A state task force looking into how – and how much – we pay teachers and other school employees made a confession that would not be news to anyone directly involved in public education.
The Compensation Technical Working Group’s final report concludes that most of the state’s 295 school districts violate state laws that prohibit spending local levy dollars on basic pay for teachers.
Under a law adopted in 1981, all teacher pay for delivering basic education must come from the state and is not subject to bargaining. In amendments approved in 1983, teachers can bargain to tap levy dollars but only for extra duties.
That additional pay can be granted only through supplemental contracts defining the extra time and responsibilities to be delivered or for “implementing specific measurable innovative activities.” This has become known as TRI pay (Time, Responsibility and Incentive.”)
But the task force’s group of education “stakeholders” – superintendents, board members, principals, finance officers and teacher union representatives – admitted it doesn’t work that way.
“... after reviewing collective bargaining agreements and sharing professional experiences with TRI contracts, the (working group) overwhelmingly concluded that TRI contracts are most often used to increase the salary allocations of staff performing basic education functions,” the final report states.
There are many reasons for this violation of law, but the working group lands on just one – the districts and their teachers had to do it to make up for shortcomings in allocations for basic teacher pay by the state Legislature.
Another reason for the gradual erosion of the rules is that unions bargained hard for it, school boards gave in and the state looked the other way. Blaming the Legislature alone means the working group members didn’t have to point fingers at one another.
Still, I give the members credit for a level of straight talk not common when the topic is teacher pay. The members acknowledge this open secret so as to come up with a remedy that might finally free up local levy money for what it is intended – program enhancements determined by local districts.
The members also make a statement certain to draw fire from teachers and their supporters.
“The (working group) affirms that average comparable wages are sufficient to recruit and retain high quality staff,” the report concludes. That refutes a common talking point by the Washington Education Association that teachers here get less than teachers in other states.
That claim is true, however, if you compare the current pay allocation from the state only to total salary paid in other states. The more-accurate comparison using both state dollars and levy dollars shows Washington does well and has benefits described by a task force consultant as “unusually generous.”
The task force recommends all of the salary cost for delivering basic education be borne by the state, ending the backfilling with levy money. That is likely required under this year’s landmark state Supreme Court decision on school funding.
Rather than continue the ruse that is TRI, the working group calls for deregulation of how levy money is spent on compensation. Then, once districts receive their increased compensation allotment from the state, they can bargain levy money for pay as long as it doesn’t total more than 10 percent of the state compensation money.
That salary cap brings predictability and leaves more local levy money available for programs.
All this isn’t to say that the working group members don’t think more money should flow to school compensation. They want beginning teacher pay raised by $15,000 a year, to $48,687. They want the state to fund up to 10 professional development days. They want mentor teachers and teaching coaches to boost effectiveness.
They also want to cut the complexity of the pay scale and reward teachers less for longevity and advanced degrees and more for moving from beginning certification to professional certification – something that requires positive evaluations.
It won’t be cheap – $2 billion state dollars a year. While immediate buy-in is unlikely, the Legislature shouldn’t let sticker shock divert attention from important reforms contained in the group’s recommendations.
To read the full report by the Compensation Technical Working Group, go to www.k12.wa.us/Compensation/default.aspx