“Local control” will be one of 2017’s Olympia buzzwords

You’re going to be hearing a lot about local control from the state teachers union, the WEA, in the months ahead. The local control issue is not about the local school board and apple pie and the homecoming dance. It’s about the same thing it always is: money and control.

When the Legislature convenes in January, the dominating topic will be how to finally meet the state Supreme Court’s McCleary order to fully, stably, and equitably fund public schools. It’s that equitable part that has the WEA worried, though you won’t hear them say it.

Does it make sense to negotiate salaries at the local level?
To meet McCleary, the state will take on even more of the responsibility for funding teacher salaries, exposing the absurdity of negotiating salaries at the local level in 295 separate school districts. Shouldn’t the entity ultimately paying the bills – the state – be the one teachers negotiate with?

The WEA fears this scenario. It hopes to cling to the status quo because this is the route to more money. The union argues in a blog post that it’s working to ensure “that parents, educators and community members have a voice in shaping their public schools, including the ability to approve levies to support student programs beyond basic education.”

It’s that last part that’s the key. Local levies approved by voters are a major source of money for teacher salaries – on average, districts kick in $14,000 above what the state contributes for teacher salaries, as reported in the Seattle Times.

Local salary enhancements are supposed to be for extra responsibilities or time spent. Instead, the system is abused to cover regular salary increases. The old notion that levies are for new technology and band uniforms is outmoded. The chief financial officer for OSPI confirmed to the News Tribune earlier this year that the “‘vast majority’ of the $2 billion in local levy money school districts spend each year goes toward supplementing what the state pays for employee salaries, not paying for extracurricular activities or programs outside of basic education.”

The union doesn’t want local levies to be capped in any way, even though lifting the caps is what caused the vastly differing funding of schools around the state, which the court ruled is unconstitutionally inequitable. The WEA wants additional funding from the state for schools, but without any reduction in added-on money from local taxpayers.

That’s a recipe to soak the taxpayers and exacerbate the problem of inequitable funding. It simply isn’t an option. Keep that in mind next year when you hear a renewed passion from the WEA for “local control.”
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.