Special Report

That’ll Teach ‘Em

Teachers strike to once again remind voters who's in charge. Voters beg to differ.

By 9.17.03

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For the children of Marysville, school ought to have started on Tuesday, September 2nd. Something feels inexplicably wrong now, more than a week later, when one drives through the main hub of the city. In much of the state, kids are busy in school learning their ABC's and how to put condoms on bananas, but in Marysville, in the middle of the day, a curly haired high school boy darts through traffic on his bike. A startlingly purple, dual exhaust Chevy truck, complete with hack-sawed suspension crammed with pimply high school boys, growls down State Street past a teenage couple stopped on a bridge for an impromptu make out session. These kids are bored.

The cause: The teachers of Marysville chose to strike on the first day of school, sending hundreds of working parents into a mass panic to find places to house their little juvenile beasts. Some even argue that a teachers strike is good for the Marysville economy. After all, the local YMCA has seen a spike in memberships, parents are spending money on day care, and the city government isn't out of pocket for utilities in school buildings.

These teachers are not idiots, nor are they entirely without valid concerns. A state budget crunch has left them less well off than they would have liked and low on funds to buy basic supplies, like regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. But, this strike is about more than a few thousand dollars a year. The real reason for the work stoppage is to remind tax payers who's in charge.

In fact, this delay has the activist Washington Education Association's fingerprints all over it. The union refused to carry a vote on the new contract agreements until Labor Day, the day before school started. Although the popular excuse is that they wanted to give the school district's board of directors the maximum amount of time to analyze and negotiate the new contract agreement, local chapter president Elaine Hanson admitted that the union was aware of the superintendent's refusal to concede their requests since August 5, and decided to proceed as planned anyway.

So now many students mill about in the streets while everybody else tries to figure out what to do. Usually, the longer the children are out of school, the more pressure builds for the school board to accede to the teachers' demands. Normally apolitical parents become born again education activists for the length of time that it takes to get their offspring back in school.

Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. True to form, there have been the usual parent pro-teacher rallies, but the turnout has been quite small, and the grumbling has been intense. One dissenter carried a sign that read: "No anarchists in the classroom -- fire 'em." The district will likely ask the courts to enforce the no strike provision of teachers' contracts, and order educators back to work.

Then there are the Tulalip Indians. Fed up with the prospect of their children not learning, the tribe began holding its own ad hoc school, in which volunteers can come in to the Boys & Girls Club, and teach the children in basic skills (e.g., math, reading). The tribe is offering these classes to the whole community. The tribal school is scheduled to last only as long as the teachers' strike. However, by giving students a place to study and learn, it -- along with growing parental resentment -- should make the barrel that the teachers think they have us over all that much smaller.

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About the Author

Heather Roscoe writes from Washington state.