Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in (Tacoma) News Tribune and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
School strikes are raging all along the I-5 corridor. Scores of families, including 52,000 students in Tacoma and Puyallup, are dealing with child-care crises of unknown duration. While thousands of teachers wait for equitable pay, the state’s “paramount duty” to provide children an education is fractured.
If Gov. Jay Inslee is stressed about this or planning to play an active role in ending the chaos, you wouldn’t know it from his social media accounts. His enthusiasm for Seattle pro sports teams, however, comes across loud and clear.
Inslee’s well-known, deep support for (and from) teachers unions might keep him on the sidelines for now. But at what point should a governor use his bully pulpit to try to encourage, or even broker, an agreement between teachers and school administrators?
That’s a fair question, especially given the way Inslee’s predecessor served as a forceful intermediary in the final hours of Tacoma’s eight-day school strike in 2011.
Gov. Christine Gregoire was a Democrat in her second term, just like Inslee. After talks in Tacoma broke down more than a week into the strike, she summoned both sides for an evening parley at her office; they didn’t leave until reaching a compromise.
Kurt Miller, Tacoma School Board president at the time, praised Gregoire for her intervention. “With her calling us to Olympia today, I knew she would get the job done because that’s the kind of governor she is.”
One could argue that hands-on executive involvement is even more critical now; in 2011, Tacoma’s strike was a one-off affair, whereas today a brushfire of school shutdowns smolders from Clark County to Tumwater, from Pierce County to Tukwila.
Early this year, state lawmakers, including Inslee, approved the last pieces of a Byzantine school funding formula that crippled local levy control and created regional pay disparities around Washington. Granted, they had to meet a longstanding Supreme Court order, and finally did, but they should’ve seen these walkouts coming a mile away.
They all bear some responsibility for the consequences. But legislators won’t return to Olympia to fine-tune their school-funding formula until January. Depending on how long the strikes continue, Inslee may find himself on the hot seat with temperatures rising fast.
So far, his office is playing it cool. “We are closely monitoring the status of the progress of the districts that are still bargaining right now,” according to a statement his spokeswoman sent to us Wednesday morning. “These are local bargaining issues that the governor or other state elected officials are not officially party to, but we know everyone involved is eager for these teachers and students to be back in the classroom.”
Sen. John Braun, the Senate’s chief Republican budget writer, wants firm action. He sent a letter to Inslee last month, urging him to seek a court injunction compelling teachers to work. Braun, who represents Centralia (where teachers went on strike Tuesday), correctly points out that public employee strikes are illegal in Washington.
But Inslee wouldn’t take such a draconian approach — nor should he, as it would be a recipe for ongoing antagonism. A Pierce County judge will order teachers back to class, if it comes to it.
The better role for Inslee is that of even-handed but no-nonsense super mediator. Ending a school strike would shine brightly on his legacy, as it did Gregoire’s; people were still talking and writing about her skill breaking the Tacoma impasse when she left office 16 months later.
We hope the governor is giving serious thought to how best to use his influence on behalf of tens of thousands of Washington families and teachers — and how long he should wait to wield it.
Forests must be thinned to prevent wildfires
The smoke that invaded the Walla Walla Valley (as well as much of Washington state and Oregon) was, without a doubt, the subject of the most grousing this summer.
The heavy smoke from forest fires stung our eyes, burned our throats and created a haze that blocked the sun. And it potentially impacted the crops our Valley depends on.
But what could have been done to reduce or even stop the wildfires that created the smoke that engulfed our Valley?
It’s hard to say for certain, because the state Legislature failed to provide even half the funding requested by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the two main agencies tasked with fighting and preventing forest fires.
Since 2015, according to reporting by The Seattle Times, the Legislature has allocated just $18 million out of the $40 million the two agencies requested for their operating budget. Gov. Jay Inslee has requested $27 million during that time period.
The agencies were seeking the extra funding to control the fires and finance their 20-year plan to thin the state’s forests.
The Legislature should, moving forward, make reducing wildfires a higher priority. Given that the state’s annual budget is now hovering in the $25 billion range, diverting a few million dollars toward forest-fire prevention would not be outrageous.
And while much of the smoke that wafted our way last month was from British Columbia, Canada, reducing the fires in Washington state — particularly east of the Cascades — would have helped.
Carlo Davis, a spokesman for DNR, told The Seattle Times his agency will be seeking additional firefighting resources and increased funding to thin overcrowded forests. Davis, in an email to the newspaper, added that about 2.7 million acres of state forestland are unhealthy due to the overcrowding that causes trees to be weak and lose their natural wildfire resistance.
The 20-year plan, which according to Davis will target drier forests in Eastern Washington where densely-packed trees are primed to burn intensely, must be fully funded.