All’s well that ends well.

Yes, Virginia, there is a school year.

However you want to phrase it, there was a collective sigh of relief across the Ellensburg School District when it was announced that the district and the Ellensburg Education Association had reached a contract agreement.

There has not been a strike in the Ellensburg School District in recent memory but this year it seemed like a possibility.

The state Legislature’s attempt to come into compliance with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling to fully fund K-12 education has introduced its own form of financial inequities in the name of balancing school funding across the state.

There are definite winners and losers under the new funding system. What exacerbates the situation is the winners and losers can be in proximity to each other. That means a district that fares well can pay teachers more than a neighboring district.

On one hand, this is the free market system at play. Teachers can, to a certain degree, opt to take more money for the same labor. In the private sector this would not be seen as a problem — rather it would be an opportunity.

But on the other hand, the public school system is not a free-market system. It is taxpayer supported with the expressed goal of providing equal educational opportunities regardless of location.

What that means is if District X can entice teachers from District Y with better pay that creates issues for District Y. It is an interesting thought, but it is unlikely that legislators intended to create a bidding system where teacher resources would be allocated on the basis of a district’s ability to offer higher wages.

This seems like one of those unintended consequences, perhaps the result of massive bill being passed at the last minute without being read, let alone analyzed.

Even the possibility of a strike created friction in the community, between those who feel teachers are underpaid and those who feel public sector employees (including teachers) have no idea how much better they have it in Kittitas County than most private sector workers.

Both sides have a point. Teachers are not responsible for private-sector pay and benefit levels, but they are public employees so their pay is legitimate target for public comment.

What we all want — parents, students, teachers, staff, administrators — is the best public school system possible within our means.

Teacher pay is part of that, but at the end of the day the focus needs to be on preparing and assisting every child to reach his or her potential in and out of the classroom.

The reason labor disputes can be so troubling in the school system is they create a distracting disagreement when everyone involved really wants to be locked in on the primary focus.

Come Wednesday morning the talk will just be about the start of another school year — which is exactly what we want.


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