Teacher raises show Edmonds School District mismanagement | Guest View

By Lynn Chelius | Jun 21, 2019

This is in response to Diana White’s submission to the Beacon June 13 (“Teacher raises not sole reason for district layoffs,” Guest View), where she attempted to justify her actions as Edmonds School District Board president regarding the recent substantial raises for teachers and subsequent layoffs.

Since she is running for the open Edmonds City Council Position 6 against Susan Paine, I think a discussion around this issue is warranted.

My husband and I are passionate supporters of public schools and have much respect for our hard-working teachers. We supported the McCleary decision mandating the legislature fully fund basic education.

Both of our children attended public schools for kindergarten through 12th grade. I have spent most of my career working and volunteering for public schools, including extensive work with at-risk children.

White’s commentary attempted to explain away the district’s budget shortfall and layoffs as being “years in the making of the McCleary ‘fix’.”

However, it really is more an issue of mismanagement by the Edmonds’ School Board, of which she is president. We think the citizens of Edmonds deserve City Council members who are more capable stewards of taxpayers’ money.

An Aug. 22, 2018, memo from the Superintendent of Public Instruction to all school district superintendents in Washington state stated in bold typeface, “Not every district will have an equal opportunity to provide compensation increases with double-digit percentages.”

As school board president, White would have certainly seen this memo.

The memo goes on to list four variables that, if present in a district, would limit its ability to provide salary increases:

  • The district was already paying average CIS (certified instructional staff) salaries very near or above the new state average salary allocation;
  • Its average 2018-19 state allocation for CIS salaries is less than the average CIS salary paid for 2017-18;
  • The district did not get an experience factor increase for the 2019-20 year; and
  • The district would be losing 50% or more of their local voter-approved levy capacity when the new levy thresholds kick in for calendar year 2019.

If I understand these parameters, the Edmonds School District met, or nearly met, all four. Nonetheless, the school board voted to approve a contract giving the teachers a near 20% raise.

Given all the information she had, White and the school board nonetheless approved the contract with its double-digit increase in pay for teachers. That approval was not fiscally responsible. Many others agreed, including The Seattle Times, arguably a liberal publication, which strongly supports teachers and the teachers union.

The Times recognized the dangers of giving teachers these double-digit raises at the volatile time after the education funding bill in response to McCleary was passed. From an Aug. 17, 2018, editorial where it captured exactly what happened in the Edmonds’ School District:

“Because those local school district property tax levies are set to go down starting in January 2019, not all of the added state money coming to districts is actually available for teacher salary increases – at least not beyond next year. …

“If districts don’t use those dollars to actually reduce class sizes – which will involve hiring additional teachers, not just paying the current ones more – they will lose the money entirely. Those are just the facts”.

“But they seem to be inconvenient ones for school districts like Edmonds, which just agreed to raises of up to about 20 percent for its teachers. The district’s own budget projections show the district will quickly find itself in the red based on the tentative contract it just negotiated with the local union. The new contract will allow teachers to be paid up to a maximum of $114,272 per year (up from the previous cap of $101,022).”

“The Edmonds contract and a few others have spawned bipartisan concern among legislative budget writers. Senate Ways and Means Chair Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and ranking Republican member John Braun of Centralia both are sounding an alarm.”

We applaud the increased funding for public education and raises for teachers. However, we, as taxpayers who have seen significant property tax increases, should be able to expect that those raises be given in a responsible way.

One paramount duty of a City Council member is to be a responsible steward of our money.

Diana White’s actions as the Edmonds School Board president do not bode well in this regard.

Lynne Chelius is an Edmonds resident.

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