In the Spokesman-Review, local Eastern Washington Sens. Mark Schoesler (“Big raises for teachers led to pending cuts,” Guest Opinion, April 18) and Jeff Holy (“School employees pressure Legislature,” April 14), unfairly criticized local school districts for negotiating competitive pay for teachers and other school employees this year.
Let’s look at the history behind those educator pay increases.
We believe top-quality teachers and staff should be the top priority in every school district’s budget – that’s what our students deserve. Yet for years, state legislators failed to adequately fund the quality public education all students are guaranteed by the Washington Constitution.
In fact, the Washington Supreme Court ruled they were violating the state constitution for failing to fund basic education, and then the court fined them $100,000 per day for violating the court’s order.
Eventually, six years after the court’s order, legislators finally made the investment in our public schools required by the constitution. The state increased funding for many parts of K-12 education, including smaller K-3 class sizes, transportation, and competitive salaries for teachers and other educators.
After years of underfunding by the state, salaries for teachers and school support staff had fallen far behind other states and other professions – we just weren’t competitive. The Supreme Court was clear: paying competitive, market-rate salaries and benefits is part of the state’s obligation to fund basic education. Many years, school employees didn’t even receive a cost-of-living adjustment from the state, and during the recession, the Legislature actually cut teacher salaries.
In the Spokane area, school employees worked collaboratively with our school boards to provide the competitive, professional pay needed to continue attracting and keeping qualified, caring educators for our students. That’s good news for our schools and our students.
However, when the state finally increased funding for K-12 schools, Sen. Schoesler of Ritzville voted to severely restrict our community’s ability to invest in our local schools beyond state-funded basic education. He voted to limit how much a district can raise through local school levies, even though all levies require voter approval.
That’s right! Sen. Schoesler voted in Olympia to limit our ability to support our own community’s children. These levies allow districts to provide students additional teachers, nurses, music and art programs, early learning programs, and other support staff the state doesn’t fund.
The state’s levy restrictions went too far, and now districts in Eastern Washington, both large and small, are facing potential budget cuts. There are solutions, but senators such as Schoesler and Holy apparently are opposed.
First, the state needs to increase funding to help special education students and to pay for school counselors, nurses and social workers who work with students.
Second, they also need to approve proposed legislation that would restore our ability to pass levies that meet the unique needs of our students.
Instead of working collaboratively with educators and parents to find solutions, Sens. Holy and Schoesler are blaming teachers for the budget problems legislators caused. That’s a true failure of leadership.
As educators, we always put our students’ needs at the center of what we do. Legislators should do the same. We call on all of our local legislators to work together in the upcoming weeks and pass a state budget that helps all of our state’s children, just as the Washington Constitution promises.
Wally Watson is president of the Central Valley Education Association
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