The Legislature has suspended voter-approved salary COLAs for school employees for six years straight
Although voters approved I-732 by 63 percent, the Legislature has suspended the salary cost-of-living adjustments for school employees for six years straight. Along with the Legislature’s elimination of three learning improvement days and last year’s 1.9 percent cut in salary funding, educator salaries have taken a major hit in recent years. And while health care costs have increased, state funding for health benefits has not increased, which means educators are paying more out of pocket.
WEA members believe the Legislature should restore the I-732 educator COLAs this session. The average Washington teacher salary is more than $3,000 below the national average.
It also means 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 last year, 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.