Acting on his frustration over the state legislature’s slow pace of compliance with the state
Supreme Court’s 2012 order in McCleary v. State, Randy Dorn, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, last week filed a lawsuit that apparently is intended to force the legislature’s hand by the beginning of the next school year. The complaint in Dorn v. State, filed in the state Superior Court in King County joins Seattle and six other relatively affluent school districts as defendants and asks the Court to enjoin them from paying teacher salary supplements out of local tax levies for the 2016-2017 school year.

According to the complaint, the state constitution requires the state to pay 100 % of the cost of basic education because local excess levies are variable—not “regular and dependable.” Because the state has not provided sufficient funds to meet that obligation, Seattle currently supplements the amount the state does provide teacher salaries by 37% and the other defendant districts provide similar supplements in a range of 12%-46%. In exchange for these supplements, teachers are required to “talk to students and families, grade papers, plan lessons, and engage in other activities that are part of any basic education program.” The result is a wide disparity in teacher pay statewide, with the best teachers being concentrated in the richest districts.

According to the Seattle Times, Dorn’s motive in bringing this case is to pressure the legislature to come up promptly with a firm plan for paying state wide teacher salaries at a reasonable rate and to pressure the State Supreme Court to act forcefully after the September 7, 2016 hearing on compliance with the McCleary orders. Presumably, if the Superior Court were to ban the salary supplements, Seattle and other large districts would be forced to substantially reduce teacher salaries, which would cause many of the best teachers to quit. Should that happen, angry parents might take out their wrath on their legislators and force them to act promptly to resolve this long festering problem.

July 2016

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