Well, school is back in session, teachers have new contracts and all is calm and well in the education world, right? Perhaps not.
The McCleary Decision, that billion-dollar hangnail/sliver/head wound that’s kept teachers and school districts, legislators, lobbyists and education reporters up at night even before the state Supreme Court’s January 2012 ruling, has entered a whole new phase of mania.
As the Spokesman Review (Spokane) notes: “The irony isn’t lost on the state’s school districts, teachers and the public they serve: that the $2 billion windfall created by the landmark McCleary court decision has reaped a whirlwind of contention, a chaotic summer of salary negotiations and an uncertain future for everyone. The only certainty is higher taxes statewide, as districts will look to Olympia for even greater support of public education.”
In a nutshell, the state legislature two months ago handed its school districts a one-time pile of money to help fulfill the McCleary mandate to fully fund public education, sans instructions on how and when to spend it. Salary negotiations unfolded in all 295 school districts, with many teachers advocating for significant raises and, conversely, many school districts declaring those raises unsustainable.
Some districts settled with their teacher groups including those on the North Olympic Peninsula. But some districts were still on strike as of early this week, including those in Tacoma, Centralia, Tumwater and Battle Ground. (Judges in Thurston and Cowlitz counties have ruled against teacher unions for striking, since the act is illegal, but imposes no penalties.)
Some districts in the state have dipped into reserves to cover the teacher pay boost: Spokane Public School, for example, added $21 million to its operating budget for the new fiscal year, but despite the additional $27.7 million in one-time funds, the district will operate $12.9 million in the red this year.
And that’s not even broaching the topic of a number of other public education groups who will also be seeking raises from the state McCleary funding. While teachers garnered much of the attention for the state’s remuneration, staffers such as paraeducators (teacher aides), building secretaries, bus drivers, security personnel, custodians and others are looking for more compensation as well.
Additionally, to offset the increase in statewide property-tax rate, lawmakers complied with a core McCleary requirement that limited the amount districts can raise through local levies. So beginning next year, local school “enrichment” levy rates are limited to $1.50 per thousand of assessed valuation.
(Fortunately for Sequim, with a relatively low local levy collection rate local won’t be nearly as impacted as other nearby districts.)
That means schools districts that came through with teacher raises this year may, depending on state funding, be looking to make major cuts next year.
“In some school districts, the combination of new state dollars minus local levy dollars will leave them hard pressed to keep up with inflation over the next three years without additional legislative changes,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal noted in a recent press release.
“Transforming education funding in our state is a complicated and long-term process, and we will all have to exercise patience and understanding through this transition period,” he wrote.
Tensions will likely extend to the 2019 legislative session, the Spokesman-Review reported. So there’s that to look forward to.
Think you can manage the state’s funds better? Give the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction your thoughts on how to spend up to $500 million in public funding dollars with an online survey (www.surveygizmo.com/s3/4444971/Balance-the-K-12-Education-Budget), as the state looks toward how to shape its seven primary education funding priorities. (Please hurry: the survey closes today, Sept. 12, at 5 p.m.).
In a completely unrelated story …
Superintendent Reykdal insists that Washington state educators would not take part in federal funding to purchase firearms for classroom teachers. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ was reportedly considering a federal policy change allowing states to purchase firearms through the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program — one that provides about $15 million to Washington state school districts for activities such as expanding science and engineering beyond the school day, supporting local youth and government program and increasing mental health services. (Devos decided to leave it to Congress to decide if state can use that funding for firearms.)
“I have been in public K–12 and higher education for 28 years, and I have never seen a more destructive and dangerous policy contemplation by a U.S. Secretary of Education,” Reykdal said.
Crossed up on the crossword
For those of you perhaps a little confused by our latest edition … yes, the clues for the crossword in our C (“Classifieds”) section were inadvertently repeated. Yes, it was a mistake. No, no one was trying to be funny. The gremlins responsible for the gaffe, as Monty Python might write, have been sacked.
Earlier this week a coalition of state and federal agencies, with support from local tribes, begin translocating mountain goats from Olympic National Park to the Cascade Mountains. WDFW plans to release the mountain goats at five selected sites in the Cascades this month.
The goal is two-fold: get non-native goats out of the Olympics (mountain goats were introduced to the Olympics in the 1920s) while bolstering depleted herds in the northern Cascades, Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said.
To dispel a local rumor, this action is NOT to make room for Californians.
A whole little shakin’ going on
A small earthquake north of Sequim lightly shook the Olympic Peninsula early Sunday morning — a 3.3-magnitude earthquake centered about 15 miles north of Sequim in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about 14.3 miles deep, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Insert your own joke about political division here.
Michael Dashiell is editor of the Sequim Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.