The economy is shaky. People have lost their jobs. Families are running out of money with which to feed themselves and pay the rent. Teachers are challenged to educate the country’s children using the internet alone or by combining the internet and some version of in-person classes. Teachers, especially older ones with underlying health issues, face the risk of contracting Covid-19 from the children they teach. Meanwhile, families in Spokane County struggle with what is sometimes third world internet access as they try to balance at home learning, child care, and the risk of children returning to school. Families, children, and teachers are all stressed.
Former Legislative District 6 (southwest Spokane County) WA State Senator and current Spokane County Treasurer, Michael Baumgartner offers advice. His solution for the county’s fiscal woes and challenges facing education: Cut teacher salaries! The school districts should offer families a stipend to make up for the loss of in school instruction. In other words, instead of supporting public education as it faces the challenges of the pandemic, let’s defund and undercut it! A formulaic Republican fiscal opportunity!
He offered his teacher pay cut proposal in the same news conference he used to announce he was extending the deadline for payment of property taxes. Extend the deadline, not cancel. That’s not in his power, he said. Neither is it within his power to cut teacher salaries, so why suggest it? In times of budget constraint it is a standard Republican tactic to focus attention (and therefore blame and a reason for them to sacrifice) on any group they can paint as under-performing and/or over-compensated. Remember Reagan’s “welfare queens” and his obsession with cutting income tax?
According to a Spokesman article from June 24, 2020, “A beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is scheduled to earn $50,424. That jumps to $79,275 for a teacher with a master’s and 10 years in the classroom.”* At the very top end of the scale a Spokane Public Schools teacher can make (with extra hours) $101,482. Mr. Baumgartner makes $111,562.49. A high school science teacher with twenty years experience, teaching Advanced Placement course, and trying hard to incorporate online teaching into the curriculum is likely working harder than Mr. Baumgartner and probably has more education. Is Mr. B turning back some of his salary?
Like the entire Republican Party, Mr. Baumgartner is incapable of admitting that the State of Washington has the most regressive state tax system of all fifty states. (Roughly 50% of Washington State taxes are spent education.) “Poor residents here pay 16.8 percent of family income in state and local taxes while the wealthiest 1 percent pay only 2.4 percent.” To Republicans that’s the way it should be. The Republican answer to any shortfall, like the one we now face (consider the drop in revenue from shrinking sales tax receipts, a particularly regressive tax), is to ignore the revenue side of the budget and concentrate on defunding social services, education in particular.
For Michael Baumgartner government is not about collaboration, it’s about sticking it to people. The 2012 McCleary Washington State Supreme Court Decision told the State Legislature to live up to the State Constitution’s promise to provide “ample” funding for basic education. State Republicans maneuvered to avoid actually addressing the regressiveness of our state tax system. Instead they managed to wring out a compromise that drained funds from Spokane Public Schools and then blamed recent and long overdue teacher raises for the required belt tightening. The compromise “levy swap equalization” squeezed money out of school districts that were relatively well funded in order to shift the money to less well-funded districts and comply with the McCleary v. Washington decision. Republican legislators got a twofer: they avoided addressing of the regressive state system and (with the help of the Spokesman) they got reporting that put a lot of the blame for the Spokane Public Schools’ shortfall on the teachers and the teachers’ union. In a fundraising email from Baumgartner on July 21, 2017 he was proud of the Republican strategy to get around raising taxes–in Republican districts:
…we triangulated a strategy to fund the state’s K-12 McCleary case through a “levy swap equalization” that will reduce overall property taxes on nearly 75% of households (largely in areas represented by Republicans) and increase property taxes largely in the Seattle area (represented by Democrats).
Rural, previously underfunded school districts, often in predominantly Republican areas, got some improvement in funding through McCleary and Republicans like Baumgartner got to crow about sticking it to areas with more Democratic populations. What a nice civic-minded guy, don’t you think?
Remember Baumgartner’s and his Republican Party’s tactics when you vote this November. Unfortunately, current Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner doesn’t face re-election until 2022.
Keep to the high ground,
*Tellingly, the Spokesman article discussing teacher salaries put the highest salary any teacher could make as the first number, while mentioning the salaries of less senior teachers as an afterthought. All the numbers appeared under a headline, “SPS teacher salaries cross $100,000 mark.” Most casual readers’ takeaway is the impression that the average Spokane Public Schools teacher is well paid. The reader is left to guess what percentage of the teachers are at each salary level mentioned in the body of the article.