Freedom Foundation

Teacher Strikes, Self-Interest And The Paramount Duty

The Washington Education Association has planned on staging work stoppages this fall and set money aside to facilitate them. WEA wants all locals to demand a 5 percent per year increase for each year of the contract.
Where does the money for these perpetual increases in payroll come from? Cannibalizing current services, diverting new state money or draining reserves.
A taxpayer can’t refuse to pay taxes. A student cannot refuse to attend school. Legislators are in hot water with the Supreme Court for inadequately funding education. Why are union agitators the only party for whom the “paramount duty” of the state can be shunted aside for mere personal gain?
Pasco union officials are now mobilizing employees and withholding services from children. Their goal is an 11 percent raise in addition to the 4.8 percent the state just provided. The board has prepared to hold the line. They are also allowing a glimpse at the items of disagreement and their cost.
Seattle union officials want to divert money from other priorities in order to give teachers a 21 percent raise over three years (current average wage will be nearly $69,000). In addition, the union wants to set district policy related to the schedule and measures of student learning. A strike vote will be taken this week if demands are not met. The district is offering information about the issues.

Many districts are reporting aggressive demands by employees in return for agreeing to start school as required. Spokane, Wenatchee, KelsoProsser and South Whidbey are reported in the news, but more districts are facing unfeasible demands by their public employees.

Here is why the union is particularly aggressive even with state raises.

It is actually illegal for school boards to negotiate salary with teachers.

Revised Code of Washington 28A.400.200 and 44.59.935 requires that teacher salaries end up on balance the same as is specified in the state allocation system. This is because the last time the state was challenged about underfunding basic education, the final solution was for the state to guarantee all salary for all basic education teachers.

But unions and willing school boards have used a loophole in the law to once again begin using levy funds to pay salaries. This practice has grown rampant without legal challenge. Some districts give more than 30 percent salary increases in violation of the intent if not the letter of this law.

The state’s own Basic Education Finance Task Force recommends returning to the ban on levy-funded salary enhancements unless employees are actually working additional time. Recently, lawmakers have been struggling with compensation reform for teachers, and they are very likely to end this practice that has drained so many services from children.

WEA sees the end of an era of bullying volunteer school boards (some of which union electioneering put into office).

As the door closes on this practice, the union officials will seek to have legislators make up in state resources whatever the local districts have promised at the bargaining table. This is why WEA is particularly aggressive this year seeking 5 percent each year more than the state increase of 4.8 percent.

As a private enterprise collecting $1,000 each year from teachers, it makes sense for WEA to work hard on these issues. But we cannot pretend that it has anything to do with the best interests of families.

Who should control school policy?

In addition to seeking money, many of the news stories report that the union negotiators are demanding to control significant public policy issues like testing, curriculum, the schedule, supervisory duties and even big-class bonuses.

If the employees control these issues, will the best interests of students be served? The schedule that’s most lucrative for employees likely is not the best for students. Testing to assure that learning is occurring is a kind of accountability that employee unions typically oppose.

Curriculum choices should be made thoughtfully with a comprehensive approach. Reducing supervisory responsibilities also reduces the attentiveness to students. Employees commonly favor financial bonuses for large classes over actually reducing class sizes.

Why would we elect lawmakers and school directors if the employees can overrule the community priorities in favor of an employee-interest agenda?

Even if a private, self-interest group is going to be a partner in making these decisions, at least they can hold the meetings in public view so that union marketing doesn’t conceal the potential harm to families’ interests.

It is time to evaluate whether the teachers’ union policy control and fund siphoning has done more harm than good to our education system.


See also

Senator Hewitt guest column, “Union, district impasse shows need for transparency

Currently governing Pasco teachers’ union contract promising “no strikes” on page 8