The recent announcement by the Marysville School District that it expects to cut $1 million in expenditures to pay for a proposed teacher...

The recent announcement by the Marysville School District that it expects to cut $1 million in expenditures to pay for a proposed teacher contract and other rising operating costs in the 2005-06 budget puts the spotlight once again on how much money teachers earn.

Everett and Marysville have for years ranked among the leaders in state teacher pay. But other districts in recent negotiations have boosted salaries to remain competitive. Everett continues to offer the highest pay in the county to experienced teachers, but several other districts now offer higher entry-level salaries.

The Snohomish School District, for example, pays first-year teachers $36,631. Northshore and Monroe are close behind, with beginning teacher salaries of $36,218 and $35,503, respectively, per year.

At the high end of the salary scale, an Everett teacher with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree will earn $71,377 in the coming school year. Mukilteo and Northshore are next with pay of $67,174 and $67,031, respectively.

Marysville won’t release the terms of its contract offer until teachers vote on it Aug. 29, but last year it had the highest pay in the county for beginning teachers at $35,518 and was among the highest for teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s at $67,317.

But competitiveness comes at a price.

School districts are using an increasing amount of local levy money to close the gap between state funding and the cost of teacher salaries. Marysville isn’t alone in having to cut academic programs, administrative support, building upkeep and instructional aides to pay employee salaries, which now account for more than 80 percent of county school-district budgets.

“We’ve cut budgets $2 million at a time for the past few years, with more and more money going to salaries,” said Gay Campbell, a spokeswoman for Everett public schools.

But Campbell added that citizens working on district levy and bond measures have said they want teachers to be well-paid.

“Our citizens have told us they want the best teachers,” she said.

Teachers-union officials say that despite pay increases, teachers aren’t getting rich. The average teacher salary in the state is $45,000, said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, the state teachers union.

Many teachers can’t afford to buy houses in the communities in which they work, he said.

School-district administrators say that teacher salaries are only a part of an increasingly stressed financial picture in which transportation, utilities and materials costs also exceed what the state reimburses districts for basic education.

“This is a state funding problem, not an MEA problem,” said Jim Baker, Marysville’s finance director, referring to the Marysville Education Association.

Teacher salaries are made up of two parts. The state reimburses districts for base pay according to a state salary schedule. The second part is supplemental pay for out-of-classroom time. Known as TRI pay — for time, responsibility and incentive — it comes from local levy money.

The gap between state funding and the total cost of teacher salaries is compounded in Snohomish County by a system in which five districts — Edmonds, Everett, Marysville, Mukilteo and Northshore — are reimbursed by the state at higher rates than the other districts.

Those five districts’ higher-than-average teacher salaries were grandfathered in when Washington adopted a statewide teacher pay schedule and began funding teacher pay in 1977.

Currently, Everett receives 6.3 percent more in state money for teacher pay, Northshore 5.5 percent, Marysville 5.2 percent, Mukilteo 2.5 percent and Edmonds 1.2 percent, according to figures from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

To remain competitive, the other districts must use a higher proportion of their budgets to pay comparable salaries.

“The concentration of higher-paid districts creates a real issue for us,” said Karen Riddle, the executive director of business and operations for the Snohomish School District.

She said districts are using increasing amounts of local levy dollars to pay salaries. That money used to pay for district services and programs.

“What aren’t we doing?” Riddle asked. “Maintaining buildings, lowering class sizes, cleaning buildings, hiring more classroom assistants, supporting extracurricular activities like athletics.”

Teacher pay has long been a contentious political issue, with some economists and critics arguing that if vacations are factored in, teachers earn salaries comparable to other professionals with similar education and experience.

“It isn’t a vow of poverty,” said Marsha Richards of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based conservative group highly critical of the state teachers union.

Richards said teachers should be paid well, but only if they demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom. She said the current system of paying all teachers based solely on education and longevity is a “huge disincentive for excellence.”

At its June convention, the state teachers union endorsed working to put Washington back among the top five states for teacher pay, a position it held 20 years ago. State teachers currently rank 19th in salary nationwide. The teachers set as a goal a starting salary of $45,000 and a top range of $90,000 a year.

“If we value the profession and think education is important for the country, then we should pay teachers well. The most important part of education is the quality of the teacher in the classroom,” said Wood, the state-teachers-union spokesman.

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com