We need the public to demand the Legislature step up to fully fund basic education.
OVER the past few days, we have received hundreds of emails expressing support for our teachers. Families and community members are demanding that we do whatever it takes to give teachers a fair contract and pay them what they deserve. And we agree.
Our goal is a contract that puts students first, honors teachers, and is fiscally sound.
We simply do not have the funds to meet current demands by the Seattle Education Association. The district contract offer is $61 million over the three years of the contract. SEA is asking for a combined total of $123 million. We can’t spend all of our reserves. This is what the McCleary ruling looks like on the ground, at the local school level.
We also have sought to extend the school day — our students need more time. Seattle elementary students have one of the shortest instructional days in the state at six hours and 10 minutes a day. We are asking teachers for an additional 20 minutes of student contact per day, starting in the third year of the contract.
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By adding 20 instructional minutes to our students’ day, we’ll be able to give our students the critical support they need, especially those students who need it the most. That’s more time for learning, social/emotional development and physical education. We’ll also enable our K-8 schools to align with elementary schools, creating a uniform school day for all elementary and K-8 students. We don’t expect our teachers to work more hours without being paid more. We’re offering a 14 percent pay increase over three years with the state cost-of-living adjustment.
We wholeheartedly agree that our teachers deserve more. Seattle teachers have risen to the challenges of higher college and career standards, new assessments, and making gains in closing achievement gaps for disadvantaged students. During the six years of the recession, they received no cost-of-living increases from the state. Over that same time, however, we gave salary increases that totaled 8 percent in Seattle, paid for out of local Seattle funds.
Our teachers are our friends, colleagues and family members. We enthusiastically support the work they do, but the Legislature has failed our students and teachers, and the Supreme Court agrees. After six years of no state cost-of-living adjustments, the Legislature has just now provided a 4.8 percent adjustment for the next two years. In the current contract proposal, we have offered an additional 9.2 percent in local Seattle funds as part of a three-year package.
Despite limitations in state funding, the district has increased teacher salaries over the last six years, doing our best to make cost of living adjustments in a time when the state did not. Seattle teachers are the third highest paid in Washington. Seattle ranks 11th statewide in state-provided salary for teachers. We use local funds to bring our teachers to No. 3.
We believe our proposed contract agreement offers a generous package that increases pay, adds dozens of teachers to reduce class size, and stretches but maintains fiscal health and sustainability. Although we did receive $37.1 million in new revenue from the Legislature, $28.2 million of that must be spent to meet state mandates, including: hiring new teachers to lower class size, paying for cost-of-living adjustments, and funding pensions and benefits for district employees who are not funded by the state.
This leaves $8.9 million in unallocated new revenue. In addition to increasing teacher salaries, we need money for long-overdue textbook adoptions, closing opportunity gaps, reducing suspensions, adjusting school start times, funding International Baccalaureate, counselors, the arts and numerous other unmet demands on our budget. But with the current proposal, we’re out of revenue. There is no money left.
We completely agree with SEA on education funding. The current education-funding model in our state is profoundly broken and insufficient — relying heavily on local dollars. The state Supreme Court’s recent McCleary decision may eventually help address the broken K-12 funding model and provide the salaries our teachers deserve, but not soon enough. Compensation and levy reform is at the heart of the McCleary ruling. We need the public to demand this funding mess be fixed — now. We need the Legislature to step up to fully fund basic education.
Until then, Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Education Association must mutually agree to a settlement that advances us as far as current realities permit.