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Opinion >  Editorial

Neal Kirby: Proposed staff mix factor for teachers harmful to rural areas

Neal Kirby

Education finance laws passed in 2017 eliminated the staff mix factor. This factor was used to provide state salary funds based on a teacher’s experience and training.

Instead of the staff mix factor, the state adopted an average teacher salary funding plan whereby each district will receive the same funding for each teacher within each regional salary designation. (The state also ended equal statewide salary funding and adopted regional salary funding based on housing costs.)

The state superintendent, Chris Reykdal, convened a task force to develop salary distribution models that districts could use and to support lobbying efforts to again get the state to fund a staff mix factor.

The plan adapts the same unfair salary mix factors used before and makes it even more difficult to attract new teachers by extending the schedule nine more years and spreading far more money out on the high end in one model.

New teachers would need to work five years before yearly increments add up to what more experienced teachers get for just one year of experience. A teacher going from the 24th year to their 25th would get a $2,767 increase in pay for that year, yet a beginning teacher gets only $538 for their first year.

What does a 24-year teacher learn in that year that make it five times more valuable than what a teacher learns in her first year?

Two teachers could also take the same 15 college credits, yet a teacher in their 10th year gets a $1,813 increment while the beginning teacher gets only $1,080. Why are the same credits valued 65 percent more at 10 years than the first year?

Reykdal’s plan doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason a 24-year teacher deserves five times a beginning teacher for one year of experience. Reykdal’s schedule is devised to drastically increase top pay for teachers. Beginning teachers are left behind.

Prior to the Basic Education Act, many salary schedules had equal increments. If a teacher got $500 for a year of experience, it was the same throughout the schedule, and 15 credits of training got the same increase anywhere on the schedule.

A squared index – where increments are the same – provides the same pay increase for each year of experience and for each block of 15 credits. Beginning teacher salaries would be far better and attract new teachers to the profession. Under 2017 law, districts are free to distribute salaries using equal increments.

Reykdal’s plan, if adopted by the state to provide reimbursements for experience and training, provides the wealthiest districts the most. Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction data shows those districts have the most-experienced and most-trained teachers.

The state last year ended equal state salary funding for teachers and will provide to the wealthiest school districts 18 percent more than the poorest districts if the plan is implemented. Reykdal’s staff mix plan adds to it yet another way the wealthiest schools get more money and provides more incentives for rural teachers to leave rural schools.

State research shows the poorest rural schools already have the highest teacher turnover rates, the least experienced and trained teachers, and the highest percentages of minority and poor students. If the salary plan and Reykdal’s staff mix factor are implemented, the poorest rural schools with the highest poverty and minority counts will have the least state salary funding.

Why would any rural legislators vote for increased taxes to fund the regional salary plan or support Reykdal’s staff mix plan? Both will make worse the already more difficult time rural schools have attracting and retaining teachers.

Neal Kirby is a former state representative from the 7th Legislative District, former principal in Inchelium, and is a school board member in Centralia, Washington.

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