One of the educators on strike in southwest Washington is a state lawmaker
Vancouver Democratic Rep. Monica Stonier (middle) with fellow Evergreen Public Schools teachers on the picket line. (Rep. Monica Stonier)
It’s a familiar sight: a Democratic lawmaker walks a picket line, champions labor rights and meets with workers on strike.
But it’s not often a state representative participates in a walkout because they’re one of those workers.
Enter Rep. Monica Stonier, a Vancouver Democrat.
Stonier is an instructional coach, providing professional development training to teachers at Evergreen Public Schools. About 1,500 educators in the district went on strike this week after failing to reach agreement in contract negotiations over issues including special education support, planning time and wages.
While Stonier doesn’t work directly with kids now, she used to be a middle school teacher at Evergreen. In fact, Stonier’s been a teacher longer than she’s been a state representative — and if you ask her, education is her primary career.
“The whole reason I ran for office in the first place is because this is the work I cared about the most: making sure teachers have what they need to provide a safe and good education for kids,” Stonier said during a phone interview from the picket lines.
“There aren’t many classroom teachers or people with school experience in the Legislature, so I get a chance to really bring that on-the-ground perspective and explain to people how things work and don’t work,” Stonier added, before being interrupted by a truck honking in support of the teachers. (At another point during the call, local firefighters showed up with pizza.)
Although Stonier isn’t the only union teacher in the Washington Legislature, as far as she knows, she’s the only legislator participating in one of the strikes. Stonier knows many of her peers, particularly on the other side of the aisle, disapprove of teacher strikes, and she said she understands that strikes are hard on the community. The Evergreen strike has delayed the start of the school year for about 23,000 students.
But Stonier voted for the strike, because for teachers, she said, “there’s not that many other levers to pull.”
Stonier said one of her Republican colleagues, Rep. Paul Harris, also from Vancouver, called her to ask about the teacher strikes and what legislators need to do differently. She told him the Legislature needs to send districts enough money to pay paraeducators and to “pay for the training and support these kids need.”
“That’s an easy answer,” Stonier said. “It may be hard to implement, it may be hard to fund, it may be hard to do, but the question is not a hard one to answer.”
On Thursday, Stonier will be at a community rally for teachers on strike in the Camas School District. Her week is split between picketing and legislative meetings, she said.
“I have my laptop, my legislative laptop, in my backpack over there under the tent that I’m probably going to pull out in a little bit so I can get back to some emails,” Stonier said.
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