by: Gary Horcher Updated:
PORT ORCHARD, Wash. - Nearly 80 percent of teachers in the South Kitsap School District voted Monday to go on strike, and their union says it has nothing to do with the size of their paychecks.
They say it has everything to do with the size of their classrooms. ''I want to cry because we have to strike to deal with our students," said an emotional Lora-Jean Piper, a teacher who works with high-risk students. "We have to protect them!"
Piper said adding more students to her classrooms would put the students in danger. "Putting 35 to 37 students in our portable classrooms would break the fire code," she added.
Piper and 545 of her fellow teachers are demanding the district hire more teachers, to bring down the high number of students expected in every grade level this year. The South Kitsap school district reports a budget shortfall this year, due to declining enrollment. Fewer students mean less money from the state. The Superintendent admits classroom sizes need to be addressed, but the district has no money to immediately hire more teachers.
"We're trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can given our ending fund balance and our current financial constraints,” said Superintendent Michelle Reid. "But we would agree that we want to get class sizes smaller."
"This is my 19th year of teaching in this district and this is the first time I've truly felt the district is endangering our students, and i had to vote to strike," said Josh Morton, who teaches eighth-grade language arts.
If a contract is not agreed upon by Wednesday September 4th, more than 9,000 people will have to stay home from school.
"We're glad that tension in that vote is over," said Piper of the strike vote. "But we're heartbroken we have to go on strike to make our point."