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Published in Print: October 6, 1999, as Some Washington Districts Go Their Own Way on Salaries

Some Washington Districts Go Their Own Way on Salaries

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Several districts in Washington state have brushed aside a salary plan for teachers that the state crafted last spring to favor young teachers, and instead are "evening out" the pay increases among all of their teachers.

Those moves caused a flap after some legislators complained about the departures from the state salary plan.

At A Glance: Washington

Washington Population: 5.7 million
Governor: Gary Locke (D)
State Superintendent:
Terry Bergeson
Number of K-12 students: 990,000
Number of K-12 public schools: 2,071
Fiscal 1999-2000 K-12 budget:
$4.6 billion

"Whenever we put in specific language to address an inequity, it is my strong feeling that school districts should be following it," J. Clyde Ballard, the Republican co-speaker of the House, said in an interview last week. "On these things, they use up their credibility for future requests."

But other legislators and state leaders said the ability of localities to control their own school budgets outweighed the need to conform to the state scale.

"It's a matter of doing what's right for the local school district," agreed Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

Mr. Wood estimated that teacher bargaining units in about 10 of the state's 296 districts--including Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett--had negotiated with their school boards to share the relatively large pay increases that lawmakers designated for teachers in their second through sixth years of teaching with more experienced teachers, who received lower raises under the state plan.

Washington is one of a few states that underwrite almost the entire teacher payroll in their school districts, Mr. Wood said. To determine the funding level, the state maintains a detailed salary schedule with pay "steps" based on teachers' years of experience and a mandatory minimum rate for first-year teachers.

Most school boards and teacher bargaining units adopt the entire salary schedule in their local contracts, but about two dozen districts maintain different pay scales.

'Volatile' Issue

Departing from the state schedule is a sensitive topic because of the intensity of the debate in the legislature over teacher pay last spring as lawmakers drew up the biennial budget for fiscal 2000-01. Teachers staged walkouts in more than 20 school districts. ("Teacher Walkouts Spread Across Washington ," April 14, 1999.)

"This was a very volatile and difficult issue for the legislature, and I think they bent over backward to meet the expectations of teachers," said Steve Nielson, the executive director of the Washington State School Directors Association, which represents school boards. "To see [districts] modify it does raise a question."

Teachers argued at the time that salaries had lagged far behind the rate of inflation since the early 1990s. The WEA, a National Education Association affiliate that represents about 40,000 teachers, called for a 15 percent increase across the board to redress that loss.

Under the $536 million plan finally agreed to by the legislators and Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, salaries for beginning teachers rose 12.1 percent this year. Teachers with one year of experience were slated to receive an increase of 10 percent; teachers with two to three years, 8.9 percent; teachers with four years, 7.7 percent; and those with five years, 6.2 percent.

Teachers with between six and 15 years of experience were to get the smallest increase, 4.7 percent.

The plan also provided an extra salary step for teachers with more than 15 years' experience, who had run out of room in the state allocation schedule. And all teachers are to get an additional raise, in 2001, of 3 percent.

Mr. Wood of the wea said teacher pay needs to be raised further in the state, where a vibrant high-tech economy is constantly luring some of the best teachers away from the profession.

But legislators said salaries would not be addressed again until the biennial budget for fiscal 2002-03.

Vol. 19, Issue 6, Page 22

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