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Kitsap educators march in droves through Olympia

Klahowya Secondary School seventh grader Logan Knapp, left, and his mother Melinda Knapp, a CK School District bus driver, were among an estimated 1,500 teachers, school staffers and eduction supporters from Kitsap County who joined the ‘Day of Action.’ - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Klahowya Secondary School seventh grader Logan Knapp, left, and his mother Melinda Knapp, a CK School District bus driver, were among an estimated 1,500 teachers, school staffers and eduction supporters from Kitsap County who joined the ‘Day of Action.’
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

As 25,000 teachers, school staff and supporters (perhaps 1,500 from Kitsap County) converged on Olympia late-morning Tuesday, the mood was more cheerful and triumphant than angry and determined.

“This is certainly bigger than I expected,” said Cristi McCorkle, president of the Central Kitsap Education Association, CKSD’s teachers’ union. “I just hope our message gets out to our legislators. I think they will certainly hear us, but whether they listen or not is another story.”

The Washington Education Association (WEA) handed out blue parkas that read “Keep the Commitment” to participants as they gathered at Olympia’s Heritage Park.

They ran out after 19,000.

From there, the jubilant crowd loudly marched one mile up Capitol Way, closed to traffic, toward a grassy area across the street from the Capitol Dome — also closed, but for earthquake repairs.

“You could see blue everywhere,” she said. “We had 450 employees from CKSD.”

Along the way, drums rolled and participants chanted and sang.

“It was amazing you could have that many people remain professional and peaceful — though we were loud.”

Employees of all five districts in Kitsap County participated in the WEA’s “Day of Action,” although South Kitsap didn’t close its schools. Substitutes were hired instead.

Gov. Gary Locke, faced with a $2 billion-plus budget deficit, proposed in his budget to suspend two voter initiatives funding smaller classrooms and cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) for teachers and classified staff.

Sue Corey, principal of PineCrest Elementary in CK, attended the rally.

“It was a great feeling to get that many people together for a common cause,” she said. “I’m hoping it’ll get the voters’ attention.”

Sue Watson, president of the classified employee union in CK, said “It was very well organized.... “It’s not a strike for pay, it’s about education.”

“It was amazing,” said Kirstin Nicholson, fifth-grade teacher at Seabeck, “to assemble that many people at one time in one place with one message.... It’s something I’ve never seen before.”

Joni McCarty, a South Kitsap resident who home schools her children, was at the rally. She and her husband, who teaches English and geography at Sedgwick Junior High School, are seriously considering moving from Washington.

Other participants, including Angela Sherbesman, a special-education teacher at Green Mountain Elementary in CK, wanted more support in the classroom.

“In recent years, I have had to get really creative with gathering special education volunteers,” she said. “I’ve been looking to the community, military and retirement homes for helpers. Ten years ago when I started, that wasn’t the case. We had all trained professionals to staff our classrooms.”

Students and teachers from Olympic College attended the event as well. They held tall signs that stood above the crowd.

“We’re here mostly so people don’t forget community colleges are a part of the education system,” said Ted Baldwin, a chemistry teacher at OC.

Community colleges are concerned the governor’s proposed budget will effectively increase tuition for students as well as postpone their own employees’ COLAs.

Once the thousands of participants gathered together on a lawn across from the Capitol, a steel-drum band struck up some music and, eventually, several speakers mounted a temporary stage. Speakers included such notables as actor James Avery, better known as “Uncle Phil” on “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” TV show, and National Education Association (NEA) President Reg Weaver.

“We have a commitment and a powerful vision,” he said. “We must stand ready to work with any lawmaker who is committed to a stable revenue system for education. If we can afford wars in far away countries, we can afford a quality education for our children.”

State Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, said she strolled around the crowd and met teachers she knows. Haigh, who represents the 35th District, sits on the House Education Committee.

“They definitely got their point across,” Haigh said, “although we’re still a month or so away from getting down to the details of the budget.”

Haigh said she plans to introduce a bill Monday that would task a committee with reviewing how schools are funded by the state, and perhaps change the formula to direct greater levels of funding to students with greater needs.

Some people mentioned a state income tax or cutting elsewhere. But the event wasn’t about assigning blame, participants said, it was about building momentum to support schools.

— Staff Writer Kelly Everett contributed to this story.

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