The long-running McCleary lawsuit is over now that the state Legislature approved big changes in how the state funds public education. But school districts and teachers’ unions across the state are now trying to figure out what that means for salaries.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers voted to put almost $1 billion toward salaries for teachers and other school staff for the school year starting this fall, adding to state dollars approved last year for basic education.
Teachers’ unions across the state say that money is supposed to go toward their compensation. Some districts have agreed to salary increases in the double digits.
For example, according to the Washington Education Association, Bainbridge Island has agreed to a 21 percent raise and Bellevue educators are getting a 17 percent raise, on average.
But in other districts, bargaining has been harder. Angel Morton, president of the Tacoma Education Association, said negotiations have been frustrating because the district has only offered a raise of 3.1 percent.
“My concern is that Tacoma is taking itself out of a competitive educator market,” Morton said. “People won’t be willing to come teach in Tacoma if the rate of pay is that much lower than so many other districts in the I-5 corridor.”
The tough part is that the school funding system has been overhauled. In an effort to decrease school districts’ reliance on local property taxes, lawmakers hiked the state property tax and set a cap on local levies.
That’s a boon for some districts that have had a hard time passing local tax measures. But other districts like Seattle and Tacoma will not be able to raise as much money in local property taxes as they have in the past.
Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said it was appropriate for lawmakers to limit the dependence on local levies, but he thinks they set the cap too low.
“We shouldn’t be as high as we used to be. That is absolutely correct,” Reykdal said. “But I think they went too far in rolling this thing back and you’re leaving some districts without the flexibility they need to solve problems and you’re seeing that now at the bargaining table.”
Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said the levy cap will mean tough times ahead.
“We’re anticipating looking at the projections a budget deficit of about $10 million starting not this upcoming school year but the following one,” Voelpel said. “That would mean significant cuts in Tacoma.”
Morton said the district is getting more money for this school year and needs to make sure it goes to the classroom so kids will benefit. The two sides will head back to the bargaining table on Aug. 28, she said.