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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Washington schools chief proposes signing bonuses for educators

OSPI plan urges state lawmakers to address teacher shortages

By , Columbian staff writer

State superintendent of schools Chris Reykdal announced in a press conference Thursday morning a proposal to the Legislature to provide additional funding for teachers and special educators to help retain staff and alleviate the state’s educator shortage.

The proposal, which was submitted to the Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature for consideration in the 2023 session, would provide a $10,000 hiring bonus for special educators, a $5,000 hiring bonus to certificated and administrative staff in eligible “high-poverty” schools and annual bonuses for teachers and paraeducators endorsed in dual language and working in dual language education programs.

Additionally, the plan would provide a 6 percent base salary increase for all school employees and lower the maximum regionalization factor from 18 percent to 12 percent. Lowering the cap for those regionalization factors, which provide funding to school districts with higher property values, can help balance the scale for smaller, lower-income districts that are struggling to offer comparable salaries and benefits.

The proposal is one piece of a nine-part series from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction called Washington State Innovates.

Reykdal’s rationale for many of the proposals, namely the signing bonuses and annual benefits, is to help school districts provide competitive salaries amid rising inflation and other factors, as well as reward educators — particularly those working in low-income communities or communities of color — for continuing employment.

Potential impact in Clark County

Increasing incentives for special educators and retaining support staff has been a critical issue in Clark County in recent years, where school districts are seeing massive employee turnover and staffing shortages.

Increased pay for teachers and guaranteeing the extension of state-funded salary increases like the 6 percent raise referenced by Reykdal on Thursday were chief among the goals for the Ridgefield Education Association last month as they negotiated a new contract with the Ridgefield School District, for example.

Curtis Crebar, the president of the Battle Ground Education Association, which represents approximately 800 educators in Battle Ground, said the signing bonuses and salary incentives are fantastic ideas to get people in the door but don’t entirely address the issue of retention.

“It’s the carrot that gets them in,” Crebar said. “But what’s happening is that people will get into special education for a year or two and get so frustrated that they’ll transfer straight to another position that’s strictly teaching.”

Crebar said a focus on state-mandated supports for paraeducators need to be a priority in order to retain staff and lower burnout. Rather than “throwing money” at the issue, he said he’d like to see more long-term solutions.

“Limiting class sizes, limiting student-to-staff ratios, (the state Legislature) need to have long-term solutions like that. This is not one of those temporary things that happened just because of (the COVID-19 pandemic),” he said. “It’s something that’s been growing but hasn’t really been addressed at the state level. They give regulations of what has to happen at the schools, but they haven’t given the supports to help make those happen.”

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