staff of Heatherwood received a mixed response as they stood at the intersection near Mill Creek. Commuters who chose to respond honked encouragement. But ``most people don't say anything at all,'' observed strike leader John Martin.

The Everett teachers were expected to join thousands of others from the Northwest region at an afternoon rally at Everett Memorial Stadium.

The walkout idea began taking shape in Everett last spring, when about 2,500 teachers met and gave legislators failing grades for a perceived lack of support for public education.

Since then, a standoff over salaries has developed between Gov. Booth Gardner and the Washington Education Association.

The WEA, claiming the state is paying its teachers less than the national average, is demanding a 10 percent raise in addition to the 10.1 percent average raise now in the budget. Teachers wanted Gardner to set aside much of the projected $611 million 1989-91 budget surplus for raises.

Gardner wants to spend money differently, on teacher training, school construction, early-childhood education programs and the Schools for the 21st Century project.

Average teacher pay is about $29,000, plus $2,100 in supplemental pay for extra chores. Starting pay is about $18,000.

Gardner was scheduled to address a rally of thousands tonight in the Capitol Rotunda. Teachers were busing in from as far away as Kelso and Mount Vernon.

The 2,100-student Fife School District in Pierce County was the only one to remain open while its teachers struck. Principals and substitutes filled in for the 100 teachers who struck, said Superintendent Peggy O'Connor.

O'Connor said contracts prevented the district from going along with the walkout but said the district's action ``in no way implies a lack of support'' for its teachers.

About 40 students marched in front of Fife High School and the neighboring administration building early this morning carrying signs that read ``No school, no future,'' and ``There's no sub for a real teacher.''

The march was organized by a student group called Junior State of America, whose members were upset that the School Board elected to hold classes despite the walkout, according to group president Andrew Gustafson, a 16-year-old sophomore.

``We feel the School Board should support the teachers. If you want good teachers, you have to pay for them,'' Gustafson said.

At a hotel across Interstate 5, about 85 teachers at a breakfast rally got applause from Carla Nuxoll, WEA president, for agreeing to forgo a day's pay to join the walkout.

``That shows the commitment and caring,'' Nuxoll said. ``This is not easy to do. It's gut-wrenching.''

Brad Doyel, Fife teachers president, told the group: ``I think a lot of teachers are going to look at us and say, `That's where I should have been today. I wish I could have been part of that.' ''

Mel Hotchkiss, who teaches instrumental music at Fife High, said he saw no alternative to the walkout. ``If we don't stand up for the rights of kids in our state and ourselves, we might as well roll over and play dead.''

In downtown Woodinville, several dozen Northshore School District teachers paraded along Northeast 175th Street, waving signs and trying to stay warm, to the occasional chorus of motorists honking their support.

``I've had two thumbs-down, and a lot of people smiling,'' said Leota Junior High teacher Jim Mangialardi, summing up public response.

A few honks of encouragement cracked in the crisp morning air along Bothell Way in Kenmore as several Northshore teachers shifted from foot to foot, holding signs with slogans such as ``End Crowded Classrooms,'' and ``I Cannot Afford to Teach.'' Parents also joined the early-morning vigil.

``I spend a lot of time in the classroom,'' said parent Nancy Celms, with a first-grader in the Northshore Alternative Program. ``I can see that class size is a factor in the level of learning.''

``You guys deserve more money,'' yelled a passing motorist turning onto Interstate 405, as Northshore teachers Cam Varney and Steve Cain stood holding signs on the Woodinville freeway overpass.

``Nobody is really proud to be out here,'' Varney said. ``You write your letters, you go down to the Legislature, and nothing happens. Until the legislators think it's important to the community, they are not going to do anything.''

Today's strike came with no official blessing from the 123,000-member Washington State Parent Teacher Association, whose leaders voted not to take a position on the event.

Margaret Harto, state PTA president, said the statewide leadership preferred to allow local units to vote individually on the matter. The state PTA's legislative priorities do include working for higher salaries for school employees, Harto said.

Luci Arson, co-president of the PTA's Seattle council, said that group had taken no position on the walkout.

``It has put us in a dilemma,'' Arson said. ``We support the efforts of teachers and we've lobbied for better salaries, but our difficulty is that this specific action places some burden and hardship on parents.''

John Carl Davis of the Seattle Education Association acknowledged the walkout would pose problems for some parents, but he said notice had been given so far in advance - teachers announced their intentions in December - that the disruption should be manageable.

Davis described as a ``smokescreen'' criticisms leveled yesterday by Citizens United for Better Education that the walkout needlessly burdens parents. Davis said parents get much less notice on any single snow day than they have with the one-day strike.

Citizens United for Better Education, a group started by conservative Christian parents, released poll results yesterday that showed a majority of the state's voters oppose today's action.

The poll showed voters oppose the walkout 53 percent to 38 percent, with 9 percent either undecided or refusing to answer.

-- Seattle Times reporters Ron Judd, Mary Cronin and Margaret Bakken contributed to this report.

Published Correction Date: 90/02/14 - Seattle Schoolteacher Kuldeep Nagi's Name Was Misspelled In This Story.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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