Blame the state’s school funding ‘fix’ for Kennewick’s stalled teacher salary talks | Editorial

Kennewick teachers vote to strike if no agreement by Aug. 26

Rob Woodford, Kennewick Education Association president, tells about the vote by Kennewick teachers to strike if a tentative contract agreement with the board and district is not reached by Aug. 26.
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Rob Woodford, Kennewick Education Association president, tells about the vote by Kennewick teachers to strike if a tentative contract agreement with the board and district is not reached by Aug. 26.

On Monday evening, Kennewick teachers were still in contract negotiations with school district officials, and the threat of a strike on the first day of school was looming.

Both sides met with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board on Monday to discuss the impasse. It’s clear both sides want teachers in the classroom and not on the picket lines.

But it was also clear the teachers’ union believes the school district has the money to meet their demands — it’s a matter of priorities, they say.

And school district officials say they are limited by a new state salary system for teachers, and that they will have to make cuts in programs in order to give teachers the pay hikes they want.

We’re not picking sides, but we do believe the state Legislature’s inadequate attempt to fix inequitable school funding has hurt Kennewick more than many other school districts, including Pasco and Richland.

Kennewick teachers, we hope, will recognize that the state bears much of the blame for putting the district in this financially difficult situation.

In June, we urged state lawmakers to figure out how to repair the financial damage they inflicted on school districts across the state when they set up a new school salary plan for teachers.

The former teacher pay schedule set state salaries for all teachers depending on their years of experience and their education level.

School districts were allowed to add to those salaries with local levy money, but that caused an inequitable system where poor communities were not able to pay their teachers as much as wealthier school districts.

In order to even the playing field, the state did away with that formula and instead gave each school district a lump sum for salaries to be prioritized by each district.

To compensate for those school districts where the cost of living is high, the state provided additional money. Richland received “regionalization” money — nearly $4,000 more per teacher —while Kennewick and Pasco did not.

It makes no sense. If one city qualified for the extra money, all three should have.

Kennewick teachers want their salaries to be level with Richland and Pasco, but Kennewick School Superintended Dave Bond said without the regionalization money, it makes it tough to put Kennewick teachers on par with Richland teachers.

Pasco is a district with fewer experienced teachers than Kennewick, which allowed it to give its teachers a more significant pay raise with the lump sum from the state. This discrepancy is also making it tough for Kennewick to match Pasco salaries, Bond said.

The way the school funding system is now, Bond said school districts will be looking to higher cheaper teachers rather than those with the most experience.

It’s a rotten situation for everyone — students and teachers, alike.

State legislators should take a look at how their new state plan for schools is affecting the Kennewick schools and repair the damage during the next legislative session.

In the meantime, we hope the teachers and school administrators reach a resolution soon.

We fear there is a good chance that Kennewick teachers could strike this week, and if that happens the disruption to the community would be terrible.

Parents who were counting on their kids being in the classroom while they are at work will have to make day care arrangements. School bus drivers and cafeteria employees will be stuck waiting to hear when they can get back to work.

And a community with a long history of supporting Kennewick school funding requests — including a construction bond measure last spring —will be left wondering how this breakdown between teachers and school administrators happened.

State officials may have set up this fight, but unfortunately it is up to Kennewick teachers and school district administrators to end it.