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Why Washington teachers are preparing to strike amid new education funding

State lawmakers have provided billions of additional dollars to fully fund education in Washington. Why then, are teachers preparing to strike this school year?

RELATED: Seattle teachers vote to authorize a strike

According to Rich Wood, spokesperson for the Washington Education Association, a problem has emerged at the local level. While the state has provided the money — including $2 billion specifically slated for teacher pay — he argues that budget decisions are made at the district level where things can get messy. In some places, he says, the money is not being put toward better pay.

RELATED: OSPI Reykdal asks for patience as teachers, schools figure out new funding

“It’s really incongruous now to hear school administrators and school boards make excuses and complaining about the fact they are getting millions of dollars of more money,”  Wood said.

Meanwhile, teachers in Sultan have voted in favor of a strike if they don’t reach an agreement for better pay with the school district by Friday. Mount Vernon teachers authorized a strike if they don’t get a contract by September 4. Classes are scheduled to begin on September 5 in Sultan and Mount Vernon.

Vancouver teachers have voted to strike, too, starting on Wednesday. La Conner teachers are also expected to strike at the same time for the same reason. Wednesday is the first day of class in Vancouver. Classes in La Conner are slated to start August 29.

Shoreline Education Association members negotiated the top teacher salary in the state with an average 24.2 percent increase, according to the Washington Education Association.  The top of the scale is now $120,234.

Washington state’s Superintendent Chris Reykdal previously told KIRO Radio that school districts are figuring out how to work with lawmakers’ new budget under the McCleary decision. He has asked for patience while teachers and schools work this out.

“And districts were treated very differently, ” Reykdal said. “There are some contracts that are coming out and really significant increases for teachers and the districts have resources. There are other districts who just simply didn’t get that kind of resource and it’s going to get a little bit tense over the next couple weeks as that becomes a reality.”

Some districts have argued that they are being careful with budgeting because they are getting a bump this year — school levies are still providing money at the same time they get increased state funding. Next year, however, many of those levies won’t be available.

“The increase in state funding is going to more than compensate for whatever reduction in local levy funding they might receive,” Wood said.

“Every school district is going to have substantially more money moving forward,” he said. “Yes, there is a large bump for every school district this coming school year, but into the future they will have much more funding than they’ve had in the past. That’s just really an excuse that some school boards and administrators are putting out there instead of negotiating the competitive pay that teachers and support staff deserve.”

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