Editorials

Our Voice: Teacher pay, class sizes are state issues

Greg Olson, president of the Pasco Association of Educators, is surrounded by picketing teacher union members Sept. 1 as reporters get his response to the Pasco School District taking legal action against the striking union.
Greg Olson, president of the Pasco Association of Educators, is surrounded by picketing teacher union members Sept. 1 as reporters get his response to the Pasco School District taking legal action against the striking union. Tri-City Herald

For many Tri-City families, last week marked the end of summer vacation and a return to school.

But not in Pasco where a teachers strike shuttered classrooms. Pasco is one of several school districts around the state where teachers have voted to strike.

The Washington Education Association has been frustrated by the Legislature’s lack of education funding for many years, demanding higher pay and smaller classrooms. So it’s no surprise that local WEA affiliates across the state are demanding the same from their school districts. And perhaps we shouldn’t automatically dismiss speculation that the number of districts threating to strike this year is a strategy to force the hand of the Legislature in the next session.

In essence this is a strike against the Legislature. And that’s where the power to correct deficiencies rests, not with the local school districts. The McCleary decision was clear that the responsibility for paying teachers and reducing class sizes rests with the Legislature.

Voters passed Initiative 1351 in 2014 to limit the number of students per class, but our state’s lawmakers suspended it because it would cost billions of dollars we don’t have to implement it as passed.

A local district can’t bear the cost of creating smaller classes beyond building expansions already planned. But it remains a demand of the union in local district strike threats. The demand is further complicated by the lack of qualified teachers to fill even existing classroom needs.

Pasco teachers are also demanding a pay increase. The district offered 9 percent over three years, with some of the funding tied to passage of a levy in 2016. That is in addition to the 4.8 percent increase already granted by the Legislature. Under the McCleary decision the district probably shouldn’t even be offering a 9 percent increase from district funds because the state is supposed to pay for teacher salaries. Local dollars should go toward new text books, improved curriculum development — which are also strike points for the local union - and other programs.

Our state has spent more on education with the recently approved budget than it has in decades, maybe ever, in response to the McCleary decision that said basic education needs guaranteed in the constitution were not being met. By all accounts it’s not enough, quick enough.

The teachers union can’t threaten the Legislature with a strike because it’s the local district’s responsibility to pay for what the Legislature won’t. Perhaps it’s time the responsibility to both fund and pay teachers rest with the state Legislature.

Editorial board members Michelle Whitney and Laurie Williams were not involved in discussions of the board that led to this editorial position. Whitney is a member of Pasco School District administrative team and Williams is the spouse of a Pasco teacher.

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