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Oak Harbor School District levy may include staff pay, benefits
Oak Harbor teachers are paid less than average but will the money be made up with local levy dollars?
The Oak Harbor School Board and district staff discussed this question at a community forum Monday evening, but staff pay and benefits are just one of many topics the school board is considering for the 2013 levy.
The state allocates a base amount for staff salaries, wages and benefits but the school district is expected to supplement that income. In Oak Harbor, this supplemental pay is funded by federal Impact Aid; in all other districts in the state, local levy money is used, said Superintendent Rick Schulte. However, staff pay accounts for more than 80 percent of the district budget and Impact Aid money is decreasing. It represents 9 percent of the budget, Schulte said.
Washington state once ranked number five in the nation for average teacher salaries; now it ranks 21st, said Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association.
Oak Harbor teachers earn 19 supplemental days, five of which are professional training days or used as extended meeting time and 14 of which are “Time, Responsibility and Incentive days,” or TRI.
“TRI days are used by teachers at their discretion to partially recompense them for time that they routinely spend outside of the work day and work year to lesson plan, assess student work and communicate with parents; work that must be done but cannot be accomplished within the regular work day and work year,” Szalai said.
This supplemental pay is sometimes used to purchase classroom supplies and materials not provided by the district, Szalai added.
This year, the Legislature cut the amount of money districts use to pay teachers by 1.9 percent. Oak Harbor chose to cut teacher pay by 1.9 percent, while many other school districts chose to shoulder the burden or deal with it in another way, Szalai said.
Szalai’s answer for getting Oak Harbor back to paying average wages would cost $780,000. Included would be $100,000 to continue funding the teacher-directed start-up day, which is set to expire this year; $550,000 for five and one-half additional TRI days; and $130,000 for retired teachers’ medical coverage.
“I’m tired,” said Val Jones, who teaches first grade at Hillcrest Elementary School. “Of trying to meet the needs of what the STAR test says for kids who can barely read. I don’t think the public understands the social, economic issues that teachers deal with.”
She teaches 25 students with individual issues, from family troubles to being born addicted to drugs. The class size used to be limited to 22 and she said a class size of 18 would revitalize her.
“We’re asking so much more of kids and so much more of teachers. A teacher with smaller class sizes is much more effective,” said Oak Harbor High School English teacher Erik Christensen.
“It tears me apart to hear a teacher say, ‘I am tired,’” said Corey Johnson, board president.
As costs go up and Impact Aid doesn’t, school board member Gary Wallin said the levy is the only way out.
“We’ve got to find a way to do this and the levy’s going to be the way,” Wallin said.
Another levy and budget planning meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, March 19 at the district office.
To learn more about the school district, levy and student accomplishments, pick up a copy of the district news at the City Hall, Oak Harbor Library or Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. For information, call the district office at 279-5000.