Spokane joins school districts looking at layoffs after approving double-digit salary increases

Add Spokane to the list of financially troubled school districts. The Spokesman-Review reports,

One of every 12 employees at Spokane Public Schools could lose their job before the next school year.

Facing a projected budget deficit of about $31 million next year, school district administrators on Thursday began notifying 325 teachers and other personnel that they could be laid off at the end of this school year.

As the S-R notes, district personnel blame the McCleary fix.

“This is a difficult time for SPS, one that is playing out statewide following the unprecedented change to the mix of local and state funding,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said.

,,,School districts have tied the problems and uncertainty to the state’s new mix of school funding.

Yet, surely much of the problem could be considered a self-inflicted wound,  a foreseeable and foreseen problem stemming from unsustainable salary increases. The S-R notes,

Last year, state and local school officials from around Washington warned that double-digit pay raises given to teachers – including an average 13.2% more in Spokane – could lead to financial problems.

Those raises cost the school district $24 million.

The districts’ problems feature prominently in the last weeks of the legislative session, as lawmakers continue to discuss levy lift legislation, as we wrote last week. The S-R reports,

Along with budget negotiations, the Legislature is also discussing – but has yet to vote on – changes to the levy laws that could either allow districts to ask voters for a higher levy or increase the formula for assistance to certain districts.

“The levy bills are still alive. They will be debated in the next two weeks,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane.

In another S-R article, Jim Camden writes,

As the Legislature moves into the final phase of settling on a record $50 billion-plus budget – tough negotiations between the leaders of each party in each chamber and the governor’s office over different spending plans – school officials and employees are stepping up the pressure for added financial support for Washington’s public schools.

…There’s no question public schools will get more, legislators say – billions more than the state spent on public education over the past two years, which was a historic amount.

If districts are facing deficits, as Spokane Public Schools officials announced Thursday, they have no one to blame but themselves, Schoesler and some other legislators said.

“McCleary had a requirement that districts negotiate contracts that had sustainable revenue for a four-year period,” said Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Spokane. Spokane Public Schools agreed to contracts that aren’t sustainable for even two years, he said.

Last year, the Legislature approved nearly $1 billion extra for public schools to help with the transition to the new McCleary system. The legislation that accompanied that money set limits on the amount that could be used for pay raises in line with inflation, about 3%. But districts received advice those were not hard limits.

The story provides good detail on the end-game negotiations. And, as we’ve pointed out, the resolution may have a longer-term impact on the state’s historic McCleary fix.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the proposed levy revisions will be debated in the coming weeks as the final budget comes together.

…If school districts are allowed greater taxing authority, some richer districts with high property values could raise more money with small increases, but some poorer districts could be turned down in their efforts to increase the amount they can collect and spend on programs beyond basic education. The disparities among districts for what they can offer students will grow.

As the disparities grow, so will concern with whether or not the state is meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education. Something to watch.