Local school districts should stick to a basic principle as they renegotiate contracts with their teachers unions: Don't bargain away money you don't have.
When it comes to bargaining new teacher contracts this summer, school districts across Washington state need to show some backbone.
Sure, Washington’s Legislature decided to put an additional $1 billion toward teacher salaries for the coming school year.
But that doesn’t mean every penny of that salary money is meant to go straight into the pockets of teachers in the form of double-digit raises — no matter what the statewide teachers union tries to claim.
Setting up such false expectations ignores the history of the landmark McCleary school-funding case, which helped spur the recent K-12 funding influx. Lawmakers approved a massive increase in state funding for education. But much of that money — billions, in fact, over the next few years — is designed to replace the local property taxes that for too long have been propping up the state’s failure to amply fund schools.
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Because those local school district property-tax levies are set to go down starting in January 2019, not all of the added state money coming to districts is actually available for teacher salary increases — at least, not beyond next year.
Still another $500 million or so per year of state education funding should also be considered off-limits for teacher-salary increases. That’s because, starting in the 2019-20 school year, that money has to go toward reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.
If districts don’t use those dollars to actually reduce class sizes — which will involve hiring additional teachers, not just paying the current ones more — they will lose the money entirely.
Those are just facts.
But they seem to be inconvenient ones for school districts like Edmonds, which just agreed to raises of up to about 20 percent for its teachers. The district’s own budget projections show the district will quickly find itself in the red based on the tentative contract it just negotiated with the local union. The new contract will allow teachers to be paid up to a maximum of $114,272 per year (up from the previous cap of $101,022).
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 Friday.
Teachers can expect raises this year — just not double-digit ones.
Districts need to stick to a basic principle as they negotiate these multiyear labor contracts: Don’t bargain away money you don’t have.
School district officials should not expect that the Legislature will swoop in and add billions more in K-12 funding to cover shortfalls stemming from districts negotiating unsustainable raises.
After a decade of focusing on school-funding reform, state lawmakers are frankly fatigued. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that, with the money lawmakers already have added, they have met the state’s K-12 funding obligations outlined in the McCleary case.
With that lawsuit in the rearview mirror, legislators will be focused on other pressing needs, such as untangling the myriad problems with the state’s mental-health system.
While lawmakers will undoubtedly have to make some tweaks to the K-12 funding formulas, coming up with an extra $1 billion every year into perpetuity isn’t on the agenda — nor should it be.
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.
To do anything else is simply irresponsible.