Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bellevue Teachers' Strike Continues

Well it seems that Bellevue teachers are still out on the strike lines. I got so much traffic from that last post; it actually startled me a bit. It seems that many people are out there looking for information, and I just hope they realize that I am NOT an inside source. However, I can provide some information that is commonly available or is true of most teachers. For example, how about a lesson in education funding policy? Doesn't that sound like fun? Here's my simple-minded understanding of the situation.

In the state of Washington, all teachers are paid on a state-mandated pay scale. That means districts must pay the same regardless of where the schools are located. Equal pay is a good thing right? Not always. In most industries, employers link their compensation offers to new employees to the cost of living for the local community. In other words, if your employee has to pay $2000 a month to rent a decent apartment near work, you know you will have to offer more in his/her paycheck. In other words (again) you have to pay people more in Manhattan than you do in Columbus.

In Washington, everyone gets the same base pay. Period. There are some sneaky ways that districts can offer more if they have it, such as the extra duties contracts that many districts have. However, a state cap on the amount of money a district can raise in taxes also hobbles the ability to offer more pay. You can see where this is going.

A teacher in a small town in Eastern Washington earns enough pay to afford a comfortable standard of living. A teacher in a pricey city like Bellevue will have a much harder time affording a house, a car, and groceries at the same time. We lose so many excellent teachers every year who either leave the city for cheaper homes in the outlying areas, or simply leave teaching so they can afford to stay in the Seattle area. My school lost one of its top teachers to this very effect just this year.

Now many people would argue that teachers should vote with their feet when it comes to pay. If they don't think they earn enough, then maybe they should quit and go somewhere else. However, I don't believe it is right to ask teachers to make huge personal sacrifices just so that they can continue to teach in certain areas. If you don't want to pay teachers more, then offer subsidized housing, mortgage vouchers, or any of a number of programs to offer non-cash assistance. In the end, this is as much a state level problem as it is a district one, and I sincerely hope that Olympia is paying close attention to the situation in Bellevue.

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