The season of going back to school has begun again. Teachers plan and get their classrooms ready, families shop for school supplies and new clothes, and custodial and grounds crews work at breakneck pace to get everything safe and shiny.  Teachers eagerly anticipate returning to their hearts’ work, and wonder if last years’ students will drop by during open house, and whether the new crop of kids will like us.  I will be ready — tomorrow I will get most of the rest of the organization completed and put together an order for the print shop.  

However, as I write this update, it is not certain that our district will start school on time.  Many Washington State school districts renegotiate their staff contracts regularly, and in those years everything usually goes smoothly.    Tomorrow (August 16) our union’s negotiating team will meet again with the district to discuss the contract that needs renewing.  So far, most districts are still negotiating, a process that started fairly late this year when the legislature met the “McCleary decision’s” obligation by simultaneously releasing large pots of money to schools while tossing aside the state teacher salary schedule which used to set minimum salaries for every year and for several levels of education.

Earlier in legislative history, the state guaranteed to meet education obligations for through an altered property tax calculation while restricting levies to only “extra” expenditures.  Districts around the state have come to different conclusions about the purpose and meaning of this. Many districts are trying to keep any salary increases to under five percent saying they are capped (untrue) or that the legislature won’t fund salaries to this same extent in the future (untrue).   There is a lot of uncertainty as to whether teachers may need to strike (which is very bad for morale statewide) as representatives of the teachers attempt to educate districts on the import of the laws and new revenue streams. There are also issues with classified staff (mostly paraprofessionals and office staff) who are also having to renegotiate contracts.  My school is scheduled to start the week  before Labor Day, though most seem to start the day after, which means we are rather pinched for time.

What <em>is</em> certain is that the $1 billion dollars allocated by the legislature for staff salaries cannot be used for anything else.  Everything else from transportation, to books and teaching supplies, to special education, should be fully funded by the state according to EHB 2242 (final bill report) instead of local levies; and within four years this transition should be complete.  There were four items in EHB 2242 that were line-item vetos, those are listed at the very end of that document.

Meanwhile, many districts are choosing to interpret the salary money as a one-time investment on which contract negotiations should not depend; they are also claiming that the lost ability to ask for levies for basic needs -after current levies end- will eat into future state funding.  Which, according to SB 6232 (final bill report) is incorrect.  The salaries that are to be negotiated are not going to roll out incrementally as in EHB 2242, but immediately beginning with this new school year.  And the funds proposed by the state for future years outpace the previous state+local monies.  In other words many districts are using red herrings.

It is clear that the legislature intends for salaries to be brought closer to a reasonable standard relative to other occupations this year; there is NO CAP on salaries that are negotiated this year although there are minimums; there will be caps for future salary negotiations based on cost of living indexes.  They are also reducing the interval for examining cost of living increases for teacher salaries from 6 years to 4 years; and there are additional calculations for districts that have high costs of living (mine really doesn’t), have high poverty rates (mine is), or other factors that would increase staffing needs or costs to hire.  It is disingenuous for districts to allege that teacher salaries will not be honored or paid fully by the state after this school year.

So through all of this, I am setting up my room (as we all do), planning lessons (as we all do), buying a few “homey touches” for the room (as we all do)…  and trying to keep my cool.  The kids deserve to know they will have school starting up; that their teachers are ready for them; and that the school district values their education and future enough to be sure the people who care for these children for more than 8 hours each day are given the income they deserve.  I am eager and happy to be returning to the same school for the fifth year, working with dedicated, passionate colleagues who do the best they can for their students under sometimes very difficult conditions.

Some editing for clarity on 18 August 2018.  And a quick update:  our district negotiations with certificated staff were fruitful and school will begin on time (pending union vote just before school begins).  We are, however, still waiting on a final decision for classified staff salaries!