Vashon High School (File Photo)

Vashon High School (File Photo)

State’s education funding plan comes up short on Vashon

The Vashon Island School District is expected to pass its 2018-19 budget at its June 14 meeting, but there is frustration among some teachers and support staff that the budget does not include substantial salary increases.

Earlier this year, state legislators provided $1 billion for teacher salaries as part of the funding plan mandated by the McCleary Decision, which ordered the state to fully fund basic education. This year, legislators said they did just that, with some giving the message that teachers should expect substantial salary increases. The Washington Education Association (WEA) is also actively involved and created a video for its members, telling them to expect and fight for salary increases, suggesting a 15 percent increase for teachers and 37 percent increase for support staff.

At the Vashon Island School District, however, administrators say they would like to give higher raises, but the McCleary funding is not providing what many had hoped.

At the most recent school board meeting on May 24, the district’s Executive Director of Business and Operations Matt Sullivan presented the budget to the board. The nearly $23 million spending plan is up about $1.4 million from this academic year’s budget, a typical increase for recent years, according to Superintendent Michael Soltman. Much of that increase will go to funding salaries, including a 4 percent raise for teachers and a 3 to 4 percent raise for others — a long way from what some have indicated could be possible.

Next year from the state, Soltman said, the district will receive an additional $2.4 million, but that increase will be offset by $700,000 less in local levy funds and a $340,000 reduction in federal money, bringing the district back to the typical $1.4 million increase.

“McCleary provided additional state money, but was it a windfall? Not so much,” he said. “It allows us to honor our contracts in place for next year.”

One of the elements of the legislators’ funding plan is called “regionalization.” Based on the median home values of communities around the state, legislators have allocated variable amounts of extra revenue, above a base amount, for teacher salaries. Those amounts range from none in some areas to 6, 12 and 18 percent in others. A few outlier districts will receive 24 percent. Much to the frustration of many at the district, Vashon will receive 12 percent next year, while many nearby districts — Seattle, Burien, Highline, Bremerton and North, Central and South Kitsap — will all receive 18 percent. The difference, Soltman said, is nearly $600,000 for the year.

“Our staff would have been more competitive with … all those places if we had been granted the same regionalization factor as everyone else,” he said. “So there is a tremendous amount of angst that our salaries are going to be less competitive than they could have been.”

Soltman added they worked closely with Vashon’s legislators on this matter, but “got nowhere.”

Zabette Macomber, chair of the school board, called the situation “a set-up for disappointment.”

She noted the post-McCleary funding solution was years in the making, and expectations were high.

“There is so much behind it, and to have this come out and have the legislators say, ‘We did it’ — but it did not work out so well for us — that is why this is so hard,” she said.

Meanwhile, Soltman had called a district-wide meeting for Monday afternoon so that the implications of the McCleary funding could be better understood by everyone. On Monday morning, he delayed the meeting, with another scheduled for next week that will include WEA representatives, local union leaders and district officials.

The head of the the teachers’ union, the Vashon Education Association, declined to comment about teacher concerns as they are in discussions with the district. But Mary Reeves, co-president of the Vashon Education Support Personnel, reached out to The Beachcomber independently, saying the members of that union planned to attend on Monday (before the meeting was postponed) and ask that its members see raises well beyond the 3 to 4 percent scheduled.

“We want to bump up the entire salary schedule so that the lowest paid person makes $20 an hour,” she said.

The union includes administrative staff, paraeducators, specialists who work with kids with disabilities and playground and lunch monitors.

Human Resources Director Amy Sassara said this union includes 45 people with wages ranging from $13.44 per hour to $30.41.

Reeves noted that many of the union members live in subsidized housing and rely on the food bank, as the island has become such an expensive place to live.

“We don’t have a livable wage, and we really need that,” she said, adding that the union will continue to press for livable wages beyond when the budget is passed.

Like Soltman, she mentioned the regionalization factor.

“We think it should be 18 percent,” she said.

Macomber agreed, saying that the extra nearly $600,000 would have been extremely helpful this year.

“Whoever wins Sharon Nelson’s seat, we will be talking to them right away,” she added.

Macomber noted that coming up with a funding plan was complex for legislators, with no easy answers.

“It is so complicated and nuanced with so many moving parts,” she said. “We just kind of got squashed by some of the moving parts.”

Reached about the regionalization issue specifically and post-McCleary funding as a whole, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon said he believes that overall the state’s children will be better for the influx of new funding, although additional money for districts is still necessary for needs outside those considered “basic.”

He added that it is fairly typical in King County and the Central Puget Sound region for school districts not to see much change this year in overall funding. The schools where the new funding model is most noticeable are in poor districts with low property values, he added. Those districts had often not been able to supplement state funding with substantive levies, as wealthier districts did.

He noted that the King County region is subsiding education throughout the state, because this is the area that is most prosperous, adding that this issue comes down to a philosophical question about equal education.

“I think that it is the right thing to do because we do not want kids to receive a better education because they were born in a ZIP code that has higher property values,” he said.

Speaking about regionalization specifically, he said that the formula for figuring out which districts got how much of an increase included average housing values for 15 miles beyond the school district’s boundaries. Tacoma is receiving 12 percent, and he believes that influenced Vashon’s allocation.

If the 12 percent is a problem on Vashon, he said that those concerned should be in touch with their elected officials and let them know, as they can make adjustments along the way — something he said is easier to do when they are working on a biennial budget, not a supplemental budget, as they were this year.

“The district, parents and educators should let us know what the challenges are,” he added.

Fitzgibbon also noted that when Legislators are in session again, they will continue to look at ways to fund education, which accounts for more than half the state budget. This year, the funds are coming from higher property taxes, but he said Democrats hope to find more sustainable models of funding.

Looking ahead, Soltman said he expects negotiations to go on for some time — just as a Seattle Times article earlier this spring said would occur in school districts throughout the state, as administrators and unions adjust to the new funding model. Soltman added that the budget could be amended as needed — and that he believes a common understanding will be helpful for the negotiation process.

“I think we are all looking forward to coming to a clear understanding together of how the McCleary funds impact the budget,” he said.

The next school board meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at Chautauqua, room 302.

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