Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Yakima Herald-Republic. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Each month, the Yakima School District selects a “character word” that it wants students to learn and take to heart. Drive around town, and you’ll see September’s word, “RESPONSIBLE,” emblazoned across notice boards at almost every elementary, junior high and high school.
The word, in its expanded dictionary meaning of “having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role,” should also be printed across every contract proposal over which school administrators and teachers in Yakima County districts currently are haggling.
Administrators need to be responsible stewards of their districts’ budgets, bloated by the one-time windfall that is the millions in McCleary money, balancing the pay raises that everyone agrees teachers deserve with the needs of school programs, keeping in mind that their funding will take a hit from a cap on local levies starting next year.
Teachers need to be responsible in recognizing that there should be limits to the high double-digit raises they seek — and which those unions that settled earlier this summer already secured — for the sake of ensuring their districts’ overall fiscal health is hale enough to preserve programs that benefit students.
Chris Reykdal, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, bears responsibility for sending mixed messages to districts earlier this summer. He now counsels prudence in the disbursement of McCleary money — too late, alas, to prevent the chaotic chain of contract-dispute events.
And the state Legislature must be responsible in its upcoming session and work to fix the so-called “McCleary Fix” so that districts that lavished raises as high as 27 percent this year won’t be plunged into insolvency later on.
The bulk of the blame for the protracted teacher salary negotiations still playing out in, Union Gap, Naches, Grandview and other districts in the county — not to mention districts elsewhere in the state that have gone on strike — falls at the feet of Reykdal and the Legislature.
The way the $1 billion McCleary payout was initially presented to the public made it seem as if all the funds were earmarked for teacher salaries. The $1 billion was appropriated this year to enact teacher pay raises for 2018-19 as mandated by the state Supreme Court and was on top of the $7.3 billion approved earlier in the biennial budget for educator salaries. Reykdal, in a July letter to superintendents and the public, proclaimed that there would be “wide open collective bargaining” with teachers, thanks to McCleary.
But a month later, on Aug. 22, Reykdal drafted something of a mea culpa letter, writing to superintendents that “Your practical limitation on collective bargaining is your ability to fund compensation increases in the short term AND your ability to sustain those increases.” Reykdal followed that with a declaration he put in boldface type: “Not every district will have an equal opportunity to provide compensation increases with double-digit percentages.”
In other words, Reykdal’s new advice was, essentially: Never mind about that “wide open” talk. You instead need to think long-term, budgetwise. Give teachers a raise, sure, but remember that you won’t have sufficient local property-tax levies next year to augment the infusion of state money. So, blowing all that one-year spike in money on teachers may result in a dearth in basic educational dollars. It was a dizzying 180-degree turn, and it would’ve been nice for all concerned to know what-was-what from the start. Reykdal’s late course-correction sent mixed-messages and has complicated negotiations with teachers unions that took note of some of those early double-digit raises and insisted on similar deals at the bargaining table.
Responsibility doesn’t lie with Reykdal alone, though. The Legislature was nebulous in specifying rules for teacher collective bargaining and in not being clear enough in emphasizing the one-time-only nature of the McCleary windfall. In the next session, it needs to address shortfalls that are consequences of the local levy cap, as well as find money to bolster districts’ dire need for more special education funding and reducing class size in kindergarten through third grade.
This much is certain: Lawmakers won’t be doling out an extra $1 billion to districts every year, as they did this year in the McCleary fix.
That, of course, wouldn’t be responsible.