Angel optimistic about keeping teachers’ COLA in budget

Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, was one of several local (Kitsap and Mason County) legislators who responded to my request for input on the education budget for 2015. Specifically I asked for their thoughts on the chances of a teacher’s COLA being reinstated and other thoughts on teachers’ salaries. Perhaps due to crossed wires on her part, mine or both, Angel’s response came late for inclusion in my article, which ran today.

Note, Jan. 28: I have heard from Senator Angel that she did send the response last week, so apparently there was a technical glitch in the email on our end. My apologies, Jan.

I am posting her comments here, along with links (here) to the full responses I got from Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo.

Chris Henry, education reporter
Sen. Jan Angel

Describe the pressures you will face as a legislator to reinstate the COLA?

Budget challenges have forced the Legislature to delay or set aside I-732 as we worked to pay for our priorities of government and, when it comes to education, we had to pay for what is most effective for student achievement first. This year with $3 billion additional revenue in state coffers, we potentially have the ability to pay for increased maintenance costs, the minimum investment in schools required by McCleary and the teacher COLA required by I-732. Of course, the specifics of the budget will go through negotiations and restructuring, but as our revenue outlook currently stands, we are likely to have enough money to provide the teacher COLA this year, which I do support.

Describe the pressures you will face as a legislator to suspend the COLA to pay for other education expenses.

We want to prioritize our education spending toward what will do most to address our 77% graduation rate and our lacking student achievement rates. I believe that providing a great teacher in every classroom is very important for student success and making sure we provide them competitive compensation is part of reaching that goal. Our teachers are hard-working and dedicated to our children and I want to make sure we do the best we can for them. As the budget is scrutinized and negotiated, I hope we can reach a solution that supports our teachers while meeting our obligations on other budget demands.

What, in your opinion, are the chances the COLA will be reinstated?

Based on our revenue outlook and initial reactions from budget-writers, the chances are positive.

The governor’s office projects a $2 billion shortfall, despite rising revenue. Randy Dorn at OSPI thinks, with the class size initiative, the real cost could be at least $4.5 billion and possibly closer to $7 billion for the 2015-2017 budget. Given the projected budget shortfall, is it realistic for the Legislature to discuss teacher/school employee compensation in the upcoming session?

The Governor assumes some cost increases that are not required for the government to keep running, but I think the importance of supporting teachers and the fact that we have a statutory commitment suggests that we give it our most thoughtful consideration.

In your opinion, why is/isn’t compensation a compelling issue at this time?

As mentioned before, the direct correlation between student achievement and teacher compensation is not clear, so it is difficult to prioritize when we are trying to reach higher student success rates. Prioritizing a budget is difficult work, but I hope we can address this with the tax dollars we’ve been given to work with. I would also like to see additional training dollars allocated. Our teachers have been asked to perform a number of new duties without training provided to do so – – this creates frustration and puts them in a difficult position.

If you support a compensation reset for school employees, how should the Legislature pay for it?

This is a complicated budget issue that requires negotiation and the prioritization of available funds. We are still in the process of determining what is the best use of taxpayer dollars so we’ll have to see how much we have to work with before we can begin the strategy of putting these pieces together. Teachers receive several different types of pay so this can be complicated.

End Jan Angel

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