Letter to the editor: Don’t bargain away the money you don’t have

Editor:

This opinion is in response to Diana White’s submission to My Edmonds News on May 22, 2019, where she attempted to justify her actions as Edmonds’ School 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 the public schools, including extensive work with at-risk children.

Diana White’s commentary attempted to explain away the Edmonds’ School 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 councilmembers 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 withdouble-digit percentages.” As the president of the Edmonds’ School Board, Ms. 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:

  1. The district was already paying average CIS (Certified Instructional Staff) salaries very near or above the new state average salary allocation.
  2. Its average 2018-19 state allocation for CIS salaries is less than the average CIS salary paid for 2017-18.
  3. The district did not get an experience factor increase for the 2019-20 year.
  4. 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 Edmonds School Board voted to approve a contract giving the teachers a near 20% raise.

Given all the information she had, Ms. 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 agree, including The Seattle Times, arguably a liberal publication.

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 (and see particularly paragraphs 5 and 6, which mention Edmonds specifically):

“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.”  

“Still another $500 million or so per year of state education funding should also be considered off-limits for teacher-salary increases.  That’s because, starting in the 2019-20 school year, that money has to go toward reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.” 

“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.”

”’If we are going to step up to that amount for everyone, we are looking at another McCleary situation with billions and billions of dollars statewide,’ Rolfes said Friday.” 

“Teachers can expect raises this year – just not double-digit ones.” 

“Districts need to stick to a basic principle as they negotiate these multiyear labor contracts: Don’t bargain away money you don’t have.” (emphases mine).

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 councilmember 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.

Respectfully,
Lynne and Craig Chelius

5 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Don’t bargain away the money you don’t have”

  1. Thanks for stating the facts behind another Edmonds blunder.
    Wakeup people, we need to be diligent in requests for accountability and transparency in government.
    More action, less talk.

    Ignored

  2. Thank u for all the details in your letter. I also attended Edmonds schools as did my kids and the kids I care for now. One of my freshman boys recently asked “how do the schools get their money?”
    I have more answers now

    In defense – our times are different now – the schools bear the burden of lots of homeless and low income kids – DSHS helps little it’s the schools who care and help teachers buying shoes and clothes with own money.

    I am so grateful for the teachers and how they give until they are exhausted. $114.000 a year is not outrageous with today’s cost of living, but we all need to use our money wisely – don’t spend what u don’t have.

    I am grateful for ur well written “educational” letter.
    Thank u

    Ignored

  3. Your well-thought-out and detailed letter is welcomed and appreciated. We, in our household, so agree with your views. Having raised 3 sons in the district and being very involved, I attended too many school board meetings to count over the years. I did not follow this particular evolution of budget woes in the making. Too many times over 12 years, though, I went away from board meetings, steering committee meetings, etc., questioning board accountability and the semblance of “rubber stamping” of issues and budget items in question. I realize this is a vague, general statement which, by its nature, can’t be defended and I do want to be appreciative of all the good service and well-intentioned time spent by all who may have questioned, spent time and effort studying, thinking critically, and actually following up, etc. We strongly support teachers and school staff and the paramount importance of education and its need for valued compensation & benefits status. It does seem that in the big picture of methods, amounts, and timeline, though, that school board accountability, however, is ultimately lacking and without apology in this budget mess.

    Ignored

  4. It seems important to consider how Dianna White’s fiscal oversight on the School Board might relate to her ability to help manage the city budget as a council member. The school district budget problems resulting from her leadership on the school board suggest that Diana is not qualified for the responsibilities of a city council member.

    Ignored

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