Hundreds rally at school district to push for teacher bargaining deal

The Edmonds School Board heard two and a half hours of public testimony on Tuesday night from educators and community members hoping for a contract agreement between district and the Edmonds Education Association during the next period of negotiations later this month.

The meeting followed a rally outside the Edmonds School District administrative building. Members of the Edmonds Education Association planned the rally after failing to secure a contract in the last round of negotiations.

Approximately 300 attended the school board meeting after participating in the rally. The school board meeting room and overflow room were both at full capacity based on fire safety guidelines, and some supporters stayed outside for a while.

More than 30 people — including teachers and parents — offered public testimony. The public comments focused around hopes for smaller class sizes, more support from resources like paraeducators in the classroom and more time flexibility for teachers — meaning fewer things like planned mandatory meetings and book trainings and more time to do things like grade assignments, plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues.

“I have already had 12 years of professional development. I don’t need more,” said Brenda Torres, a science teacher at Lynnwood High School. “What I need is more time.”

Torres said she typically spends 10 hours a week outside of teaching to take care of regular tasks.

“Many nights, I have to choose between being a good teacher and being a good mom,” she said. “It’s a terrible choice and it’s not one that I want other teachers to have to make.”

Sara Hedges, a kindergarten teacher at Hazelwood Elementary, said most teachers know when they pursue the career that they will have to put in more hours than they are paid for, and she understands that everyone at the table would create classes of 15 students if they could.

“This is not an easy situation,” she said to the school board. “It is a challenge. I’m sure it is not easy to sit up there with all of us over here.”

But, she said, there are things the district can provide that will not cost dollars.

“Something that doesn’t cost any money is our time,” she said. “I am the expert on what those 25 kids need when they walk through the door. We need autonomy over the little time we are compensated for. These are items that can be negotiated without any financial impact.”

Other teachers emphasized the need for extra support in classrooms with students who struggle.

First grade teacher Christina Duff said she has taught at one of the district’s most affluent elementary schools and now is teaching at one of the least affluent. She said both schools had classes that were too large, but at the first school, it was easier to manage.

Now, she said, she is interrupted in the middle of a lesson by kids shouting things like “I hate school.”

“Even on the toughest days, I love my students,” Duff said. “It’s not their fault; they are dealing with trauma that no 6-year-olds should be facing… Don’t set students like mine up to fail because they live in different parts of the district.”

Parents and students also spoke.

Salma Saritama is a student in the district who moved to the U.S. from Ecuador a little over a year and a half ago.

“Coming here with no English at all was hard,” she said. “It was hard to make friends and go to classes. I didn’t know what the teacher said. I didn’t know how to ask for something, and I didn’t know what the teacher wanted me to do.

“This was a time that more individualized time would have benefitted me the most,” she continued.

She said she was there to support her teachers because her teachers supported her.

Before public comments began, School Board President Susan Phillips explained some of the challenges faced by the district.

“We are all here to support students and student success,” she said. “Funding is complicated to say the least. The state will reduce money the district can collect from local levies, yet regulations for how those funds can be used have not yet been written. We are all fully committed to meeting the needs of teachers.”

Bargaining is expected to continue on Aug. 14-15.

–Story and photos by Natalie Covate

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