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WA Policy Center expert: Teachers union strikes are illegal

(AP)

Liv Finne, director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the strikes threatened in school districts throughout the Puget Sound by the teachers union are in clear violation of state law.

“The law is very clear — public sector employees do not have the right to go on strike and close the schools,” she said.

Finne called the teachers union’s actions a “classic bait-and-switch,” noting that after asking for money to reduce class sizes for the past few years and then receiving that money through the Legislature’s McCleary decision compromise, the teachers union now wants those very dollars to go toward teacher salaries instead.

“School and union officials demand hundreds of millions of dollars more from our taxes to reduce class sizes; that’s all we talk about for years and years,” she explained. “The McCleary money that has been appropriated includes $500 that is intended by the Legislature to provide smaller class sizes … and that money is now being targeted by the union for double-digit pay increases.”

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What’s more, because 2019 will bring a Legislature-mandated cap on local levy funding, school districts in the state could be facing a “potential fiscal crisis,” Finne said. If pay increases for teachers are approved, the funds that provide those raises could soon run dry.

“You can’t keep promising pay increases that you can’t afford,” she stated.

This is not to say that Finne is against pay raises for teachers. On the contrary, she said, there are many talented teachers out there who are greatly underpaid — but at the same time, there are many low-achieving teachers who are being overpaid.

“Teachers deserve to be paid a lot more than they are receiving, if they are excellent teachers,” she said.

She called the system of pay for teachers “unfair,” noting that it is based on seniority rather than merit.

“We have older gym teachers who never grade a paper during the year who are making over $90,000 a year, and then an English teacher teaching high school English who is young and starting out and getting $45,000 a year, and she has 150 papers to grade every week,” she said. “So it’s just completely unfair.

If businesses throughout the state thrive by keeping and rewarding their best employees, and letting their incompetent or lower-performing workers go, then why should it not be the same for the school system, Finne said.

“That is perfectly within the ability of schools to do — private schools do it every day, charter schools do it every day,” she said. “So for the traditional school system to say, ‘We can’t do that,’ is completely bogus.”

She also pointed out that the districts are hiring one non-teacher for every teacher — meaning that half of the money being asked for will not even go into the pockets of educators. Private schools, on the other hand, spend 90 percent of classroom instruction money on the pay of teachers.

“The fact that they’re using money that is intended to help students by reducing class sizes … to give pay increases, that seems to me to be something that the public would be quite upset about,” Finne said. “That the money they’re providing that they were told is going to be used to reduce class sizes is now being diverted to these pay increases. There are other programs that students deserve to get.”

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