My week in Olympia was like drinking water from a fire hose. If it wasn’t for the patient guidance of Doug and Ehren I imagine myself standing in the middle of the rotunda spinning around in circles. Fortunately that was not the case. I believe I was able to makes some good connections with several legislators and effectively express the needs of PSE members. Equally important I learned three valuable lessons.
First, watching the process is a bit like riding a rollercoaster with a blindfold on. Lots of long slow uphill climbs with the occasional sudden drop off, complete with loops and spins. Not for the faint of heart and definitely not if you expect things to be quick and easy. This was made abundantly clear on my first day of observing the Senate floor session when one side attempted to out maneuver the other and the whole thing came to a screeching halt. Effectively killing dozens of prospective bills and putting some PSE bills in jeopardy.
Which leads to my second lesson, never put all your eggs in one basket. PSE is a bipartisan organization for good reason. Not just because our membership is made up of people across the political spectrum, but because the support we need may come from unexpected places. Such was the case with the stronger senate version of the paraeducator bill (SB 5070). While it did pass with good bipartisan support (Y:37; N:12), there was a concerted effort on the part of two other labor unions to sway senators who otherwise support public education. No one side has all the solutions, we need both perspectives and this was a good example of that.
Third, and most important for members of PSE to understand; we, as classified employees, do not exist in the public discourse and debate surrounding public education. That is not to say that people don’t know we are school employees, certainly the families we serve and the teachers we work with know we are here. Lately, however, a realization hit me and was confirmed this week on the Senate floor, when there is public discussion on education, children are mentioned, teachers are mentioned, oftentimes administrators are mentioned, and frequently the community; all perfectly normal. What is not normal is that 50% of the equation is almost never specifically mentioned. Classified staff rarely, if ever, is included in the list of stakeholders in our public discourse. It is almost as if we don’t exist. I used to think of it as being invisible, however this week I realized that we are more like shadows, we are here, everyone agrees we are, but not clearly distinguishable.
It is our responsibility to create greater inclusion in the public debate surrounding public education. PSE’s strong paraeducator bill and the PEBB bill (SB 5726) both help in their own way. It really comes down to individual members and local chapters making sure that tens of thousands of classified staff are identified and included in our public conversations. What is your chapter doing, or can do, to increase public awareness of our important and unique roles in education?