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Educator Pay & Benefits

The Legislature has suspended voter-approved salary COLAs for school employees for six years straight

Although voters approved Initiative 732 by 63 percent, the Legislature has suspended the educator salary cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for six years straight.

That means educators’ salaries are more than 13 percent behind where they should be!

Although COLA restoration legislation had more than 70 sponsors and the COLA was funded in the House budget, the final supplemental budget approved in March 2014 did not fund COLAs for school employees. By law, the state COLA goes back into effect in 2015-16. In the meantime, local education associations will turn to the local bargaining table to make up for the lack of a state-funded COLA.

Watch this WEA YouTube video about the Jan. 13 COLA restoration kick-off in Olympia, when more than 115 educators personally lobbied their legislators to restore the COLA.

The COLA would have been 1.2 percent next year, based on the Consumer Price Index. Here is a COLA ad WEA ran in The Olympian. Here is a public fact sheet about the COLA. Here is a chart that shows how much educators have lost because of the COLA suspension, and here is a chart that shows that Washington’s teacher salaries are the lowest among Pacific states.

The average Washington teacher salary is more than $3,000 below the national average.

Individual educators are losing thousands of dollars in salary – and will continue to lose throughout their careers and retirement.

In its McCleary school funding decision, the state Supreme Court was clear: The state must make “real and measurable progress” on increasing salaries for teachers and other K-12 school employees. Yet, according to a brief filed by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools: “… the State underfunds K-12 salaries and benefits by $2.8 billion every year.”

Because of the Legislature’s failure to fund the COLA, beginning teacher salaries will be $5,382 less than what they should have been – and the average state-funded salary for education support professionals will be $4,660 less. Under the law, community and technical college faculty members also should receive the COLA, which means they’ve suffered salary losses as well.

Another way of describing the impact on educators: Classified staff salaries will be 14.8 percent less and certificated salaries will be 16.1 percent less than they would have been if they had received the COLA.

WEA supports recommendations from the state’s Compensation Technical Work Group

Recommendations from the state Compensation Technical Work Group call for increasing starting teacher salaries to nearly $49,000, adding 10 professional development days and increasing salaries for education support professionals. The total cost of the salary recommendations would cost the state approximately $2 billion a year. So far, most legislator are ignoring the group’s work. Read the compensation recommendations.

Among other findings, the recommendations state that under the current system, “The comparative labor market analysis unequivocally confirms that the state does not provide an adequate salary allocation level to attract and retain high-quality staff; therefore, local school district funds must make up the difference to pay competitive wages.”

Currently, the starting base salary for teachers is about $33,000. Here’s the current salary schedule.

Update on early retirement

Some educators who are members of state Retirement Plans 2 and 3 qualify for early retirement under provisions adopted by the Legislature in recent years. Read more about early retirement options, or check out this chart that explains what’s at stake.

Update on ESSB 5940, the K-12 health care bill that passed in 2012

WEA members and their allies fought for months against the proposed state takeover of K-12 health care. Besides being costly, the takeover would have eliminated local collective bargaining over health benefits. In the end, the 2012 Legislature approved ESSB 5940, which makes changes to the K-12 health care system but maintains bargaining rights and avoids a state takeover.

Here’s a summary prepared by WEA lobbyists:

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5940 is more noteworthy, and positive, for what it does NOT do rather than for what it does:

  • No costly state takeover of K-12 health insurance programs .
  • No elimination of local collective bargaining regarding health insurance benefits.

The bill imposes complex and confusing new data reporting requirements on local school districts and attempts to increase affordability and equity in the K-12 health benefit system, especially for those with families, by:

  • Directing progress toward achieving full family premium charges that are not more than three times the employee-only premium for the same plan;
  • Requiring every employee to a pay a minimum premium charge subject to collective bargaining;
  • Stipulating that employees selecting richer benefit plans pay higher premiums; and
  • Mandating the availability of a high-deductible plan with a health savings account.

Achieving these goals will require changes in local bargaining strategies.

Reflecting its drafting and passage without any public review in the waning moments of the final 2012 special session, the new law includes enough drafting errors and disorder to keep lawyers, accountants and risk analysts at work for weeks.  But ultimately it is a far better outcome for K-12 employees and taxpayers than legislation offered at the start of session.

If you have questions about ESSB 5940 or your health care plan, please contact your UniServ council office.


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