State Teachers Union Hiring Six-Figure Communications Staffer While Opposing Cost-Saving Reforms

Last week, columnist Danny Westneat wrote at The Seattle Times about the state budget troubles and Republican claims that additional cuts could be made less painful by also enacting legitimate and serious reforms to reduce inefficiency and waste.

Westneat lashed out at Republicans, implying the case for reform was a myth and writing that “cuts have officially passed through the fat and now gone into muscle and bone.”

But in contrast to Westneat’s vision of an emaciated and starving state government, the state teachers union that indirectly subsists on state funds looks to be as plump as a prize-winning hog, if a recent job posting is any indication.

In an example of bad optics, the Washington Education Association has hung its “Now Hiring” shingle for a six-figure salaried communications director at the same time the teachers union is waging a no holds barred political battle against cost reforms to K-12 employee benefits that could save state taxpayers millions of dollars.

According to the job announcement circulated among communications professionals, the WEA communications director position comes with a salary of $144,206 per year. lists the median salary for a communications director in the Seattle job market at just over $133,000 per year, putting the WEA’s pay scale on the generous side of the compensation curve.

Last year the State Office of Public Instruction reported that the average teacher salary in Washington State was $63,636 per year.

At a time when the WEA is applying political pressure on Democrats in Olympia to block reforms and cost-cutting measures—steps that should make it easier to save jobs of skilled classroom teachers—the union’s priority of hiring another mouth to feed at the top of its pyramid may irritate its own members.

Parents living in poorer communities—those areas that will be hardest hit by Democrats’ decision to eliminate from the budget leveling funds that had balanced revenue disparities between school districts—may also be right to view the WEA’s priority as tone-deaf.

The WEA has also been full-throated in its opposition to the use of teacher evaluations in personnel decision, but it is the issue of charter schools that invokes union hostility. In the 41 states where charter schools exist, they have been successful in one important regard—they offer children in underprivileged communities a lifeline to educational opportunity they would not otherwise have access to.

Engraving new business cards for one well-paid communications flak while simultaneously condemning tens of thousands of children to a bleak future sends a poor message at any time, but particularly when support in our state for charter schools is surging.

Two recent surveys of Washington State voters found a majority of respondents now support the opening of charter schools, specifically if such schools could be attended by minority and low-income children from urban neighborhoods.

A survey taken by The Washington Policy Center in February found 60% of 400 people interviewed statewide support allowing charter schools to operate in Washington. In the WPC’s survey, support jumped to 64% when the purpose was to help low-income and minority children.

The Washington State-based Freedom Foundation also took it own poll in February used a different sample of 602 registered voters but reported the same 60% approval for opening charter schools in Washington State.


[featured photo credit: DonkeyHotey]


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  1. Ryan

    Did you bother to call the WEA to ask what their version of this is? This is to fill an open position for a staffer who recently resigned, so it’s not new spending, and it’s within 10% of the median that you yourself cite.

    Further, it’s hard to know where you got that $63,636 number from without a citation, but according to this report from OSPI:

    ….the average salary for a classroom teacher last year was $52,959. Given that the absolute maximum salary on the salary schedule is $64,174…

    ….it would take an awful lot of senior teachers, or an awful lot of people with beautifully generous extended contracts, to get anywhere near the average you cite.

    Then there’s this paragraph:

    “Parents living in poorer communities—those areas that will be hardest hit by Democrats’ decision to eliminate from the budget leveling funds that had balanced revenue disparities between school districts—may also be right to view the WEA’s priority as tone-deaf.”

    Are you talking about levy equalization? There was a proposal that didn’t get much traction to tier the funding to districts based on need, but there hasn’t been any serious discussion of eliminating levy equalization in quite some time. You’re dramatically overstating things, which doesn’t smell like quality journalism. Shame on you.

    • The statistic of average teacher salaries is from last year (2011) and from an official with the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program. Although it’s true that the 2011 the average base salary per teacher was $53,056, add-on salary (salary, not benefits) moves the total average figure to what was stated in this article.

      Eliminating levy equalization was under discussion, both last year in Gov. Gregoire’s own proposal and from within her party in Olympia. Even this year, after the McCleary decision, Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn was clearly stating to the media that levy equalization was “on the table.”

      • Ryan

        Randy Dorn says a ton of stupid things. That said, he’s been one of the best at saying that LEA is basic education and should not be cut:

        “Dorn’s argument to legislators is this: Basic education is constitutionally protected and levies help pay for basic education, so levy equalization should not be cut.”


        Governor Gregoire has been terrible on the issue.

        It’s also worth noting that the salary numbers you’re using don’t come from either the LEAP website or OSPI, but from the Freedom Foundation:

        …..and are based off of an email that they received. If you’re going to say that a number comes from the SPI or from LEAP, it feels like it would be appropriate to be able to point to a link to a report that shows that they are, indeed, saying the number that you give them credit for.

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