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Originally published Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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School's out in Bellevue as teachers hit picket lines

On what would have been the first day of school, Bellevue teachers this morning hit the picket lines as parents scrambled to find child...

Seattle Times staff reporters

Child-care options

City of Bellevue, Boys & Girls Club offer help during the teachers' strike

Starting today: The Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue will open an expanded day camp for elementary-age children at the South Bellevue Community Center, 14509 S.E. Newport Way, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cost is $40 per day ($20 for those already enrolled in the after-school program). Campers will need to bring their own lunch, but snacks will be provided. For registration information, call 425-452-4240.

Starting Thursday: If needed, two other city community centers will open for children ages 5-12, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Cost is $40 a day; financial assistance available. Students must bring their lunch, but snacks will be provided. Registration will be required. Information will be available on the city's Web site,, or by phone at 425-452-6885.

On what would have been the first day of school, Bellevue teachers this morning hit the picket lines as parents scrambled to find child care.

The teachers announced their intention to strike during a meeting Monday night, canceling school for 16,000 students. The main sticking points, according to both sides, are related to pay and curriculum.

About 50 teachers marched along Bellevue Way near Bellevue High School this morning carrying picket signs that read, "On Strike" and "Every Child is Unique."

Teachers and the school district headed back to the bargaining table this afternoon, trying to break the standoff over pay, standardized curriculum and health care benefits.

The negotiating session with a state mediator was expected to last all afternoon. Teachers plan to rally outside district headquarters at 4:30 p.m. today, when the school board is scheduled to meet.

Anthony Marble, a Bellevue High math teacher for six years, said he can no longer tailor instruction to students' different abilities.

"The high fliers are bored; the kids who are struggling have to take an additional period of math," he said. "Give us the freedom and respect our professional judgment to teach what we need to teach."

By 9 a.m., about a dozen teachers were on the picket line outside Cherry Crest Elementary School, 12400 N.E. 32nd St. Meanwhile, several parents drove up and reacted angrily to the strike.

Alina Fridman drove up to the school with her 6-year-old daughter Emily.

"I heard about strike, but I had to check," said Fridman, adding that she had no day care set up for her daughter.

"I will have to take my daughter to work with me," she said. "I work in a fish store. There's nothing I can do. I work from 9 to 6. It will be very hard to keep her busy at work."

"It would be nice if we knew" about the strike, said another woman who arrived at the school to discover it was closed.

"It's been so hard to juggle things through the summer," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

"I'm going to have to take him home," she said of her 9-year-old son. "I have to go home and leave Benjamin home alone. I was so busy, I didn't have time to check."

Her son protested.

"I can't be home alone," said the fourth-grader.

About 40 teachers picketed in front of the Odle Middle School. Across the street, another 40 teachers from Stevenson Elementary carried signs bearing the messages, "On Strike" and "Quality, respect, fair pay."

Teachers said pay is a major issue because Bellevue is an expensive place to live.

"It's especially important for teachers with families who want to live in the area," said Elizabeth Luwe, a kindergarten teacher at Stevenson.

Another kindergarten teacher, Sarah Pallat, said she was sad to not be greeting her students this morning.

"I saw some of my students and they were excited. We want to be in school and they want to be in school."

To help parents, the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue in conjunction with the City of Bellevue opened

a child-care center at the South Bellevue Community Center on Southeast Newport Way. About 50 children had been registered for child care by midmorning.

Ryan Scott, club vice president, estimated 75 to 80 children were being cared for at the Newport Way center and at the club's main facility on 100th Avenue Northeast in downtown Bellevue.

"I expect the number will go up," he said.

Brad Bennett, center manager for the city, said staff had expected a "barrage" of arrivals about 7:30 a.m., but instead the kids arrived fairly steadily over the next few hours.

When they did arrive, parents faced paying up to $40 a day for the child-care service. Bennett estimated that about "99 percent" of the children enrolled at the center were third-grade and younger.

The strike announcement came Monday night during a union meeting at Odle Middle School, where about 80 parents and students gathered in solidarity with the teachers, holding signs and chanting.

"We support our teachers," the group cheered.

"Our teachers rock," one cardboard sign read.

In announcing the decision, the teachers were somber. About two dozen educators emerged silently from the gymnasium carrying red, white and blue strike signs.

"This is not a place any teacher wants to be," said Michele Miller, Bellevue Education Association president.

Nearly 1,000 of the district's 1,200 teachers, counselors and other classroom specialists attended Monday night's meeting.

Ann Oxrieder, a spokeswoman for the district, said the strike was disappointing but not unexpected.

The two sides will meet this afternoon to continue negotiating, according to a union spokesman.

Teachers and district officials had been in talks for months. The union voted in June to authorize a strike if a contract were not in place by the start of the school year.

A mediator called in over the weekend was unable to resolve the dispute.

Although the Bellevue teachers are among the highest paid in the state, they say their increases have not kept pace with those in neighboring districts. The district offered a 1.5 percent pay raise for the school year; combined with a state cost-of-living raise, their actual salary would have increased by 6.6 percent.

The district, the 15th largest in the state, has already cut its $164 million operating budget by $4.8 million and said further salary increases would likely lead to reductions in staff and increases in classroom size.

The two sides also disagree about curriculum. Bellevue, which is among the most highly regarded districts in the state, employs a curriculum that teachers complain does not allow for deviation.

Dale Folkerts, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said there are "prescripted lesson plans" and that the classrooms are "micromanaged" down to the minute.

Parents supporting the teachers outside Odle said they have heard of teachers who covered classroom windows when straying from the authorized curriculum so administrators could not see in.

One mother said that although her child was ready for advanced math, the administration told her it was not in the curriculum. She decided to home-school her children instead.

Oxrieder, the district spokeswoman, said Monday night that they have discussed ways to loosen controls over curriculum and that they're "close," but have not yet reached agreement. She noted also that many parents are in favor of the current curriculum.

The strike means parents are busy trying to figure out where their children will go now.

Miller, the union president, said she realizes it will be inconvenient.

"We're asking for some patience until we can guarantee the education they get in the classroom is a quality education," she said.

Karen Campbell, the parent of a seventh-grader, said she's disappointed that the dispute has reached this point, but she, too, has significant concerns about the stringent curriculum.

"I have to say as a parent that what's best for our students is the teachers going on strike," she said Monday night, outside Odle.

Maayan Shuval, a senior at Interlake High School, said she plans to support the teachers by bringing them food on the picket lines today.

The Bellevue School District will post updates at

The Bellevue Education Association will post updates at

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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