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Water Wars: How Hirst Water Decision Halts Homes
By Ed Kilduff (from July 2017)


Sunset or Sunrise? 
By Carol Owens


Focus on Local: How we Make a Living
By Minnie Knych

How to Avoid Teacher Strikes
By Jami Lund with Dawn McCravey





Originally by
Jami Lund, Centralia School Director
Adapted with permission by
Dawn McCravey, Retired Northshore School Director


Teachers in the San Juan Island School District went on strike this year. Almost every year, districts across the state have been targeted to take “their turn” at local strikes to affect funding at the state level. Where the money comes from to settle these strikes isn’t necessarily the state. Local taxes have been used for salaries even though laws stipulate local monies are to be used for “extras” local districts wish to offer.

In Washington, teacher strikes are illegal and courts have consistently sided with School District Directors who seek to protect the state’s paramount duty. In addition, many school collective bargaining agreements prohibit teacher strikes. Some, however, actually invite walkouts. This wording has been manipulated in contract negotiations so that a school board can be made to feel they cannot act to provide legal protections against a strike.

A taxpayer can’t refuse to pay taxes. A student cannot refuse to attend school. Even legislators are in trouble with the Supreme Court for inadequately funding education. Why are union agitators the only party for whom the “paramount duty” to educate its children can be shunted aside for personal gain? The state has allowed any and all things to be bargain-able in contract negotiations, with the stipulation that strikes are illegal.

School boards can take several steps to assure that services to families remain intact despite adult squabbles over adult employment issues.

First, treat employees well. Maintain communication and keep budget priorities transparent. Recognize and address legitimate workplace issues.

Second, secure collective bargaining agreement language which specifies union behavior regarding disruptions of the paramount duty–and the consequences the district is authorized to implement if the paramount duty is disrupted.

Third, keep the entire community — families, all employees, taxpayers, and journalists — fully informed of the budget realities, the district’s service priorities, the reality of compensation and state provision, and the trade-offs which are being considered as a result of bargaining terms. Consistently announcing all these items allows your district to avoid playing “catch up” in the dueling public relations war which commonly accompanies union pressure tactics. This simple transparency is not being practiced typically, but those districts that have been very transparent in this way have fared much better during strike threats.

Fourth, support efforts to enact legislation:

“to clarify that RCW 41.56.120 applies to all public school employees, including certificated personnel, and to mandate courts to assess and enforce a civil fine against the local education association for each strike, work stoppage or slowdown endorsed by the association or in which any members of the association engage or participate.” 

The current law is not specific enough and lacks any prescriptive consequence for breaking the law on strikes. Union agitators have no penalty for breaking the law, but children pay the price in educational opportunities.

School Directors ought to assure balanced priorities on behalf of children’s education. The loudest voice may not be the best for the whole range of education services, and the interests of employees on some occasions do not match those of students and families. The job of a School Director is to direct the focus of all conversations to the student’s needs first.