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Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

A day to demonstrate our commitment to schools

Special to The Times

Today, parents, teachers, support professionals, administrators and elected officials will rally in Olympia, Spokane and the Tri-Cities to deliver a message: The Washington state Legislature must keep its commitment to students and quality public schools.

Despite strong public support for our schools, Gov. Gary Locke recently proposed cutting more than $600 million in public school funding, jeopardizing the continued success of our state's students. His education budget proposal is unacceptable.

The Day of Action will mark the beginning of a citizens' campaign to ensure that, unlike the governor, the Legislature keeps its commitment to Washington students, schools and school employees. Voters have consistently shown their commitment to public education by approving statewide education initiatives and local levies and bonds. School employees demonstrate their commitment to public education in their daily work with students.

Public-school supporters expect legislators to keep their commitment by protecting existing education funding, providing competitive compensation and finding long-term solutions for stable and adequate school funding.

We believe:

• The Legislature must continue to invest in quality public schools. This includes meeting its responsibility to protect and fund voter-approved Initiative 732 and Initiative 728. These important measures provide cost-of-living adjustments for educators and smaller class sizes for students.

• Competitive compensation is needed to continue attracting and keeping the best teachers and education-support professionals for our students.

• Stable and adequate funding for public education is essential at a time students and schools are making great progress toward higher academic standards. The Legislature must continue to invest in public schools for the future of our students.

Today's Day of Action has the support of many local school-district administrators and school boards. For example, five Bainbridge Island School Board members and Superintendent Ken Crawford have announced their plans to participate in an open letter to the community. "We intend to advocate for genuine systemic change with passion and vigor," Crawford wrote. "Teachers should no longer stand alone on the front lines of this conflict. It is time for local education leaders to get into the game and start mixing it up."

In the Highline School District, Superintendent Joseph McGeehan has observed that while "closing our schools on the 14th does create inconvenience and disruption, the inconvenience we all will experience without improved funding is even greater."

Parent groups, including the local PTSA councils in the Seattle, Bellevue and Lake Washington districts, also support the Day of Action, as do other unions representing school employees. Nearly 150 local education associations, representing the vast majority of Washington Education Association's members, have voted to participate in the day's events.

No one involved with the Day of Action suffers from the illusion that a one-day event will be a remedy for all of the difficulties we face. But our unified voice can have a huge impact.

The events today will set the tone for this biennium; they will let legislators know that it is unacceptable from the standpoint of both politics and policy to consider altering either of the two education initiatives. The Day of Action will make even more urgent the need to develop a long-term plan for adequate, stable funding. Jan. 14 will be one important day in a critical 105-day session.

The public agrees with the message we will deliver to legislators: Now is the time to keep the commitment to students and schools.

Charles Hasse is president of the Washington Education Association. He is on leave from his job as a fourth-grade teacher in the Highline School District.

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