Kalles Junior High School science teacher Tommy Haynes has been teaching for five years. The Puyallup teacher says he’s not at the point of burnout, but he wonders how soon he might get there.
To make ends meet, the 29-year-old has taken on extra duties. Among them: chairing his school’s science department, coaching volleyball and soccer, working with the Kalles geography bee, and serving as school coordinator for a study skills program called AVID.
All of that adds up to a salary of less than $45,000 a year, he said.
In his limited spare time, he’s working on earning a master’s degree online, which would also boost his pay.
Haynes says he’d rather spend time developing imaginative lesson plans than taking on duties that pull him in too many different directions.
“I’m grateful for every opportunity,” he said. “Kids are still getting great lessons, but it’s coming at a sacrifice of my time.”
Haynes was among nearly 300 teachers and education support professionals from Pierce County who gathered this week at Puyallup High School for an after-school event. They aimed to send a message to legislators about school funding and other issues of concern, such as a proposal requiring state test scores to be included in teacher evaluations.
The event was sponsored by the 84,000-member Washington Education Association (WEA), the union that represents teachers and other public education employees.
Similar events, also sponsored by the union, are scheduled for this weekend in Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver.
The WEA this week also launched a radio ad campaign, which features the voice of Tacoma teacher and local union president Angel Morton. In the ad, Morton admonishes politicians in Olympia for failing to act not only on pay, but also on class-size reduction — a WEA-backed ballot measure approved by voters in November. The estimated price tag for the upcoming two-year budget cycle: $2 billion.
In the ad, Morton calls for “no more delays, no more excuses.”
WEA President Kim Mead said there’s been no state-funded cost-of-living increase for teachers for at least six years.
The state uses a salary scale to determine how much it gives school districts for teacher base salaries, depending on degrees held and years of experience, up to 16 years.
That scale lists state-funded starting pay for new teachers at $34,048, while the scale tops out at $64,174. The state kicks in, but many local teachers’ unions negotiate for locally funded pay over and above that basic amount. And districts fund some positions entirely from local levy dollars. In Tacoma, for example, officials estimate state funding covers only about 70 percent of the costs for teacher pay.
Teachers and their union say it’s time for the state to step up and start paying more of its fair share. They are backed by the state Supreme Court, which ruled in the McCleary school funding case that “state funding of educator and administrative staff salaries remains constitutionally inadequate.”
Mead said the teacher-evaluation bill, which has passed the state Senate but not the House, is a distraction from the work lawmakers should be doing to comply with McCleary.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a cost-of-living pay boost in his budget proposal: a 3-percent raise in the 2015-16 school year and a 1.8-percent raise the following year. But it wouldn’t apply to the portion of salaries funded by local districts, or to school employees whose salaries are paid entirely by local levy dollars.
Legislators in the House and Senate will weigh in on the pay-raise proposal when they release their proposed budgets, possibly as early as next week.
Mead said the state needs to make sure educators are paid “professional wages.”
Terri Eley, a library technician at Saltar’s Point Elementary in the Steilacoom School District, also attended Monday’s meeting in Puyallup. She said it’s not only a lack of raises that’s hurting non-certificated employees like her. She said many have seen their hours cut at the same time their health care premiums are rising.
“I’m working with co-workers who have lost homes, who can’t afford to have medical procedures done, who are filing bankruptcy,” she said.