Politics & Government

Gregoire supports 1.9% pay cut for K-12 teachers

Gov. Chris Gregoire gave support today to a pay cut for public-school teachers, but not the full 3 percent approved last month by the state Senate for all K-12 employees.

The Senate and House have been at odds over this element in draft budgets that each chamber passed last month. Both are struggling to bridge a $5.3 billion shortfall over the next 26 months.

And the Washington Education Association, which represents some 60,000 public school teachers and certificated staff, has blasted the proposal on pay as one several cuts that harm school kids. The pay cut lands on top of budget proposals worth over $1 billion that eliminate a cost-of-living increase for K-12 employees and cut class-size improvement funds.

The Senate proposes to save $250 million with the 3 percent cut for all K-12 workers, including classified and administrative employees.

But Gregoire says she told negotiators from the House and Senate that she favors a pay cut of 1.9 percent for teachers for the next two school years. That would bring them closer in line with other state-funded employees who face 3 percent cuts under contracts she negotiated.

“You know, I understand what the Senate is trying to do,” Gregoire told reporters after signing another batch of bills this morning. “They are trying to have absolute fairness that nobody walks out of here without having shared sacrifice. A little bit of difference that I would make on the Senate proposal is they take a 3 percent across-the-board for teachers, for classified employees and for administrators. Teachers have already lost their LID days (learning improvement days). That’s equivalent to about a 1.1 percent salary decrease.”

Gregoire said she told budget negotiators earlier in the day that “the decrease in salary for teachers should be 1.9 percent” for teachers. But “there should be an across-the-board 3 percent cut for all classified personnel and administrators except for those beneath $30,000 in income annually. What that would do is make them exactly parallel to how we are treating the state employees,’’ she explained.

The House and Senate are negotiating daily durign a 30-day special session on the 2011-13 operating budget, and the pay cut has left the chambers at odds. The House took a different approach, suspending COLAs and saving almost $57 million more by cutting “step” pay increases granted each year to teachers, based on their years of service and educational attainment.

House Education Appropriations Committee chairwoman Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, has said she would prefer to shorten the school year so that teachers would work and earn less – while avoiding the sticky problem of having rich districts cough up money to avert the pay cuts while poor districts cut pay.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, told our New Tribune reporting partner Jordan Schrader that his caucus still has not settled on a strategy for dealing with the teacher pay. They have a couple of proposals but Sullivan did not elaborate.

Gregoire’s aides have indicated she would not favor shortening the school year from 180 days. Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and other lawmakers of both parties have warned that a shorter year puts the state at risk of legal action, because it in effect reduces the state’s contribution for basic education.

A lawsuit over the adequacy of the state’s funding is already on its way to the state Supreme Court.

Gregoire acknowledged the debate continues over how to put the pay cuts into effect. She questioned whether it would end up as an actual salary decrease for school employees or instead be a cut in state funding for districts that would be absorbed through cuts to other operating costs – such as having larger class sizes.

Gregoire also said that the $182 million in unexpected extra collections from a tax amnesty program for businesses has given the House and Senate the money needed to bridge their basic differences on how much to spend in the 2011-13 budget.

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