Tag Archives: funding

“Turning the Streets Into Our Classroom”: Vote for May Day Strike!

dearbornPublished by The South Seattle Emerald

by Jesse Hagopian 

By Wednesday this week every school in Seattle will have held a union vote to decided if our Seattle Education Association (SEA) should go out on strike on May Day—International Worker’s Day—to demand full funding for education, to support our immigrant students, and to defend union rights.

I am voting yes!—and I hope that the rest of the educators join me in authorizing this walkout for the schools our students deserve.

Here in Washington State, our state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that our state legislature was in violation of the state Constitution’s “Paramount Duty” to amply provide for education.  The court has fined the legislature and found them in contempt of court for failing to support public education.  And yet we have seen our legislature continue to funnel money to the wealthiest corporations in our state, giving away billions in tax breaks to Boeing and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich.  Washington State is one of only a few states without an income tax and ranks dead last with most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The year 2017 was the final year that the state Supreme Court gave the legislature to fix the funding problem and it is clear that the legislature has no plans to start following the law anytime soon. ft-teachers-washington

We have tried emailing, calling and asking nicely for the legislature to follow the law and fund education. That hasn’t worked.

Now it’s time to show the collective power of labor.  We held a one-day walkout two years ago as part of a rolling strike wave across the state to pressure the state legislature. That was an important action that raised awareness, brought families into the streets with teachers in a common struggle, and gave teachers a glimpse of their power.  But this one-day strike has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the last because the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution calling on all the locally affiliated unions to go out on May Day. As the Seattle Weekly reported,

SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.

Many unions are looking to the SEA to see if we strike. If we do, others could follow and it could become a mass outpouring of labor solidarity that truly has the power to shake up the one percent and their political representatives in the legislature and make them heed our demands for education and union rights.

In addition to the urgency around education funding in our state, the May 1st Coalition in Seattle has called on workers to strike for immigrant rights on May Day, and there will be a massive outpouring of humanity at a rally that day to stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. All the anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportations are demoralizing our students, splitting them apart from their families, and leading to hate crimes. Moreover, there is a push by the Trump administration and within the federal government to ratify anti-union, so-called “right to work” legislation, that would gut union protections.

I am voting to strike because I believe we as educators should join the struggle for immigrant rights and I see that as a vital component to a better education system.

I’m not content to teach students about the mass strikes and boycotts of the past that won social programs and the right to unionize–I know we actually need to bring back that history and make it real for our students by demonstrating what it looks like in practice. I’m ready to make the streets my classroom on the first of May and teach a lesson about union power and collective struggle that the rich and powerful won’t soon forget.

“Let Us Graduate!”: Garfield High School walks out on budget cuts

GHS_Walkout2Seattle’s Garfield High School has once again moved into collective struggle!–and we may to find out today if one of us is to be displaced from the building or if the power of protest has kept us safe from the budget-cut ax for now.

The Seattle School District announced on Friday, October 17, that Garfield High School would be forced to cut and transfer one teacher in a core subject area by Friday, October 24—or come up with $92,000. But on Thursday October 23, almost the entire building emptied in a mass walkout of students and educators against the budget cuts and has so far convinced the district to delay the cut.

The morning of the walkout, one of my colleagues was in the middle of reading the list of grievances that the rebellious colonists proclaimed against the British in the Declaration of Independence. As he told it, the students didn’t yet grasp the world-historic nature of the defiant document and were slouching in their seats, somewhat uninterested. Then, a member of the Associated Student Body government burst in the room and began listing the grievances students had with the Seattle school district that was proposing to cut a classroom teacher of a core subject at Garfield. The ASB representative closed his remarks by urging the students to take action—much the way the Declaration of Independence concludes—by breaking the rules and walking out of school against the budget cuts. Upon the Paul Revere imitator’s exit, the class returned to the text of the Declaration with a new excitement and understanding of the importance of speaking truth to power.

Among the objections cited by students and teachers to cutting a core subject teacher is that it would leave 150 students without a class and threaten the graduation of many. This is unacceptable, especially as Garfield has met its enrollment projections.  The other schools that have been told they would be affected by the displacement of staff are Stevens and B.F. Day elementary schools, Denny International and Madison middle schools and Hazel Wolf K-8.  Earlier this year another school, Gatewood Elementary, was told they would have to lose a teacher but the District gave them the option of raising $90,000 within one week to keep the teacher.  The Gatewood PTSA was able to raise the money in a week and staved off the displacement of the teacher.  While I am glad Gatewood was able to keep its teacher, it is simply unacceptable that schools with more wealthy PTSA’s can keep their teaching staff intact, while the res of the schools must face continual turnover.  We must once and for all end the fiction of “separate but equal” schooling, especially when it comes to funding and resources.

GHSWalkout_1At 1:50pm last Thursday, members of the award-winning Garfield High School drum-line announced the walkout with their signature hypnotic snare drum polyrhythms and led a mass exodus out of the building. Almost the entire school emptied and hundreds assembled on the front steps, students calling, “Let us graduate,” with teachers responding, “Let us educate.” Student body President Harald Hyllseth grabbed a bullhorn and declared, “If the motto of the Seattle Public Schools is truly, ‘Every Student, Every Classroom, Everyday,’ they won’t take a teacher away from us!” Garfield History teacher Hersch Mandelman addressed the crowd saying, “You students do not yet have the right to vote…but you do have the right to a voice!” School Board Director Sue Peters, also a Garfield High School parent, also addressed the crowd, saying she had talked with Superintendent Nyland and encouraged him to review the numbers and to pay to keep the teacher with money from the district’s rainy day fund–which totals millions of dollars. As well, a solidarity statement was read, sent from many faculty at Seattle’s Rainier Beach, which stated in part:

To The Students and Staff of Garfield High School,

The teachers at Rainier Beach High School stand by you as you take a stand against unfair cuts that will cancel much needed classes and resources for your students. We know how it feels to be understaffed and under-resourced and expected to meet all of the needs of all of our students.  It puts us in an impossible position and the students ultimately end up losing the most…An injury to one is an injury to all.

This isn’t he first time Garfield has had a major walkout. The last time was in 2011 when hundreds of students walked out of school in opposition to the announcement that the state would cut $2 billion from healthcare and education. They marched to city hall and demanded a meeting with the mayor, who appeared and praised their initiative. The students received national attention for their efforts, even getting their picture in the New York Times. Best of all, only weeks after they organized a second city-wide mass student walkout, the Washington State Supreme Court—under considerable pressure from public education advocates around the state—ruled that the state legislature was in violation of the Constitution and would need to increase funding to education with billions of more dollars.  Unfortunately, the legislature continues to violate our state Constitution, prompting an unprecedented “contempt of court” order by our state Supreme Court earlier this year.

We live in the wealthiest country on earth. Seattle is one of the wealthiest regions in nation, with multi-billion dollar companies—such as Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing–dotting our skyline.  Cutting teachers nine weeks into the school year for lack of funds is outrageous.  Billionaires should not be allowed to hoard their wealth at the expense of our children.  Garfield is once again proving the great escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass right:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

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