Opinion: ‘Ever-increasing teacher salaries are breaking the budgets of area school districts’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares his thoughts on public school funding and rising teacher salaries over the past decade.
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Public school funding has been a problem in Washington state for a long time

Ken Vance, editor
Clark County Today

I have no doubt that there are many, many folks in the Washington Education Association, as well as area teachers’ unions around Clark County and Washington state, who are very educated and intelligent. I can surmise that is the case because I’ve observed how successful they have been over the past decade-plus in achieving their seemingly singular goal. And that is, to raise teachers’ salaries.

Ken Vance
Ken Vance

I’m in favor of all human beings maximizing their individual earning potential. I would like everyone to be prosperous. I grew up in a household of modest income. My parents always managed to provide what we needed, but I witnessed that it wasn’t easy for them to do so. It gives me a tender heart when it comes to the financial fate of others. But, what I am not in favor of is folks who benefit financially on the backs of others, meaning their advances are created at the expense of the hardship of others.

Public school funding has been a problem in Washington state for a long time. A relatively brief recent review takes us back to the 2012 Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary Ruling, which agreed with a previous ruling that the state was not fulfilling its obligation to fully fund education. In short, since that ruling, Washington lawmakers have poured billions of dollars from the state budget into funding public education, which now accounts for more than half of all state spending.

Ever since the McCleary money became available, teacher unions in this state have done everything they can to make sure those funds translate directly into teacher salaries. We have now seen multiple contracts negotiated by districts around Clark County that have often resulted in double-digit percentage wage increases for teachers, who have often resorted to illegal strikes in order to squeeze every last penny out of the districts.

We’ve all seen the photos from those illegal strikes. Teachers dressed in red union T-shirts carrying signs about how they are doing what they are doing because they are looking out for their students. At best, that premise confuses me. Oftentimes, it actually infuriates me.

I don’t see how rapidly escalating teacher salaries benefit the students. I understand that if teachers were being paid poverty-level wages, the best and the brightest would likely find another profession. In the interest of our children, we obviously don’t want that. But, we are well past any concerns such as that. If you want to find out what your child’s teacher is being paid, it’s all available online including here. A great number of teachers around Clark County make salaries in excess of $100,000 per year, and that is a school year, not a calendar year.

Again, I sleep very well at night knowing teachers are paid well. I graduated from a public high school in 1981. At that time, I knew of teachers that had salaries in the $25-30,000 range. Even at that time, that sounded surprisingly low to me. So, it doesn’t necessarily bother me when I see teachers today making six-figure salaries. However, I say that with a very large caveat. What are the impacts of teacher salaries in that range?

Last week, Clark County Today reporter Paul Valencia put together a roundup story of area district’s struggling to put together their budgets for the 2024-2025 school year. 

• The Evergreen School District has a $19 million budget shortfall and last month its school board passed the district’s recommendation to cut 124 full-time equivalent positions.

• The Vancouver School District has a $35 million budget shortfall and its school board passed the district’s recommendation to cut 260 FTE positions. 

• The Battle Ground School District has an $8.5 million budget shortfall. There are not expected to be any layoffs but positions will be eliminated. The district does expect affected employees will be able to find other positions within the district. 

I can’t help but think about those teachers who were picketing just last fall and what was going on in their minds as they were holding their district hostage for double-digit salary increases. Those teachers had to know that the result of those pay increases would be that many of the teachers on the picket lines with them would soon lose their jobs. And, how does that benefit the students when the Vancouver School District eliminates more than 200 positions, including teachers? Or the Evergreen School District eliminating more than 100 positions, including teachers?

And, if anyone thinks the striking teachers and their unions didn’t know what the results of their actions last fall would be, consider the fact that some observers have been predicting this dynamic for many years.

Sen. Ann Rivers, herself a former teacher, laid it out for Clark County Today in an interview in the fall of 2018, almost six years ago.

“I would say that, for a significant number of teachers, the union just signed their pink slip,” Sen. Ann Rivers said in a story Clark County Today published Sept. 26, 2018. “Because the only way that a school district can get out of this, unless there’s significant new funding from the state, is to fire teachers.”

Rivers, a former middle school math and science teacher, told Clark County Today at the time that she asked one union rep for their thoughts about the teachers who might be laid off as a result of the new raises they were pushing for.

“’Once they’re not employed, they’re not my problem anymore.’” Rivers claims she was told. “When I was a teacher I paid my dues because I thought they were going to keep me employed.”

As for the future, Rivers said:

“The reality is, Republicans are in the minority, and there’s very little that we’re going to be able to do to stop the freight train,” she said.

Sen. Rivers was prophetic in predicting the future six years ago. Democrats have remained in control of the Washington State Legislature. More and more money is being funneled into funding public schools, and that comes from the taxpayers. And, the unions have remained in control of how the state education budget is divided so those ever-increasing teacher salaries are breaking the budgets of area school districts. That is not what’s best for the students or the taxpayers.


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12 Comments

  1. Debby Prentice

    Thank you Ken for a very well researched and well written opinion piece. You are spot on. Another factor not talked about much is the school districts are losing funding because of declining enrollment. Fewer students equals a need for fewer teachers and other staff. The school districts have been kicking the can down the road for years by continuing to approve and sign union contracts they can’t afford, and they have finally reached the end of the road.

    Reply
  2. Dave Roberts

    Good article and 100% identifies the problem. The TEACHERS UNION knows exactly what they are doing. The are following the script established decades ago. They collect pay, bonus and retirement LONG after the teachers themselves are laid off because the city, districts and the taxpayers are taken for the financial ride. The last paragraph of the article hits the nail on the head.
    DEMOCRATS and the people need to vote 🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬

    Reply
  3. Valerie in Vancouver

    I agree with everything in this article, however, two points that the author didn’t cover:
    The Covid insanity, and the Leftist agenda (DEI and LGBTQIA+ insert random letters here) that has corrupted our public schools and sent parents packing up their children for private schools or opting out and homeschooling, or children who were simply lost from the education system forever. Our children could not receive an education while teachers (with their powerful, evil unions backing them) refused to actually DO THEIR JOBS! They proved themselves to be non-essential workers while parents who were essential workers paid their salaries so school employees could stay “safe at home” and vacation in Mexico. You can’t un-see what you’ve seen. And when your school district spends $67million on DEI consultants, not programs, just consultants, while students are not even in the classrooms and children of color, low income, and children from single parent homes suffer the most due to Leftist agendas, you’ll never vote for a levy (or a Democrat) ever again.
    Teachers are no longer thought of as hometown heroes who mentor our youth because they are called to be educators and mentors of our youth. They are known to be mercenary agents shopping for the highest bidder to get what they can, while they can (till the system collapses), or government bureaucrats ready to sell their souls to the devil to promote their own hegemonies.
    It’s too late for my son who was failed in EVERY WAY by the public schools, Vancouver School District to be specific. It might not be too late for your child/children! Vote No on every levy. Vote No on every Democrat – they have failed us in every way. If you have the means, enroll your child/children in private school; better yet, home school them. Form a pod or a co-op with friends, neighbors and coworkers.
    As a single, wage-earning parent, I have struggled to do the best I could to provide for my son in every way. My single regret: I did not move heaven and earth, make every sacrifice necessary to get him out of the public school.
    We are both still paying for this.

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    1. John

      I’d say the administrators pay is more questionable and then look at the staff they have. Not that many teachers are paid $100,000 per year. Washington teachers were paid way less than Oregon for years and had a far meager retirement and benefit package. What I can’t believe is how many students miss class, how many vacation days they have.and how parents take them out of class at any other time they feel like traveling. It is unbelievable how many are on the ski slopes during time they should be in school. As far as what is being taught, maybe greater care should be put on who serves on the school boards.

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  4. Fox

    The increasing cost of teacher salaries also affect future bonds. Property values went up 20% last year and with that, the amount we pay to schools also went up. If future bonds want to be added, then reduce the Levy, which means salary cuts. When over 2/3 of property taxes are going to schools, you know spending has gotten way out of control.

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  5. DONALD LEE TAYLOR

    I live right next to Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School. It’s like they are out there all the time yelling for more money, and they bring the kids with them!!! Why are the kids involved? To learn how to yell for more money??

    I’m an Industrial Maintenance Tech. I’ve never made that kind of money, even with the element of danger I have to face. I have literally seen guy’s lose body parts working where I do. I almost lost my right Thumb!

    I made $80,000 dollars one year and that’s only when I worked double shift’s all year long. The most money I have ever made. Usually, it is much, much less. If it weren’t for sky high taxes on like EVERYTHING! I could have owned my own home by now instead of squeaking by year after year paying rent.

    Not only that, but I have also never had ANY Children. If those spoiled Teacher’s want more money, take it from Parents whose Children are being programmed there. After all, they are the ones who get the big fat tax returns and subsidies… Not Me!

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  6. Bob Zak

    I agree with Senator Ann Rivers concerning teacher’s salaries. Teachers are a union shop. What is reasonable for salaries? Recently I learned that a tenured teacher is making over $100,000 a year. I have only one thing to compare that to, myself as a retired Fish and Wildlife Police Captain retiring after 35 years, we lived in Vancouver. I salary was around 75,000 so in our Pers 1 system my retirement was 60% of that. So I think a teacher salary of over $100,000 is extraordinary. We also fought budget constraints all the time in Fish and Wildlife. As I retired our budget was in DEEP RED and I remember about 15% of the enforcement staff were “pink slip” out. We were one of five programs and each program HAD to do layoffs to get our “budget balanced”. Is there not a state law the requires all agencies to live within a budget? The junior level staff person ALWAYS the brunt of the deficit. But that is life. Live WITHIN our means.

    Reply
    1. Kristie

      Bob,
      I’m assuming you were retired by or before age 70? Since your age appears to be around age 83, that would put your retirement date somewhere around 2011. If you made $75,000 then, it would be the equivalent of $103,470 today, according to the CPI inflation calculator. Extraordinary!

      According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, an entry level fish and wildlife officer position requires up to 38 weeks training. I imagine you had years of experience and additional training. For a fair comparison, an entry level teacher is required to have a minimum four-year bachelor’s degree to earn a salary tens of thousands dollars less than the extraordinary salary you referenced. Earning the $100,000 salary requires that a teacher have taught a minimum of 14-16 years and have a master’s degree plus 90 credits–the equivalent of a PhD. Seems less extraordinary considering the facts, don’t you think?

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      1. Debby

        Your salary comparisons are misleading. The $100,000 teachers’ salary is for 180-182 working days per year. The Fish and Wildlife salary you adjusted for CPI would be a full annual salary (240+/- days).

        Reply
  7. K.J. Hinton

    Rivers shouldn’t have voted for the insanity of the McCleary budget.

    The bow wave impact, easily foreseen at the time, is coming to fruition now as our property taxes, which Sen. Wilson assured us would result in LOWER property taxes… and not the massive increases we’ve experienced..

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  8. K.J. Hinton

    And, given the horrific academic outcomes of the public schools in this state (google “OSPI Report Card” to find out how bad they are) teachers should be providing REFUNDS for the products they actually produce.

    Statewide, 50.7% of students are at grade level in English, 39.1% in math, and 42.9% in science. Only 69.7% attend school regularly, yet somehow, 83.6% graduate.

    How is that even possible? And we’re wasting billions on absurdly high salaries for THIS academic disaster?

    https://washingtonstatereportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/ReportCard/ViewSchoolOrDistrict/103300

    And where are the parents? These figures show what a disaster our public-school education system is, and the parents (not to mention our legislators) remain silent. Leftist unions own the democrats. Who owns the GOP?

    Reply

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