By Jerry Cornfield
OLYMPIA — Washington public school teachers are ready to reap financial rewards from their long battle to increase state funding for education.
Union leaders are making no secret of their desire to win double-digit salary increases. How large? They’re talking 15 percent for all certificated staff — most of whom are classroom teachers — and 37 percent for the classified education support professionals they represent.
They contend it is a realistic goal based on the McCleary court case, in which parents and teachers successfully sued to force the state to amply fund basic education, including wages of school employees. Since the 2012 decision, lawmakers have boosted school funding by roughly $9 billion, including $1 billion this year and $1 billion last year for educator salaries.
That’s money school districts will allot through collective bargaining agreements.
“This is our opportunity to keep and attract great educators for our students,” wrote WEA president Kim Mead. “But it’s not a done deal; those funds still have to be bargained by every local association in the state.” School district executives aren’t quite quaking in their seats by such comments. But they are bracing for potentially difficult negotiations. But McCleary isn’t just about money. It is also about transforming the manner and means of how dollars get spent to ensure the state covers its obligations, and that local property tax levies only pay for enrichment as originally envisioned.
This year lawmakers approved Senate Bill 6362 amending some provisions, including those surrounding salaries. Here’s where it gets messy for negotiations. The 2017 law boosted the starting salary for new teachers and set average salaries for teachers, staff and administrators to be paid for with state funds. And the law capped wage increases for the 2018-19 school year — which is the period covered in most contracts getting negotiated — to no more than the percentage increase in the Seattle consumer price index. This year’s law preserved the starting pay and average salary targets, and the one-time cap on increases, which turns out to be 3.1 percent. But it does allow exceptions to the limit.
Some districts, for example, may need a larger increase to get employees up to the average. And lawmakers created another opportunity for large increases when they eliminated the state salary schedule, which spelled out what teachers would earn with additional years of experience and post-secondary education. Districts are now drafting their own schedules and looking for agreement with teachers on their content.
Jared Kink, president of Everett Education Association, whose veteran teachers can earn a base salary of roughly $103,000, said if large salary gains don’t occur this year, they may next year because the law no longer limits increases to 3.1 percent.
But lawmakers say new state dollars are to replace local money spent on salaries and programs rather than be treated as a windfall. “We didn’t come out of the session saying everybody gets a raise,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
“We said every district will get more state money.” She said she’ll be talking with other Democratic lawmakers on whether to weigh in as typically they steer clear of the collective bargaining process.
Jerry Cornfield is the political reporter for The Herald in Everett, firstname.lastname@example.org.