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Editorial: Our teachers are being fed a bowl of lies

Ken Vance Editorial Clarkcountytoday.com

There’s only so much education funding to divide; how much of ‘the pie’ will it take to satisfy teachers?

I, obviously, have not been on the inside of the negotiations that have taken place all over Clark County in recent weeks between our area school districts and the unions representing the teachers. But, I don’t feel I’m going too far out on a limb to say that it sure appears that our teachers are getting some really bad information from their union reps.

Ken Vance, Editor
Ken Vance, Editor

As I write this, all but two school districts have settled on a new contract. In the Evergreen and Battle Ground school districts, administrators and negotiators for the teachers are still trying to reach agreements that would settle their disputes and get students within those boundaries back to school.

Here’s why I believe I am accurate when I make the claim that teachers are getting bad information from their unions. The teachers continue to attempt to perpetuate untruths. And, every time I hear them utter these ridiculous claims, I have to remind myself that they’re being fed the lies by others. Shame on them for following along like mindless sheep, but nonetheless, they are being hand fed this nonsense by folks who are likely well enough informed that they know they are lies.

“All of the money allocated by the legislature to satisfy the McCleary Decision was intended to go directly, and completely, to teacher salaries.’’

It’s simply not true. Maybe the legislators who remain disgustingly quiet about the mess they helped create have contributed to this misconception with their silence, but nevertheless, the $8.1 billion that Washington lawmakers approved in their last two sessions to satisfy McCleary was not intended to just address teacher salaries.

K-12 education funding now makes up 52 percent of the state’s general fund budget. I like to refer to that as “the pie.’’ It is the finite amount of money available to pay for the education that our public schools provide our children.

Our teachers, influenced by their leadership, are going after every last crumb of that pie that they can get their hands on. And the more of the pie they successfully force to be allocated for their own pay, the more other line items in the budget will be adversely affected. And, who suffers when that happens? The students.

The best explanation of this was offered this week by Vancouver-based forensics accountant Tiffany Couch. Couch is a resident of the Battle Ground School District and she offered her explanation and findings for public consumption on her Facebook page.

In an entry she titled “New Facts – And a Changed View,’’ Couch detailed her examination of the Battle Ground School District’s 161-page detailed budget, called an F-195 report.

There’s still only one pot of money,’’ Couch wrote. “Those total funds are $188,650,480. Don’t let anyone try and tell you there’s more money to spend. There’s no mythical, magical money tree in the District’s back yard. This is the finite amount of money available to spend from all sources.’’

Couch went on to write, “$19,163,977 has been added to the instructional budget over and above last year’s budget. That is the net McCleary money (State Funds minus loss of Local Levy) … That $19.1 million is made up of different instructional activities, like regular education and special education and vocational education.

“Each of those activities has a series of expenditures, from certificated salaries (teachers) to classified salaries (paraprofessionals) to material and supplies, to purchased services (e.g. online classes), to its share of capital projects,’’ Couch added. “What I found is that of the $19.1 million in increased expenditures, about $8.1 million has been allocated to increase certificated salaries (this is the combination of salaries plus benefits).

“HERE’S THE KICKER: More than $10 Million of the increase has been allocated to Supplies & Materials and Purchased Services (this represents more than one-half of this year’s increased instructional budget),’’ Couch revealed. “The question I have is the Union upset that too much money was allocated to Supplies & Materials and Purchased Services and not directed towards the salaries? In other words, perhaps they aren’t asking for MORE money but rather, they are asking that the money that is ALREADY THERE, be taken out of the supplies and materials and purchased services category and redirected to the salaries category?’’

It supports my premise that the “pie’’ is only so big and if the teachers take a larger piece of that pie, others in our school districts, including the students, will suffer. If teachers received the entire $19.1 million added to the budget in the form of increased salaries, where does the district find the extra $10 million it has already allocated for supplies, materials and purchased services?

Why isn’t an 11.5 percent increase enough if it allows for funding for those other necessary areas?

Other untruths disproved by Couch

Couch also revealed that in the Battle Ground School District budget that she took a deep dive on, “The budgets for the administrative office actually went down for the most part. Which is also contrary to what the Union is telling you.’’

In a separate post, Couch also shared a recent conversation she had with a local teacher who claimed she hadn’t had a pay raise in five years. In the interest of space, I’m not going to go into great detail, as Couch did, but I will share the results of her findings.

“As you will see, for the Battle Ground School District, teacher salaries have steadily increased in EACH of the last 5 years, on average a total of $13,778 per FTE (or 21.97%)!’’ Couch wrote. “As you will also see, these actual numbers — from the OSPI website, do not support the Union’s allegation that the teacher’s haven’t had a raise in years.’’

For greater detail, visit Tiffany LeMay Couch’s Facebook page to read her public comments: https://www.facebook.com/tiffcpa .

Washington Education Association television commercial offers more untruths

Far too many times in the last week or two, I have watched a television commercial paid for by the Washington Education Association (WEA). Each time I see it, I get more disgusted.

If you haven’t seen it, take a look here, it is posted on the WEA website:

https://www.washingtonea.org/ourvoice/post/teachers-strike-in-seven-southwest-washington-districts-which-unprecedented/

More than anything else in the commercial, the thing that drives me crazy is the claim that “some superintendents still refuse to increase pay.’’ Every contract that has been agreed upon in Clark County includes a significant pay increase for teachers (reportedly all double-digit raises). And, in the two districts where teachers are still on strike, they’ve been offered substantial pay increases.

In Battle Ground, teachers are being offered an 11.5 percent raise and they’re asking for 19.5 percent. In the Evergreen School District, teachers are in the final year of a three-year deal. Last I heard, the district had offered more than an 8 percent raise that would allow their teachers to collectively remain the highest paid of any district in the area.

So, the claim made in the WEA television commercial is simply not true.

One more frustrating thing, and is the tide turning?

Evergreen school teachers marched into a Columbia Credit Union managed by school board Director Julie Bocanegra on Tuesday, to tell her Superintendent John Steach wasn’t bargaining in good faith. Photo courtesy Evergreen Education Association
Evergreen school teachers marched into a Columbia Credit Union managed by school board Director Julie Bocanegra on Tuesday, to tell her Superintendent John Steach wasn’t bargaining in good faith. Photo courtesy Evergreen Education Association

I still believe that more people in our community support the teachers’ strikes than don’t. I have no scientific proof, but I think I’m in the minority in supporting the teachers while not supporting the strikes. However, I think the public sentiment is beginning to turn.

Friday in Battle Ground, a group of counter protestors clad in blue shirts, took to the streets to speak out in opposition to the strikes. They were still outnumbered by the teachers, clad in red shirts, but it’s a sign that some of the teachers’ tactics are wearing thin on the community.

The most disgusting act I’ve heard of throughout this excruciating exercise occurred this past week when Evergreen teachers marched into a Columbia Credit Union branch managed by school board Director Julie Bocanegra to tell her that Superintendent John Steach wasn’t bargaining in good faith. These are the professionals teaching children what is appropriate and what is not?

I will be so happy with this ugliness ends.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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