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Bethel School District: State’s new formula to fund public schools ‘flawed’ on teacher salaries

SPANAWAY, Wash.  — As the state pumps more money into schools, one local school district says the state’s new formula is flawed, at least for their district.

The Bethel School District is worried about teacher salaries, saying they are at a big disadvantage compared to other districts in Pierce County.

During class transitions at Cedarcrest Middle School in Spanaway, more than 700 students converge into the hallways. It’s overcrowded and so are the classrooms.

But now there is a new problem in the district.

It comes down to recruiting teachers.

“How do we compete? We don’t,” Superintendent Tom Seigel said.

It boils down to the state’s formula to equalize teacher salaries across the state.

Districts will no longer be able to use local levies to pay for salaries; instead, every district gets a certain amount from the state and how much they get is tied to property values in the area.

“It will harm us over a long period of time,” Seigel said.

Seigel says other districts within Pierce County are getting more money for teacher salaries.

And when you have 80% of your teachers not living in the district, it’s hard to compete with other schools like Tacoma or Puyllup, which will be getting more money for their teachers.

“Why would a teacher, 80% who lives out of our district, drive 40 minutes, maybe an hour, from our district and get 10 percent less?" Seigel asked.

They will get about $5.2 million less per year for teacher salaries; that means for an individual teacher, that’s about $4,700 less than other teachers in surrounding school districts.

That discrepancy in teacher compensation has parents concerned.

“The kids are going to come here, there is no question about that. We are growing so rapidly,” parent Jon Holdaway said.

Holdaway is a former teacher himself and he feels so passionate about his daughter’s education that he is now lobbying for votes from his Yellow House Barber Shop.

“If they vote and they bring in their 'I Voted' sticker, we give them a $2 off on their adult haircut,” Holdaway said.

He’s hoping a brand new bond and two levy renewals on the ballot February 13 will solve the overcrowding issue.

But some voters are asking if they can they afford higher property taxes.

“Everything is going up. It’s really hard to live out here,” Graham resident Pamela Milcarek-Kidder said.

“I understand the problem of paying taxes,” Seigel said.

But Seigel says even if voters approve the bond and levies, property taxes will actually go down by about $250 for an average homeowner starting in 2019.

That’s because of the state’s new formula.

But the bond and levies will not solve the teacher pay discrepancy. That is up to the Washington Legislature.

Seigel has gone to the Legislature nearly a dozen times the past two weeks to lobby lawmakers to fix the teacher salary discrepancy along with other educational issues.

The Legislature is brainstorming ways to address the teacher salary problem.