Teachers prepare for strikes statewide days before school starts

Teachers across Washington continue to rally for higher wages just days before the start of school.

“This is definitely the week of whether we go on strike or not,” said Lauri Johnson.

Johnson is a choir teacher in Centralia and a lead contract negotiator. She spent Monday getting ready for the first day of school, but with a strike looming, she's not sure when that will be.

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“It’s disheartening to know I’m getting my class ready and I don’t know when the first day of school is,” she said.

The same goes for teachers in Monroe. On Monday, hundreds picketed for higher salaries.

Some surrounding districts, like Edmonds, already settled on 20-plus percent pay raises.

"Two-point-one million comes to Centralia and they're not wanting to pass those funds to us, our teachers,” said Johnson. "We had 40 teachers leave us this last June to local schools."

Washington Education Association spokesperson Rich Wood said it's challenging because the multibillion-dollar McCleary case didn't set a statewide raise. There's a minimum teacher salary base of a little more than $40,000, but districts and teachers bargain the rest.

"That's a local decision, and while the state provides the funding under the constitution, how much teachers make, how they're paid, what the budget priorities are, that's determined at the local level,” he said.

Johnson said she knew the fight would be tough with Centralia schools, but she didn't expect it to go on this long.

"Our kids deserve the best teachers we can find, and we don't want this to be a stepping stone for them to go elsewhere, to go to Elma, to go to Chehalis. We deserve the best,” she said.

The first day of school in Centralia is scheduled for Sept. 5. School leaders said they hope they can make a deal with teachers at a negotiation scheduled for Wednesday.

As of Monday, about 200 Washington school districts were still in contract negotiations. Wood said the only district on strike was Longview, but that number will likely grow Tuesday, which is when schools in Clark County plan to strike.