By Jami Lund
Everett school district voters have the opportunity to shape the priorities of Everett Public Schools in this November’s election — do they want schools operated in the interest of adult employees or should another approach be considered?
Two spots on the board are contested, and Everett Education Association officials have selected and funded their favorite candidate for each.
The teachers’ union officials want Ted Wenta on the board, and contributed $900 — the maximum allowed — to his campaign. They also want incumbent school director, Carol Andrews, back on the board, and they gave her $900 — her sole contribution.
So why do union officials care who is on the school board in Everett?
The National Education Association encourages union officials to recruit and train school board candidates so that employees can elect their own employer.
Union officials like to stack school boards with sympathetic candidates since the school board decides how to spend levy tax funds when negotiating with the union.
The Everett School Board has used this power to the extreme. Everett offers its teachers the highest levy-funded wage enhancements in the state. Nearly half of the operating levy for Everett citizens is not used for services to the community, but is instead used to enhance the wages of state-paid employees.
In the last collective bargaining agreement, the Everett school directors required levy payers to provide more than $19 million to add to employee wages for unverified responsibilities. This amount adds bonuses worth between $10,469 and $26,085 to the compensation of employees already receiving state-provided compensation averaging $65,752.
These bonuses are regressive, meaning the highest paid employees receive a bonus worth 42 percent of their base salary, while the lowest paid only receive a 33 percent bonus. Furthermore, these levy-funded enhancements increase each year under the terms of the contract.
In addition to wage enhancements, the school directors add more than $300,000 from the levy to the health benefit pool for employees, and provide $450 bonuses for those working all 180 days of the school year.
Using limited levy funds for wage enhancement takes resources away from support services like supplemental learning time for students, dropout retrieval programs, school safety efforts, or specialized programs like art, music or athletics.
Such a diversion of funds often means that parents start paying for activities which levies used to cover. It can also mean that districts defer maintenance and drain their financial “cushion.” Everett currently has one of the lowest reserve funds per student in the state.
State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn warned in June that Everett was among those who would “not be able to meet their financial obligations — including meeting payroll and making utility payments if they do not receive their July apportionment payment from the state.”
Some might suggest that the excess pay is for responsibilities outside of the school day, but the minimum levy-funded wage enhancement of at least 33 percent is the equivalent of 60 workdays.
The concern about time for professional responsibilities is also addressed in the calendar. The directors in Everett have created an employee-centered calendar in negotiations with the union officials.
Everett students are released early 37 days of the year. Shortening school days ends up being another benefit to employees, who get paid the same or more for a more convenient schedule. Tasks and responsibilities formerly handled at the edges of the intact student learning schedule can now be handled during the day.
The board has also secured special permission to shorten their school year to only 177 days for nine schools. A predictable, robust school calendar is called for by leaders ranging from President Obama to President Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education, yet Everett’s priority appears to be employee convenience.
Most voters statewide have no choices for school board candidates, but Everett citizens do have a choice. So write to the candidates. Ask them the hard questions, and make them describe the vision they have for improving services and effectiveness. Whoever gets elected will be deciding how to spend levy funds in 2015 when the collective bargaining agreement is reconsidered.
Jami Lund is a Senior Education Policy Analyst for the Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank in Olympia. He served as an Education Policy Analyst for the state House of Representatives, Republican Caucus from 2005-11. He can be reached at email@example.com.