SEATTLE – Public school officials love to blame state governments for their financial problems.
In March, Seattle school Superintendent Larry Nyland sent a letter to parents throughout the district, notifying them of a possible $74 million budget deficit in the 2017-18 school year, “due to the state’s delay in fully funding education.”
Nyland went on to say that if more money was not forthcoming from the state, painful budget cuts would be made, resulting in more students in classrooms, less funding for certain academic programs, and possible layoffs for some district administrators.
“It is important the Legislature’s proposed solutions address our 2017-18 deficit as well as ensure we can offer our students a 21st century education for years to come,” Nyland wrote.
But the Seattle Times responded with an editorial, reminding readers that Nyland and the school board deserved their share of blame for the financial mess the district was facing.
Apparently Nyland and the school board have been very generous with employee salaries and benefits, according to the newspaper. That was particularly true when they gave in to teachers’ union demands to end a teacher’s strike at the beginning of the 2015-16 academic year.
Seattle teachers reportedly received pay increases of 9.5 percent over three years, in addition to the state cost-of-living adjustment of 4.8 percent over two years, according to the Times. That prompted a union official to tell the newspaper, ““Let’s be clear – we won the fight on this contract agreement.”
The Times said school officials agreed to the higher salaries without worrying about the source of revenue.
“Seattle school administrators deliberately ignored financial realities when they cut a deal with the teachers’ union to end last year’s strike without a plan for where the extra money for salaries would come from after reserve funds were tapped,” the Times wrote.
“The district also has spent millions in local dollars to give administrators and other school employees salaries well above what the state provides because of the city’s cost of living.
“About 37 percent of the Seattle School District’s projected budget deficit is tied to salaries. By law, school districts are required to have a balanced budget.
“Yes, teachers should be paid a good salary for the important work they do educating our children. But most citizens also agree the school district needs a budget connected to reality, not based on a wish and a prayer.”
It’s not as if funding for the Seattle district has been decreasing in recent years. The district has a budget of about $780 million, and that total has increased about $212 million since 2011, according to WashingtonPolicy.org.
Nyland has increased central office spending by nearly $100 million over the past five years. That’s reflected in his own current compensation — $295,000 in base salary, as well as $55,000 worth of benefits.