Hundreds of Tumwater educators rally on Capitol Campus

Dressed in red and chanting “Education is a right, that’s why we have to fight,” hundreds of Tumwater teachers, school workers, parents and students rallied Friday morning on Capitol Campus to protest the Legislature’s funding proposals for education.

“We’re here to support our teachers, and to support our students,” said Kristina Dilworth, an office professional at Bush Middle School. “They need to be fully funded.”

About 400 people participated in the sign-waving event on Capitol Way and rally on the steps of the Legislative Building, according to Tim Voie, president of the Tumwater Education Association.

Union officials, a couple of students and Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, and Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, spoke during the event.

“I think, collectively, you’re being heard all around the state,” Fraser told the crowd. “It’s making a difference. …We, the people, need to keep making a big noise to get the system fixed.”

According to Washington Education Association officials, about 35,000 teachers in nearly 75 districts, including Tumwater and North Thurston, have participated in what’s being referred to as a “rolling walkout.” An additional 10,000 teachers, including hundreds from the Olympia School District and Yelm Community Schools, are slated to walk off the job next week.

Tumwater Education Association member and occupational therapist Kathie Mayer described Friday’s rally as a “great feeling of solidarity.”

“We’re all here for the kids,” she said.

The protests are over the Legislature’s funding proposals for education including a roll back to parts of a class size initiative approved by voters last fall. Teachers also say they want cost-of-living increases and better benefits.

“It’d be nice if they just respected the voters’ votes,” said Chris Gunderson, a seventh grade science teacher at Bush Middle School.

He said he would rather have been at school with the kids, but felt it was important to participate in the rally. Gunderson said he explained to students that it wasn’t a day off for the teacher, and that it was about supporting democracy.

“I told them in the political system, you have to decide where money goes, and my people feel like we haven’t got the money that other jobs have gotten,” he said.