Is Seattle Public Schools bargaining away class size reduction money?

Aug 16, 2018

Yesterday afternoon the WEA union held a rally outside the offices of Seattle School Superintendent Denise Juneau. She is negotiating a new teachers contract with union lawyers. The WEA is threatening to close Seattle schools with teacher strikes if Superintendent Juneau does not provide double-digit pay increases. She may be under pressure to bargain away class size reduction money.   

A week ago Senator John Braun, former Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, sent out some helpful guideposts for districts negotiating new teacher contracts. The best way to serve the public interest, says Senator Braun, is to do the following:

  1. K-3 class size reduction money should not be negotiated away;
  2. Do not grant salary raises that depend upon the Legislature increasing the local property tax limit; and
  3. Do not go on strike. 

Between 2009 and today, in response to the McCleary school funding decision, the legislature increased the state budget for schools from $12.9 billion to $22.6 billion. A lot of this money has already gone to increase the pay and benefits of teachers and other school employees. For example, official government reports show that in 2010-11 average teacher pay in Seattle was $68,300, plus $19,998 in benefits.* Now, after these multiple funding infusions from the state, today in 2017-18, average teacher pay in Seattle is $77,239, plus $27,979 in benefits.  See our new Policy Note, here.

The WEA union’s budget has also grown, from $27 million in 2009 to $37 million in 2015, the most recent report available.

But half a billion dollars in the state budget was earmarked to reduce class sizes for students.  The legislature promised to provide this benefit to taxpayers, and even redefined basic education to require class sizes of 17 in grades K-3.  In 2017 Governor Inslee said the state budget included funds for “investing in smaller class sizes through 3rd grade,” to “give our kids a strong start.”

Now it appears the WEA union is targeting class size reduction funding for additional, double-digit pay increases.

This is the same pattern, over and over again. The WEA union uses a popular program for students to demand more money for schools. Then, a few months later, the WEA threatens illegal strikes to close schools if that money is not diverted to provide pay raises. Giving “kids a strong start” with smaller class sizes has vanished from the current media narrative, replaced with stories of allegedly underpaid teachers. See our Policy Note on average teacher pay statewide, here.

The WEA union may also be working to create pressure to repeal the legislature’s cap on local school levies in 2019. Pushing school budgets into the red with unaffordable pay raises today makes achieving this goal more possible in Olympia in January. 

Unfortunately we don’t know which student programs in Seattle the union has targeted to fund pay raises. Contract negotiations are not transparent, and are conducted in secret.

This year the WEA union has targeted nine school districts for strikes: Seattle, Kent, Tacoma, Spokane, Mukilteo, Kennewick, Evergreen (Clark), Washougal, and Yakima Valley.  Some superintendents, like Superintendent Irion in the Yakima Valley, are standing up to the WEA leaders to defend the interests of students.  

No one knows what Seattle’s new superintendent will do. She is from Montana, where the state mascot is the grizzly bear. Perhaps a female grizzly from Montana has the strength to stand up to double-digit pay demands from the WEA union under threat of a strike. Let’s hope so. We need someone who will stand up for the children.


*Source: OSPI's Table 19, School Personnel Profiles for Certificated Teachers, here.  In 2010-11, OSPI added a new column to this Table, Mandatory Benefits. This article originally reported figures from 2009-10, but was corrected to provide figures from Table 19 for 2010-11, with the more complete information on benefits.    

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