School safety: School Board reviews current policies, brainstorms new ideas

The state Legislature’s actions to come in compliance with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling to fully fund K-12 education has had ramifications for the Ellensburg School District.

The state Legislature’s actions to come into compliance with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling to fully fund K-12 have had a lot of unanticipated consequences throughout Washington state school districts, but smaller districts are feeling the aftershocks especially hard.

The idea of the McCleary fix was to increase equity between schools districts throughout Washington state, primarily the urban-rural divide, but many would argue it has only exacerbated the divide.

Most districts prior to McCleary had two pay structures in place — Salary Allocation Model (SAM) from the state and supplemental pay from the district. This past negotiation cycle collapsed the two together in most districts.

Ellensburg paid its teachers based on the number of years a teacher had taught and how much education they had and used funding from the state and local school levy tax to fill in the gaps.

The McCleary settlement, on the other hand, has changed the pay structure. No longer will teachers be paid on a state average salary pay structure, and no longer will the staff mix factor be considered.

What this means for school districts like Ellensburg is rather than looking at a teacher for how long they have been teaching and matching pay to those numbers, the state now only pays on the overall average of the teachers in that district.

In the Ellensburg district roughly 49 percent of the 213 teachers are at 16 years or higher on the scale, which means almost half of Ellensburg’s teachers are at the top of the pay scale.

Because of this split Ellensburg loses out on a 4 percent high staff cost adjustment, since the district doesn’t quite meet the threshold for the number of experienced teachers versus non-experienced teachers.

Normally it’s positive to have experienced and educated teachers in a district, but the state is no longer considering that as a reason to give extra support and aid. The reason for this new model was the hope to disperse roughly the same amount of funding to each school district based on numbers. While on paper this might seem like a logical and equitable system Ellensburg Superintendent Jinger Haberer would argue otherwise.

According to the ESD, student counts are what are now determining how much funding a school district will receive from the state. Ellensburg Business Director Brian Aiken said the number of students drives how many teaching staff or administration will be hired to support those students.

HOW WE GOT HERE

Aiken said the state gave the Ellensburg School District $4 million in funds, but with the levy dropping from $3.46 per thousand to a $1.50 cap the ESD lost almost $3 million and used most of the state funding to cover the loss of those costs.

“It’s the cap on the school levy, that’s what’s killing us,” Aiken said. “When you look at things like levy equalization assistance (LEA), which is state-funded, we get $856,000 because we are not considered a poor property district compared to other places.”

Other districts that were deemed to be in high regional cost areas, like many of the West Side schools, were given a regionalization funding. Ellensburg received zero, despite the cost of housing and living to be higher compared to neighboring areas.

When compared to other school districts like Othello who received $4 million in LEA funding and Selah who received $2.8 million in contrast to ESD who received $800,000 in LEA funding.

Aiken said McCleary has put everyone all over the map in regards to state funding and one of the biggest challenges and concerns is the inequity McCleary has created for teacher salaries.

“They’re just purely looking at numbers and not really matching it up with the reality of the requirements our district is facing,” Haberer said.

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