Washington school salaries hard to compare

November 16, 2016

OLYMPIA – Devising a way to compare teacher pay among the nearly 300 public school districts around Washington is difficult because of differences among the districts and the way they set salaries, consultants told lawmakers Tuesday.

They vary based on many things, including the number of students in the district and whether it is urban or rural, rich or poor.

“We did not find one typical school pay formula,” Maria Gingerich, a consultant for Third Sector, Intelligence, Inc., told a special legislative panel that has to make a recommendation on school salaries to next year’s Legislature.

That underscores one of the difficulties lawmakers will face next year as they try to come up with the money to meet a state Supreme Court order to provide the money to meet a constitutional requirement on supporting public schools by paying the costs of “basic education.” The state is currently under a $100,000 per day fine for not coming up with a plan to cover those costs.

Salaries are a major part of each district’s budget. The state paid $3.6 billion for all public school employees in the last full school year, 2014-15, consultants said. But school districts paid an extra $1.4 billion, with most of that going for items that would qualify as basic education under state law.

Most teachers and administrators receive supplemental pay, with the large districts paying higher amounts, more frequently, consultants said. But there is no single profile of an educational salary and no simple set of categories for supplemental pay.

The consultants will give lawmakers a model for determining how a change in the amount of money the state pays for different programs would affect school salaries, but it will be up to the Legislature to decide on the changes.

Consultants presented a 75-page PowerPoint presentation on the complexities of school salaries and the analysis they did to compare teacher and administrator pay to jobs in the private sector and said several hundred more pages of data will be coming soon. But members of the Joint Education Funding Task Force still took issue with some of their calculations.

When comparing school pay with similar occupations in the private sector, consultants offered both a straight-up comparison and another where private-sector job salaries were reduced by 17 percent to account for the fact that the school year is only 10 months long.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the 17 percent reduction isn’t fair because it assumes all teachers can automatically go out and get a summer job. Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said many use that time to get the professional development or advanced degrees the state encourages or plan for the coming school year and must survive for 12 months on their pay from the school year,

But Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, thought private sector pay should be reduced by 25 percent for that comparison, because a school year has 180 days, while a regular work year minus weekends and some vacation time is about 250 days.