-- Albert Einstein
Table 34b in OSPI’s 2017-18 Preliminary School District Personnel Summary Reports provides a good reference for the current level of this locally-funded salary for Certificated Instructional Staff (i.e., teachers). According to that data, the statewide average of these local salary contributions in 2017-18 is nearly 27% of total salaries, at a total cost of more than $1 billion. Over 72% of that amount is provided by the 56 districts that provide over 25% of salaries with local funds. The districts with the highest local contribution paid nearly half of total teacher salaries with levy funds.
In their McCleary ruling the Court said the State needed to fully fund the cost of basic education, including salaries. Therefore, any solution would need to unwind this well-established practice of local supplements to the state salary allocation. That solution began with HB 2242 in the 2017 legislative session and was refined with the passage of SB 6362 in March. While the fixes in those bills may appear to be a complicated Rube Goldberg creation, we should not lose sight of how challenging it can be to solve complex problems through the legislative process.
With that in mind, it appears that this part of the Legislature’s McCleary solution could correct much of this over-reliance on local dollars to teachers’ salaries. It does so through what appears to be an illogical set of rules. First, in 2018–19 districts must pay first-year teachers a minimum of $40,760, and $44,836 for those with five years of experience. That base salary represents an 11.6% increase over the current year. The complexity is created by a second rule that school districts cannot negotiate a 2018–19 contract that increases average total salary, including supplemental contracts, above 3.1%.
A logical question is how you can provide the mandated increase 11.6%, and yet not increase average total salaries by more than 3.1%. For districts with significant local salary funding, that could be achieved by rolling much of it into the new state salary allocation. That approach would result in a smaller total salary increase. The statutory language that permits these local supplemental salaries specifies it is pay for additional time, responsibility, or incentive (TRI). Over the years, many districts have provided a significant portion of TRI pay to all staff, without requiring any additional time or responsibility. For the purpose of this article, I will refer to that type of supplemental pay as universal TRI because all teachers in a district receive it.
While interpretations of these new laws vary, most authorities seem to agree that under the provisions of HB 2242 and SB 6362, universal TRI will no longer be allowed beginning in 2018-19. Any locally funded salary will have to be for specified individual time and/or responsibilities. The other reality is that beginning in 2019, most districts will experience a significant reduction in the local levy revenue which they use to fund TRI pay. Based on OSPI data, that loss is nearly 40% statewide and totals $1.13 billion in 2019-20. The loss for some districts is significantly higher. Given those two factors, districts with substantial amounts of universal TRI will likely seek to absorb as much of that local pay as possible into the increased state-funded salary amounts.
While that approach may work for some districts, over half of the districts contribute 10% or less of their teachers’ total compensation from local funding. These districts probably don’t have enough universal TRI to stay under the 3.1% cap. Fortunately, the SB 6362 includes an exception that if a district’s average salary is less than the statewide average, they are permitted to exceed the 3.1% cap. OSPI recently announced that the statewide average teacher salary is $71,711. While few if any of these districts could afford to pay that high of an average salary, this exception will provide flexibility in creating a new salary schedule that meets the required starting salary while living within the state allocation.
It should also be noted that even though districts with a high percentage of TRI pay can theoretically stay within the cap by moving their universal TRI into the state-funded salaries, they need to bargain that approach with their local teachers’ association. In case anyone thought that would be easy, the Washington Education Association’s (WEA), position as stated in their Our Voice Political Action blog will quickly dismiss that thought. In a recent blog post, “Time to Negotiate Big Pay Raises For All,” the WEA states:
All of this adds up to what could be one of the most contentious bargaining seasons in recent memory. At a minimum, all 295 school districts will need to implement a new teacher salary schedule. To do so, each district will need to find a workable balance point between the constraints of reduced local funding and new state restrictions while meeting the heightened salary expectations of their teachers.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the midst of rolling out billions more in state K-12 funding, we see strikes or near-strikes in a record number of school districts? Such a development would be very confusing to the public, many of whom received a sizable property tax increase to help fund this McCleary plan.