No quick fix for figuring out new way to pay teachers in Washington

By

Published:

 

For years, most school districts in Washington have relied on a 18-by-10 table to decide how much base pay to give each of their classroom teachers.

The table, known as a salary schedule, shows what the state provides for teacher pay, which, up until recently, was based on years of experience and level of education.

For a 15-year teacher with a master’s degree, for example, the state would allocate $20,000 more in base pay than for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree.

Lawmakers scrapped that table earlier this year as part of a sweeping overhaul of the state’s school-finance system. Starting in 2018-19 school year, the state will send districts the same amount of base pay per teacher, regardless of their education level or seniority.

It’s not yet clear how that change will affect how much individual teachers make. That’s governed by teacher contracts in each school district.

But anticipating the change could cause headaches in contract negotiations in 295 different districts, the Legislature also required a new technical working group to come up with a new salary model that districts could use as a starting point in local negotiations.

The group was supposed to submit its proposal by Friday. But after meeting just three times since Oct. 30, the group will tell the Legislature it needs more time to finish such a complex task.

“It’s been fast-paced,” said Jim Kowalkowski, a member of the working group and superintendent of Davenport schools, located about 35 miles west of Spokane.

“Several of us on the committee have said that this is important, but we need to slow it down,” he said.

A dozen other superintendents, teacher representatives and educators from across the state joined Kowalkowski on the working group. And they’ve considered many controversial questions about what to include in a new salary model.

Aside from seniority and education, should teacher pay be tied to student test scores? What if a teacher works in a low-performing school or in a hard-to-staff position? Is there some type of formal certification an experienced teacher could get to earn a higher salary?

“There’s no way a single committee can meet for only 10 hours and develop model salary schedules that would work across the state, no matter how well-intentioned,” Rich Wood, a spokesman for the state teachers union, said in an email.

“The salary group’s recommendations are just that — recommendations,” he added.

Under state law, districts can pay teachers however they want — no one will be forced to use whatever model the group eventually decides to submit. That’s also the case under the existing system, but — as the Legislature itself notes — most districts have used the state schedule.

Kowalkowski said the working group intends to finish its job in time to present its proposed salary model to the Legislature when it convenes for a short session next year.