‘McCleary fix’ poses challenges for Camas

Superintendent: ‘Transition to new funding model will play out over the next several years’

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The Camas Education Association votes in August to strike if there is no tentative agreement for educator salaries by the first day of school, on Sept. 4. The teachers union and school district found common ground at the final hour, making the Camas School District one of very few districts in Clark County that avoided a teacher strike this year.

The Camas School District avoided a teacher strike this year, but that doesn’t mean the district is completely out of the woods.

Like many Washington school districts trying to figure out the state’s new public school-funding model after state legislators’ “McCleary fix,” Camas faces long-term challenges.

The district and the Camas Education Association (CEA) teachers union came to agreement on educator salary schedules using state-allocated funds to increase teacher pay and fulfill the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which ruled it is the state’s paramount duty to fully fund public education.

CEA president Shelley Houle said the two-year agreement in Camas has a first-year salary schedule that gives entry-level teachers $50,727 per year, while teachers with 16 or more years experience and a master’s degree plus 90 continuing education credits will make $97,529 per year.

In the second year, entry-level teachers will earn $52,868 and educators with 15 or more years of experience and a master’s degree plus 90 continuing education credits will make $100,110 per year.

The salary covers 180 seven-hour work days per school year, and includes base pay, TRI (time, responsibility, incentive and enrichment) pay at 3.3 percent of base pay, three voluntary days, professional development days and a longevity stipend.

Historically, districts have funded educator salaries through a combination of federal, state and local sources, CSD Superintendent Jeff Snell said.

“This has not changed moving forward, although the percentage of funding received through those sources has — with federal and local decreasing while state funding has increased,” Snell said.

To fulfill the McCleary decision, Washington lawmakers raised state property taxes while implementing a mandatory reduction of local levies, to begin in 2019, to compensate for the increased state tax.

In 2018, Camas homeowners paid a state property tax of $2.91 per $1,000 of assessed value and a voter-approved maintenance and operations levy from the school district at a rate of $2.97 per $1,000 in assessed value, with a combined tax rate of $5.88 per $1,000, according to the district.

The state mandated levy swap becomes active in 2019, and taxes will decrease overall, with the state property tax rate at $2.40 and the local school levy at $1.50, for a combined tax rate of $3.90 per $1,000 assessed property value.

In 2020 and 2021, state taxes will rise again to $2.91 while the local levy will remain at $1.50, for a combined rate of $4.41 per $1,000 in assessed value.

“The transition to the new funding model will play out over the next several years, and does present some long-term challenges for Washington school districts, including Camas,” Snell said. “This is one of the reasons why we’ve seen labor negotiations headlines across our state this summer.”

Snell said the new employee agreements in Camas align with the anticipated funding growth for the district. The challenges, he added, are not pressing but connected more to the school district’s long-term ability to increase revenue.

In the past, the district used local levies as mechanisms for keeping up with increased staffing costs.

“As our community grew and needs changed, we were able to ask the community for funding through the levy process to keep pace,” Snell said. “We also used our local levy to enhance the state-funded staffing, providing more programs and additional staff members for our students. The Camas community has consistently delivered that support.”

In the new funding model, the state cap on the local levy limits the district’s ability to use those funds in the same way.

Snell said public schools have always been subject to the changes the state legislature imposes, and therefore operated in two-year windows aligned with the state’s biennium budget.

“We develop a plan for delivering the services our students need and our community expects during that window, while advocating for changes we feel are necessary during the next window,” he said.

The next two years will be important ones, as the Legislature sets the stage for what public schools in Washington might look like in the future.

“Changing the funding model for the state is a major shift. With any type of shift of that magnitude, it’s difficult to get it right the first time,” Snell said. “Specifically, adjustments in the areas of levies, salary and staff allocations, regionalization factors and special-education funding could be helpful in creating a more sustainable funding model for public schools.”

The district plans to provide Camas families more information about the funding model and possible impacts to the district before the next state legislative session.