January 23, 2008 in City

Union wants state to fund more school district jobs

Richard Roesler Staff writer

OLYMPIA – The union representing thousands of bus drivers, food workers and other rank-and-file school employees is pressing state lawmakers to set aside more money for jobs like theirs.

“Times have changed and the funding hasn’t,” said George Dockins, a maintenance worker for a school district covering East Wenatchee. Dockins is president of the 26,000-member Public School Employees of Washington.

Until last year, union executive director Randy Dorn said, the state had long paid for one such “classified” employee per 60 students, despite schools’ increasing reliance on them for security, computer services, tutoring, health care and library services.

Last year, lawmakers agreed to change that ratio to 59 students, a move that cost about $25 million over two years. This year, the group is pushing to reduce it to 58 students, at a cost of about $10 million for the remaining year in the state’s two-year budget cycle.

School districts rely heavily on voter-approved tax levies to pay for many classified staff, Dorn said. When those levies fail, classified staffers get hit hard.

Spokane Public Schools made $10.8 million in cuts to the district’s budget last year, including many classified positions. East Valley, facing difficult budget times, also announced some cuts.

Dorn said classified staff also are seeking better training and less-expensive health coverage.

The union’s push echoes calls by the state teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association, for better pay for teachers. The WEA is calling for a 3 percent raise this year for teachers on top of the existing cost-of-living increase.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s December budget proposal didn’t include the extra teacher raises or a change in the formula for classified staff. But state lawmakers are the ones who write the budget, and Dorn said his union is optimistic that its proposal will be included in the House budget plan, due in the coming weeks.

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