Students are now missing school, statewide officials absent

For one week and counting top state officials have been unresponsive to a request from Sen. John Braun to help prevent school closures. On Aug. 24 the Senate Republican budget leader sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal requesting they take an active role in ensuring all schools would be open to students on schedule.

“Our statewide elected officials have a moral responsibility to be actively engaged in ensuring both sides reach a fair agreement so tens of thousands of children can get back in the classroom,” said Braun, R-Centralia. “I’m disappointed that I have received no response from them, but more importantly students, parents and teachers have heard nothing but silence. Starting school on time should be our state’s top priority right now and doing so deserves leadership from statewide elected leaders. Sadly this leadership is currently missing.

“Last week I was concerned about the possibility of children missing class, but there was still time for everyone to come to an agreement and avoid doing harm. But now there are schools closed and students losing out on learning, which is incredibly disappointing and unnecessary given the significant funding increases the Legislature made in recent years.”

In his letter, Braun cited historic investments in Washington state’s public schools that would allow districts to invest in improved educational programs and higher teacher salaries. As a result, more than 50 percent of the current state budget goes toward public schools, which has not happened since the 1981-83 budget.

“The adults in the equation aren’t arguing about no raises versus some, but rather a significant increase compared to an unrealistic one,” said Braun. “We’ve seen multiple instances where school districts have offered 15 percent raises, which have been rejected by union officials demanding 25 to 35 percent increases. I and the overwhelming majority of Washingtonians support paying our teachers well, but there are cases where demands have been wildly unrealistic, even as school districts make competitive offers.”

According to the district and news reports Tumwater educators rejected a 15 percent pay increase over two years and continue demanding twice that amount immediately. Aberdeen union officials also rejected a 15 percent raise and instead have requested a 35 percent pay increase.

During the upcoming 2018-19 school year the state will provide an average of $72,000 for teacher salaries statewide, not including supplemental local pay. Those figures do not include pension, health care and time off benefits.

“It’s incredibly important that we have high-quality teachers in our state and empower them to prepare our children for the future,” said Braun. “I am encouraged to see many districts and teachers reach an agreement in recent days, ensuring children can return to the classroom on schedule. I hope that governor, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction will recognize the problem facing schools where there has not been progress and engage in the process because every day students are kept out of school because of a strike is a day their education is disrupted.”