The Ellensburg Education Association brought up two concerns that effect teacher retention in the Ellensburg School District during its demonstration outside of Morgan Middle School earlier this week.

Not surprising, both involve money.

The association points out that Ellensburg’s pay scale has fallen behind those of other school districts in the region, and that teachers are pursuing administrative positions in order to earn more money.

The first concern can be addressed directly, but the second would require a large systemic change.

First all, welcome back to the always turbulent world of public school funding in the state of Washington. It is only the first of August but back to school items are already stocked in the stores so might as well get back into the money matters.

It is true that teachers can make more money in districts within Central Washington — including in districts similar in size, if not smaller, than Ellensburg.

If you factor in that cost-of-living (primarily housing) is cheaper in many of these communities, the net income difference can be enticing. An argument can be made that Ellensburg has more the offer in overall lifestyle than say Othello (not that there’s anything wrong with Othello), but money talks.

The state’s effort to fully fund K-12 education has helped create some of these inequities — some districts just fared better under McCleary than others. The Legislature did try to patch some of these differences, at least temporarily, in the most recent session but there are looming budget concerns in districts across that state. A story in Wednesday’s Yakima Herald-Republic detailed the Yakima School District’s worries about tapping out its budget reserve by next year.

So, there are districts that have upped teacher pay significantly and other districts that are looking at the budget ledger teetering toward the red in the near future. All this makes it an interesting time to be district finance manager.

The EEA has presented the district with some pay scale options. Labor negotiations can be portrayed as confrontational, but historically the ESD and the EEA resolve their differences.

This matters to district residents because we fund school operations with state and local taxes and we like our schools to have the best teachers possible. Seeing a respected teacher leave because the pay is better in another district also is difficult to witness.

Not that it makes the situation any better, but this isn’t just an Ellensburg problem. Over the next year or two, teacher salary negotiations will be in the headlines across the state.

The other issue with teachers switching to the administrative track comes down to what we incentivize. Administrative positions pay more than teaching positions. People should be supported for pursuing professional advancement, but there is a problem with a system that rewards teachers for leaving the classroom.

There are teachers who do this fairly early in their career because if you do the math, much more money will be made over the course of a career climbing the administrative ladder than in being an amazing classroom teacher.

It raises the question if an exceptional teacher could earn as much as a high school principal to remain in the classroom. There are ranges in teacher pay scales based on experience and advanced degrees, but that’s different than basing wage on quality of instruction provided.

Bottom line, schools and money — we’ve seen this story before and we will see it again.

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