Thousands of Washington state teachers strike over pay

By Victoria Cavaliere SEATTLE (Reuters) - Thousands of teachers across Washington state held the first in a planned series of one-day strikes on Wednesday to demand higher pay, better benefits and a reduction in class sizes, the state's largest teachers' union said. Nearly 3,000 teachers in nine school districts were taking part in the strikes, which forced the cancellation of classes in two districts and a half day at a third, said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood. Wednesday's walkout was the first in a staggered series of actions by Washington state teachers, with smaller strikes planned for Friday and next week. Other districts, including in Tacoma and the 5,000 members of the Seattle chapter of the union, are voting this week on whether to stage their own walkout in the coming days. At issue are cost-of-living raises and funding for benefits being considered by the state Legislature. Teachers are unhappy about a proposal to raise pay by 3 percent over two years, while the state has not increased teacher healthcare funding in five years, the union said. At a rally in Arlington, about an hour's drive north of Seattle, teachers who left class for the picket line said they wanted to send a message to lawmakers in Olympia considering a public education budget of about $1.3 billion. "It's simply not enough," said Larry Delaney, a math teacher at Lakewood High School and the district's union president. "Benefits, pay. That's an issue. But what resonates with our members is kids first," he said. The Washington Legislature is under state Supreme Court order to increase funding for public schools by 2019. Teachers are also calling on the state Senate to limit class sizes in grades four to 12, as well as to abandon a proposal to link teacher evaluations with standardized test scores. Some Arlington parents said they backed the strike. "We are standing by our teachers," said Breana Pasowicz, 30, who has three children in public school and, like many parents, had to make arrangements to pick up students early from class. "It's for smaller class sizes and them getting paid for teaching our children." Leadership from the Senate's early education committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the strikes. More than 20,000 parents signed a petition last month in support of the proposal to begin using test scores in teacher evaluations, according to the education advocacy group Stand for Children. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)