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Liv Finne: Teachers union wants pay increase at cost of taxpayers

Teachers across the state went on strike at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. (Washington Education Association)

With teachers from 15 school districts around the state voting to strike, the teachers union is “using strikes to intimidate districts into providing these pay increases that they cannot afford,” said Liv Finne, director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education.

According to Finne, the strikes will affect one in five public school students in the state — a total of 200,000 kids.

The problem, Finne told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, is that the money coming for education in this year is artificially inflated due to a post-McCleary-lawsuit transition period from local to state funding of public schools. The 2012 McCleary decision ruled that the state — not individual districts — must fully-fund education.

At the moment, revenues are flowing in from local levies as well as from the state; however, this will not last. The “levy cliff” that begins in January 2019 will limit the amount of local levy revenue that school districts can collect.

RELATED: The truth about teacher pay in Washington

“This year, there is a spike in money coming from the state, so next year there will be a reduction in money coming from local revenues, because that’s been imposed now in this McCleary lawsuit,” she explained. “What’s happening is that there’s a shift in money for the schools away from locally-provided money to state-provided money.”

In this interim, Finne said, the teachers union hopes to usher in gigantic pay increases that will not be affordable for the districts after the levy money goes away. When that happens, the only choice will be to raise local taxes — despite the fact that state property taxes already increased to comply with McCleary.

“This is the game they’re playing, absolutely,” Finne said. “This is a pattern over and over again … all this money that the union is rushing in, the next thing they will do is push to remove the cap on local levies, so that in addition to the state property tax rising dramatically, the local levies will also rise.”

Looking at the numbers

Teachers union members in Shoreline negotiated a 24 percent pay increase, the highest in the state. As to where this money will come from next year when the local levy funds dry up, Finne surmised that it could be taken from student programs that are meant to reduce class sizes, help students with learning difficulties, and aid children with special needs. The current teacher pay increases could even result in staff layoffs in the future.

It’s not as though teachers do not get raises; Finne pointed out that teachers in Washington automatically have gotten a pay increase annually for their first 16 years in education. The state, she said, has also provided cost of living increases.

The average salaries and benefits of teachers in every school district in Washington can be viewed on the state superintendent’s website.

“The statewide average for all teachers is $65 an hour including benefits,” Finne said. “If you take out the benefits, it’s $48 an hour.”

Finne said that the teachers union doesn’t want these numbers to be known and tries to mislead the public “because it counts on painting a picture of poverty; they say teacher pay is not fair.”

RELATED: Teacher strikes violate state law

“The people who are paying the teachers’ salaries are making almost half of that an hour, but they’re working many more hours, they don’t get the pension benefits, they don’t get the health care benefits that teachers get,” she said.

The union does not just cover up teacher salaries for the public, Finne said. It also hides from the teachers the true impact that their large pay increases have on the average workers that pay for them.

“This is a serious problem for people, and if the teachers really understood this — they are hurting people because of these really unreasonable pay demands,” Finne said.

Ultimately, this hurts taxpayers such as elderly people on fixed incomes and young families struggling to buy a home who cannot afford the high property tax increases in the region.

“What they want is a pay increase at the cost of taxpayers,” Finne said. “And the taxpayers are working very hard today to provide huge amounts to the schools.”

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