Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Jan. 20, 2021

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La Center schools tackling pay issues

Teachers, district hope Legislature can find answers

By , Columbian Staff Writer

LA CENTER — Teachers in La Center were among the few in Clark County who didn’t go on strike this summer.

That doesn’t mean teachers or district officials were satisfied with the new one-year contract that was signed back in April. They said they looked at the money that came in from that state through the McCleary legislation and saw there wasn’t much else to do.

“We could’ve gotten our members to strike, but for what?” said Kathy Bounds, president of the La Center Education Association. “What was on the table was what was on the table. There’s no way everybody was going to be thrilled.”

La Center teachers signed a contract that gave them a 7.8 percent increase in total salary compensation with an average salary of $72,300. Bounds and La Center Superintendent Dave Holmes are hoping the state Legislature makes some changes in the coming sessions, and they’re working together to reach out to local representatives to get their message out.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, spoke to board members about the McCleary legislation, which last year saw the state pour $7.3 billion in new state funding for schools to be spread over four years, followed by another $1 billion this year for teacher salaries. While districts were negotiating, the Washington Education Association urged members to push for 15 percent raises for teachers. Rivers felt the union leadership over-promised by giving out “not realistic” numbers, she said at the meeting.

“Unions handed people huge lottery tickets,” she said, adding that they then “under-delivered.”

Rivers said that was done “to the detriment” of teachers, putting them in the middle of negotiations between the district, and getting different messages from each side. A former teacher herself, Rivers said she doesn’t “begrudge teachers at all” for how the summer went, but she’s more hesitant to deal with unions.

While Rivers said she intends to remain on the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, she’s not sure if all her colleagues will.

“There is significant frustration and angst because we put so much money into education,” she said. “The teachers strike claims it’s still not enough. It’s frustrating because it seems some people believe the only way to a better education system is to put more money into it. We all know that money is not the answer.”

Unique issues

There was frustration around the state with McCleary, and Holmes said the new funding model has “created inequity for La Center.”

“If McCleary was supposed to fix the issue of equity, it failed,” Bounds said.

La Center is facing issues due to the new deal. The state sent a set amount per teacher to each school district. Nearly half of La Center’s 100 teachers have been with the district for 15 or more years. The district’s salary schedule puts 31.5 positions in the highest-paying grid on the schedule, the most of any grid. The next highest-paid grid has eight teachers in it.

“It should be an incentive to have more experienced teachers,” Holmes said. “Instead, we’re penalized for it.”

Because the average amount per teacher the district received was less than what many teachers in the district make, the district had to take $300,000 from other funds to make up the gap for teacher salaries this year, according to Holmes. Salaries represent nearly 82 percent of the district’s budget this year.

Adding to La Center’s difficulty is a new funding model that caps how much the district can seek through local levies. The district previously received about $2.8 million from local levies; Holmes said the district anticipates a reduction in about 35 percent for the 2019-2020 school year.

“We were scheduled to get $2.91 million for the ’19-’20 school year based on the levy we had already passed and instead will get around $1.9 million,” he said.

While La Center received an additional 6 percent funding in McCleary for regionalization, the district suffers from low property tax evaluations, because the city doesn’t have many businesses.

“State funding burns districts like ours,” Bounds said. “We got burned in this deal.”

Bounds said she hopes to go up to Olympia to talk to some representatives in 2019 about the issues La Center is facing.

“We will be heard,” she said. “I don’t know if they’ll listen.”

La Center plans on sending a letter to representatives stating they’d like to see some sort of experience factor in school funding and full funding for special education. The board wanted to sign their names on the letter, along with Holmes and Bound.

“We’re working this together,” Holmes said. “This isn’t us against them. This is a school district and community problem. It’s not a union issue or administrative school board issue.”