Oak Harbor School District teachers’ pay is falling behind | Sound Off

By Peter Szalai

Are teachers overpaid? Up until recently, the national dialogue focused on raising teacher salaries, cognizant of the profession’s traditional low pay and the value that our society has for public education. As recently as 2000, the voters of Washington passed an initiative that guaranteed teachers an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) so that at least they’d be protected against inflation. In comparison to other states, Washington used to rank fifth in the nation in how it compensated its teachers, but just as the percentage of the state’s budget devoted to education has shrunk every year for the past decade, so too has how much we pay teachers.

A first-year teacher in Oak Harbor earns $33,618. After 16 years, a master teacher finally achieves a professional salary of $63,364. From years 17 until about 42, teachers are primarily dependent on the Legislature for COLAs and for raises. The legislature has repeatedly suspended the COLA initiative and is expected to repeal it permanently. Not only is the Legislature not offering raises, it has reduced salaries by eliminating professional training days and, in effect, cutting school by 3 1/2 days.

Teachers receive the bulk of their pay from the state, which sets a state-wide salary schedule. School districts then commonly provide supplemental pay. Supplemental pay is a mixture of TRI (Time, Responsibility, and Incentive), additional meeting and training days; 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.

In Arlington, a similarly sized school district to OHSD, teachers at the top of the salary schedule earn an additional $17,421; in Oak Harbor, the supplement is $6,689.

Over the years, the teachers’ union, the Oak Harbor Education Association, has sought to keep wages in Oak Harbor about average to what is offered in our region and by school districts our size. Over the past few years, we have fallen behind, and we are now moving toward becoming a low-wage district. To pay Oak Harbor teachers a wage that is only average would cost about $780,000. That’s how far we have slipped.

The good news is that Oak Harbor teachers have never made exorbitant demands, have never made teaching on this island about money. As we prepare for bargaining next month, our top concerns are about having time to do our jobs, providing more support for special education students, and lowering class size.

As a community, we need to figure out what we want from public education and what we’re willing and able to provide the Oak Harbor School District. Right now, our students receive fewer opportunities because our levy is lower than other Skagit and Island County communities, and lower than other military communities. Clover Park which serves Joint Base Lewis-McChord families provides more than double ($3,492) per student in levy and federal impact aid support than does Oak Harbor ($1,622).

Oak Harbor taxpayers can be proud of the responsible and transparent stewardship of public funds; of a fiscal fidelity to reasonableness and value.

However, the inescapable conclusion that the preponderance of the evidence in both need and comparison with other school districts shows is that Oak Harbor’s levy needs to be raised to near the average.

Please do this for the kids.

Peter Szalai is president of the Oak Harbor Education Association.


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