- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

OLYMPIA, Wash, Jan. 14 (UPI) — Around 100 school districts in the state of Washington were closed Tuesday while several thousand teachers, administrators and their supporters marched with noisy determination in the chilly drizzle outside the state capital to protest the governor's proposal to shelve salary increases and funding for class-size reduction called for in two voter-approved ballot measures.

Just hours before Gov. Gary Locke was to deliver his State of the State address, a rally organized last summer by the Washington Education Association chastised his plan to put the increased spending on hold until the state's economy improves and its finances are back on solid footing.

Marcher Anna Ulmering sent a message to Locke in an interview with Seattle television station KIRO.

"Put up or get out," she demanded. "You promised us you would support education."

Washington's Legislature convened this week with a $2.8 billion deficit, and the sluggish economy from the aerospace industry downturn tops its agenda.

A solution proposed by Locke is delaying pay hikes and class-size reduction funding called for in Initiatives 728 and 732, which were approved by the state's voters in 2000.

"As a father of two young children, I highly value the contributions of public school teachers," Locke said in a speech Monday. "We don't give you enough compensation or recognition. We would like to do more, but we simply do not have the money at this time."

Locke wants to save nearly $450 million over the next two years by holding off on the pay raises specified under I-732 and school improvements called for by I-728.

Locke pledged to restore the funding beginning in 2005 and said that support for education remained one of his top budget priorities.

The teachers, however, insisted that a deal was a deal and called on the governor and the Legislature to resist the urge to cut school funding. Organizers told reporters Tuesday that they had handed out nearly 19,000 blue plastic rain ponchos bearing the slogan "Keep the Commitment" to the soaked crowd.

"We're losing staff who go on to other jobs because they can't feed their families or pay their medical bills," teacher Kathy Zerfloeh told KIRO.


(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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