Will school districts’ salary settlements trigger another education funding crisis?

The poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” He could not have anticipated August collective bargaining sessions in our state. This month has seen – and continues to see – some fraught teacher compensation negotiations. This Friday, we have rounded up a representative sample of articles and commentary on the negotiations below. 

At the end, we have three questions for you.

The Washington Education Association has a map of settlements on its website, with many of them showing double-digit increases, reflecting the new funding provided by the state in the final phase of McCleary funding approved this year. As well, lawmakers and editorial boards caution that some of the negotiated pay hikes are unsustainable and threaten to spark another education funding crisis.

Settlements

Washington Education Association: Interactive map of 2018 educators contract settlements 

Some status reports

Seattle Times: Why teachers in Edmonds, but not Tacoma, are about to get double-digit raises

It’s contract negotiation season for school districts across Washington state, and your kids’ teachers could be getting a hefty raise — or they might not. The fate of their paychecks has little to do with the heart of their work: what they’re teaching kids and how.

Rather, it depends primarily on how their bosses interpret new state rules on teacher pay, with some districts agreeing to double-digit raises while others struggle to keep up.

The Daily World: Aberdeen School District releases teachers’ proposal — a 35 percent pay raise

As bargaining sessions continue between the Aberdeen School District and teachers in the Aberdeen Education Association (AEA), the district has posted portions of the AEA’s contract proposal online, which includes a suggested 35 percent raise for all licensed teachers.

Aberdeen Superintendent Alicia Henderson told The Daily World that the district still feels its original offer of a 15 percent raise is fair, and that she doesn’t think a 35 percent increase in pay is really feasible.

The Daily Herald (Everett): New deal sets starting pay for Edmonds teachers at $62,688

Teachers in Edmonds public schools are in line for pay hikes of as much as 20 percent under a tentative agreement reached Monday.

Tri-City Herald: Richland teachers accept 22 percent pay raise over 3 years. Still no deal in Pasco

Richland teachers on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a new three-year contract that includes a 14.3 percent raise in 2018-19 over last year, and a raise of about 22 percent total.

That means Richland teachers won’t strike and classes will start as planned next week.

Spokane Spokesman-Review: Spokane teachers urge school board to give $28 million in pay raises

The McCleary ruling of 2012 determined that the state was underfunding its schools and mandated fully funded education by 2018. About $2 billion was designated for salaries, with $27.7 million allocated for Spokane Public Schools.

SEA is seeking $20 million for certificated staff, which includes teachers, psychologists and counselors, and $7.7 million for classified employees.

Striking discussions

Yakima Herald-Republic: Teachers union says it’s “on solid ground” with strike

Yakima Education Association President Steve McKenna said the union isn’t worried that strikes by public employees aren’t technically legal under Washington state law.

Seattle Times: How likely are Seattle teachers to walk out on the first day of school?

The district has reserved a one-time $45 million surplus to pay for raises over the next three years. But as of Wednesday, neither side has presented a formal compensation package, said union President Phyllis Campano…

“We can strike at any time, but it’s more effective when the kids are in school,” she said.

Seattle Weekly: Is a strike looming at Seattle Public Schools?

Educators voiced their desires for greater pay, more training and the rollout of an ethnic studies course throughout the district. Although the school district has yet to propose a new salary schedule, some teachers said they were prepared to go on strike if their demands weren’t met. .

KATU News: Teacher strikes loom as negotiations continue for many Washington schools

At least two Southwest Washington teachers unions voted to strike if an agreement isn’t reached over salary increases by Wednesday Aug. 29, the first day of school.

According to the nonpartisan advocacy group, the League of Education Voters, state law prohibits any public employee from striking. Furthermore, a 2006 opinion from then-Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, said public employees, including teachers, do not have a legally protected right to strike…

Yet historically, strikes still happen. According to that same McKenna opinion, no Washington law establishes penalties against teachers who decide to strike.

In short, state law against public employee strikes is toothless.

Calls for caution

Seattle Times (Braun op-ed): Don’t divert funding for K-12 reforms to increased teacher salaries

Funding for new programs or operating costs always has to come from somewhere. Given how much other funding is already available for raises and how the Legislature, school districts and educator unions have expressed an interest in reducing K-3 class sizes, diverting money from that priority should not and cannot be part of new pay raises.

The Columbian (editorial): Bargain for sustainability

As unions and school administrators throughout Clark County — and the rest of the state — negotiate teacher salaries, a word of advice is warranted for school districts: Don’t bargain away money you don’t have.

While the Legislature this year provided a big boost in state funding for public schools, including an extra $1 billion for teacher salaries, the kind of raises being sought are not sustainable. 

Seattle Times editorial: Unsustainable teacher raises risk new school-funding crisis

The Edmonds contract and a few others have spawned bipartisan concern among legislative budget writers. Senate Ways and Means Chair Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and ranking Republican member John Braun of Centralia both are sounding an alarm.

“If we are going to step up to that amount for everyone, we are looking at another McCleary situation with billions and billions of dollars statewide,” Rolfes said…

To avoid returning to a broken system, districts must hold the line when it comes to negotiating teachers’ raises, and not award more than they can afford.

McKenna (2016 article): Moving to statewide teacher bargaining is only rational choice

There’s no more fitting word than “irrational” to describe an arrangement where the state would foot the bill for teacher salaries, but those salaries would be bargained separately with 295 schools boards. That makes no sense.

Three Questions