(submitted in response to the April 5 Plain Dealer editorial gWashingtonfs Tale of Woeh)
April 5, 1999
The April 5 editorial gWashingtonfs Tale of Woeh is the latest example of frighteningly irresponsible coverage in your gAgenda f99: Educationh series. While much is made of Washington state teachersf proposed 15% gjumph in pay over the next two years that could equal a gheart-stoppingh $640 million, these figures are not put into perspective. Once you take into account that the teachers received no raise in four of the last six years and the Washington state budget is set for two years, the reported 15% gjumph in fact represents a 2 ½ % gjumph for each of these six years. This is consistent with the teachers unionfs statement that gthey simply want to catch up with inflationh as well as Gov. Lockefs proposed 2% increase for state employees. The possible $640 million increase would represent a gheart-stoppingh 3% increase in the governorfs proposed $20.4 billion dollar annual budgets for 1999-2001. This is without taking into account three additional professional days tacked to the end of the 180-day school year.
The complexity of the issues surrounding Washington state employeesf salaries and Initiative 601 are glossed over as gvoter-mandated spending caps.h A March 31 article in the Seattle Times reported on a recent poll showing that 75% of voters support raising teachersf pay even if it meant breaking the statefs tradition of giving teachers and other state employees the same raises at the same time. Although specific amounts were not mentioned, the pollster responsible, Stuart Elway, believes that support is so strong that voters are willing to cut the teachers a separate deal that would go beyond the amount offered by the governor.
As for Initiative 601, which went into effect in 1995, an April 5 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article explains, gIn 1991, lawmakers could spend as much as they had. Now under 601, lawmakers are limited on what they can spend—no matter how much they havecSince 601 went into effect, state revenue has far exceeded its spending limit and the Legislature actually has spent less than the limitcSo the state has made more than it can spend. Budget reserves are flush.h Since increased revenues have led the state to actually spend less than the 601-imposed limit, it is irresponsible to claim that teacher raises would require gmedical care for the indigent, environmental protection, [and] salaries for other state employeesc[to] have to take a hit.h
Another April 5 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article points out the real teacher shortage faced in Washington. Due to retirements and resignations, State school Superintendent Terry Bergeson cited a 70% attrition rate since 1990. Teacher pay is a major concern in trying to attract high-quality candidates to these vacated positions. The article adds, gTeachers say teaching used to be a egood deal,f with at least two monthsf (unpaid) vacation time and manageable workloads, but that has changedcTodayfs teachers typically work 10- to 12-hour days packed with classroom instruction, planning, giving and grading tests, conferences and staff and professional development meetingscTeachers chafe at what they consider to be common public misconceptions. They say itfs untrue that they work six-hour days, get paid vacation and get paid 12 monthsf wages for nine or 10 monthsf work (their 180-day state contract pay is stretched out over 12 months).h
I can see no reason for your newspaper to report repeated distortions and inaccuracies other than to perpetuate these misconceptions of teachers as ungrateful underachievers fiercely holding on to gcushyh union-protected jobs. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) recently released a study comparing the prose, document, and quantitative skills of teachers with several other groups of professionals based on the 1992 National Adult Literary Survey (NALS). The results showed that teachers scored higher than the general population, comparably to more gadvancedh or grespectedh groups (such as physicians, lawyers, financial managers and accountants) and better than other groups (including managers and administrators). However, teachersf pay (in 1992 dollars) was significantly lower even when adjusted for working 45 weeks per year compared to other professionalsf 49 to 50 weeks per year.
Instead of attempting to portray teachers as greedy and self-centered, your newspaper needs to spend more time doing its own homework in order to present its readership a complete and accurate rendering of the facts in such a critical area as education. Anything less is doing the community a disservice.
Milton Alan Turner