Politics & Government

Gregoire to meet teachers after supporting pay cuts

Gov. Chris Gregoire plans to speak to about 1,000 Washington Education Association members late Friday afternoon in Tacoma. Will she get a frosty reception? Or is it a sign of the times that she might get some appreciation – despite her public embrace of pay cuts for public school employees?

Gregoire's office said today:

The governor certainly intends to use this opportunity to express her appreciation for teachers – especially during these difficult times when they’re asked to do more with less. She’ll discuss the state’s budget situation, and the difficult decisions that have affected our state’s education system, particularly those cuts to early learning. And she’ll remind teachers that since taking office, she’s made education a priority – and has invested in education. Additionally, she’ll ask for their help to ensure the public understands the value of education – that without their support our schools can’t succeed.

Rich Wood, spokesman for the 82,000 member WEA, said he wouldn't want to characterize the kind of reception Gregoire will get at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center gathering. But he said Gregoire has acknowledged that teachers have endured past pay reductions, and teachers appreciate her efforts last year to support a pilot project to evaluate teacher performance.

But the two-term Democrat has gotten behind the controversial pay cuts that Senate Republicans and Democrats want to impose in each of the next two years. Some House Democrats are less keen on the cuts, which are meant to bring public school employees in line with the 3 percent cuts that most general-government workers are facing in 2011-13.

Wood said "teachers noticed" when Gregoire said teachers’ pay should be cut less because they already had given up the equivalent of 1.1 percent in pay through cuts to learning improvement days. "She also has said she doesn't support mandating a statewide policy for teacher layoffs," Wood said.

"I think educators understand the financial challenges the state faces. At the same time, we also need to be clear about the impact of the cuts on kids. They also overall are feeling pretty beat up, not just because of the cuts but what is perceived as teacher bashing," Wood added.

The WEA event is its 91st yearly Representative Assembly and it begins today and ends Saturday. House Speaker Frank Chopp and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell are both expected to speak Saturday morning.

The event is expected to draw "more than 1,000 teachers, education support professionals and college faculty members" who set union goals and policy.