Seattle school officials and powerful union settle another teacher strike, by agreeing to spend public money they don’t have
Officials at Seattle Public Schools just agreed to a new three-year contract with the powerful WEA teachers’ union. The contract will add $228 million, about 20%, to the budget. The new spending comes on top of the billion dollar-plus budget the District has now.
District officials say they don’t have enough money for the contract they just agreed to. Superintendent Brent Jones (annual salary $315,000) says he wants an additional $92 million to fund this new contract. He terms the decision to spend more as “amazing”:
“We have achieved something amazing. SPS and educators across the district pushed our differences aside to reach a bargaining agreement… We have put the needs of our students first… Let’s allow this to be a time of jubilance for our scholars.”
Here are the details.
In 2022-23, Seattle Public Schools has just over 7,000 people on payroll, for a system of 48,784 students, or one employee for every seven students. Yet only 47 percent, or 3,347, of school employees are classroom teachers. The District’s current operating budget is $1.14 billion, or $22,200 per student, more than tuition at most private schools. This money is in addition to the District’s capital budget.
The added $228 million is an average increase of $32,500 per employee. Some will go to double-digit pay raises to current employees. Some will go to hiring new employees, even as student enrollment is falling (enrollment is down 7.5%).
Why would school officials agree to spend money they don’t have? Because the state legislative session is only four months away. Officials will go to Olympia and say schools are “underfunded” and seek a bail-out. They will almost certainly get it.
The Democrats in charge know they must keep their Seattle base happy or risk losing office. Naturally, Governor Inslee will raise no objection. As a result, communities across the state will be forced to help pay for Seattle’s contract give-away, but it will be rolled into the state budget, so it is likely few people will notice.
This repeats the tactic officials used in 2017 and 2018, when school districts and the WEA put school budgets in deficit to get a property tax increase. See page 4 and 5 of our Policy Note for details.
As context, Seattle Public Schools spending increased 50% in five years. See this graph from fiscal.wa.gov:
People are paying more than ever for public schools – more even than average tuition at a private school, yet school officials always say they’re in a budget “shortfall”.
At the same time, learning services to students are down. The latest testing shows Seattle schools failed to educate 82 percent of black students in math and 71 percent of them in English. Scores are down for white students as well.
Parents get tired of wearisome rounds of teacher strikes, followed by an “unfunded” contract, followed by a budget “shortfall”, followed by a taxpayer bailout. Parents want alternatives.
More progressive states, like Arizona and Ohio, are moving forward with school choice. Choice lets families receive education funding directly, then access learning services, including private schools if they want, that best serve children.
School choice is becoming more popular because it ends the union trickery and local corruption in schools. Choice puts the learning needs of children first, and the financial desires of adults second. That way the grown-ups in big urban systems can engage in all the political games they like, while students go elsewhere to get a good education.