Yelm students stage walkout after 120 teachers get layoff notices

YELM, Wash. — Yelm High School students staged a school walkout Wednesday morning. Students say they did it to fight for their teachers and their education.

“I have countless teachers who are just trying to make a living, losing their jobs,” says TJ, a Yelm student.

Their show of solidarity came as at least 120 teachers were given the pink slip this week. That’s more than a third of the district’s 350 teachers.

“I’m extremely worried about next year,” says Melissa, a local parent.

The concern from parents and students is not lost on superintendent Chris Woods. It’s his first year in the role. His board, now faced with a substantial shortfall for next fall.

“When you have to make up 15 million dollars everything is on the table, unfortunately. And so, we’re going to have to make some really hard decisions in the coming days,” says Woods.

He says state funding alone, isn’t enough to cover Yelm’s budget.

Woods says two failed levies forced the school board’s hand, when the money they planned for was voted down at the ballot box.

KIRO 7 asked Woods about the board’s confidence in the levy, which failed.  “No, I don’t believe it was a misstep at all. I think every district goes into levy season with the idea that it’s gonna pass,” says Woods.

The local teacher’s union disagrees, saying the board should have planned ahead, asking them to protect their teachers.

“They are basic education for our students in this community. And what are those classes going to look like? That is scary,” says Tasha Johnson, a teacher and co-president of the Yelm Education Association. “We were told that cuts were going to happen. That they would be deep. But we were not given specifics. We were not given numbers. We were not given programs.”

Johnson says currently, many of the cuts don’t make sense.

“One example at one of our elementary schools, all the first, third and fourth teams were cut. How are you going to run an elementary school with 6 teachers?,” says Johnson.

Parents have been eager to voice their concerns too.

“Our education out here is going to crumble,” says Melissa.

Woods says that more cuts could be on the table. He also adds that some of the teachers that were given notice, could be re-hired in the future when budget talks are complete.

“This is not a reflection of their value as a person, or their value as an employee to the district,” says Woods about the cuts. “I want them to know how much they mean to us.”

He says the district plans to put another levy on the ballot next February.