Tri-City teacher salaries closing in on state average

New state standardized salary schedule responsible for pay discrepancies

Kennewick teachers walked out of their classrooms, delaying the start of school by four days this year amid salary concerns.

The move resulted in an 8 percent raise for educators in the Tri-Cities’ biggest school district, putting their salaries more in line with neighboring districts. But why was there a pay discrepancy in the first place?

One factor at play was state lawmakers’ decision to toss a standardized salary schedule for teachers.

“Rather than provide districts with the funding for each teacher’s salary on a uniform state salary schedule that recognizes experience and education, a system that worked well for over 40 years, the Legislature changed to a flat rate model. In this new model, districts get a flat rate for each teacher of $66,520, regardless of the teacher’s experience and education,” according to the Kennewick School District.

Under this new system, if an average teacher base salary fell below the state average, the districts have the ability to pay more. But Kennewick said it doesn’t get additional funding to cover these salary gaps to bump its average teacher salaries above the state average.

Additionally, a new system of regionalization also threw the method of teacher pay into “chaos,” said Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association, which represented the certificated teachers in the collective bargaining.

“The model it is now doesn’t make more sense. When they threw out the salary allocation schedule, and the staff mixed factor, they kind of ruined two of the best aspects Washington had in the education system. Teachers could bargain for wages with a baseline to start, due to the salary allocation schedule, and school districts could count on being able to hire whomever they wanted. Now they’re starting from ground zero instead of having a place that’s fair to start from, and it’s every man for himself when it comes to bargaining for wages,” Woodford said.

The state’s regionalization system assigns a figure to an area, based on its average cost of living, which allows for additional funding if it’s estimated to cost more to live in that district’s boundaries.

Richland received a higher regionalization factor, bringing with it more funding, compared to the Kennewick or Pasco school districts—neither receive regionalization dollars.

The Kennewick district said the inconsistency amounted to about $4,000 more per teacher a year for those employed in Richland.

There’s wide discrepancy across the state, according to data from the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which tracks salaries by taking a snapshot of them at one point in time annually.

The state’s data is the teacher’s average base salary before stipends or supplemental contracts are added on, which aren’t the same across the state, OSPI officials said.

Kennewick School District officials also pointed out that the data submitted to the state in the fall is “cleaned up” as the year progresses, with districts submitting revised numbers in the summer. But those revised numbers aren’t the ones OSPI uses to monitor statewide salaries.

The most recent OSPI data from October 2018 shows the base annual salary for a certificated teacher in Kennewick was $67,005 for its 1,116 teachers. The district is the largest employer in Kennewick. The newly negotiated “average” teacher salary in Kennewick now is $80,096 annually, according to the district.

Richland’s 751 teachers earned an annual base salary of $73,248 in 2018, according to OSPI data. Pasco’s 1,164 certificated teachers earned $70,616 annually.

It should be noted unions representing Richland and Pasco teachers already had negotiated new contracts prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year.

In nearby Kiona-Benton City, Prosser and Finley school districts, teachers made $71,115, $67,528 and $71,419, respectively, during that same time in October 2018, according to OSPI.

In the Seattle School District, the annual base salary for a certificated teacher was $70,165, in Spokane, $75,299, and in Vancouver, $66,702.

The teachers earning the highest annual base salary in the state are 1,430 educators in the Edmonds School District, north of Seattle in Snohomish County. They earned $92,502 annually in 2018-19, according to OSPI. The least compensated were in Summit Atlas, a tiny district in King County serving West Seattle and White Center that opened as a charter school in 2017. Its 23 certificated teachers received an annual base salary of $40,272 each.

The state’s average annual base salary was $73,009 for its 66,391 certificated teachers in 2018.

Woodford said the figures often can be misleading when people think teacher compensation covers a 12-month schedule.

“People think we have paid holidays, we don’t. People think we have paid summers, we don’t. What happens is we’re paid on a contract that’s literally 180 days a year, 7 1/2 hours a day. No teacher puts in 7 1/2 hours a day. There’s a lot of extra time that teachers put in because you’re dealing with human beings and there is a lot of extra work,” he said.

The decision to change the way the state funded its school districts and the way teacher salaries were determined is a result of a court case known as the McCleary decision, named for a family who sued the state alleging inadequate funding of the public schools. The state Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the state to come up with a new system to properly fund public education.

It resulted in a $2 billion windfall set aside by the state for primary and secondary public education.

Many contract negotiations and strikes affecting school districts across the state occurred prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year when the new law was put in place to “fix” the old system and properly fund the schools. This resulted in double-digit pay increases for many teachers whose pay had stalled from salary caps that were in place.

“I probably went for a decade where I never got a single increase. I kept on working,” Woodford said. Prior to the 2018-19 school year, Kennewick did not have an open contract and its teachers were not in a position to bargain.

Kennewick School District said the four primary changes from the McCleary decision were all detrimental to district, including the regionalization bumps. The district pointed out that it is the largest district in the state not receiving regionalization, and therefore, extra funding.

Additionally, the district said a flat salary allocation negatively affects communities with a more experienced staff, who can earn higher salaries than the state-funded average salary allows. The district also did not qualify for extra funding due to a new system called the “experience factor.” While Kennewick’s staff had a mix of experience above the state average, it didn’t meet the threshold to receive additional funding.

Finally, the district was financially impacted by the decision to reduce the maintenance and operations levy from $3.35 per $1,000 of assessed value for property value, to $1.50-per-$1,000, which resulted in a loss of revenue estimated at $12.6 million.

In 2019, maintenance and operations levies proposed by school districts and approved by voters were replaced by enrichment levies. Enrichment levies are capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. Districts with more than 40,000 students can receive more. It was part of the state’s solution to solve funding challenges brought by McCleary. Levy money cannot be used to pay teacher salaries.

The Kennewick Education Association was aware of these changes to the district’s financial picture, yet still felt the district had an adequate reserve fund to pay its teachers on a level similar to the neighboring districts. Both sides agreed to a new two-year contract in late August.

The Pasco School District and Pasco Association of Educators’ two-year contract is in place through 2020. The district last saw a strike in 2015.

Richland Education Association teachers have been able to avoid a strike; they signed a three-year contract in 2018.

KEA representatives say teachers are satisfied with their new contract. “People are excited about the raise, but at the same time, you can’t face 150 kids a day and be thinking about money the whole time,” Woodford said.

The hope is that any contract negotiations between districts and unions can be negotiated successfully without the need to walk off the job, he said.

“Teachers don’t want to be on strike and districts don’t want to have strikes. But part of collective bargaining is that this is a power people have, to control what they get paid for their labor,” he said.

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