Dorn plans to sue school districts | Jerry Cornfield

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn knows school districts use local levies to pay teachers and principals because they don't get enough money from the state to offer competitive salaries.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn knows school districts use local levies to pay teachers and principals because they don’t get enough money from the state to offer competitive salaries.

He is also convinced it is illegal for them to do this.

So the outgoing chief of Washington’s public school system said he intends to sue a few districts to find out.

He is preparing to launch legal action in King County Superior Court. Dorn wouldn’t say which districts will be named as defendants. It’s likely at least one will be from Snohomish County, where the most experienced teachers can earn the highest base pay in the state — thanks in large part to use of levy dollars.

Everett School Distinct, for example, offers a top base salary of $97,445 that will rise to $103,000 for the 2017-18 school year under a contract approved last fall. The Mukilteo School District offered $92,282 at the peak of its salary scale before the district and the teacher’s union started negotiating a new contract earlier this year.

Meanwhile the top salary level for equivalent experience in dozens of other school districts hovers around $67,000 annually, according to a tally compiled by the Washington Education Association. The difference is the result of years of bargained contracts in which school boards agree to use chunks of voter-approved tax levies to pay higher wages. It also reflects the reality that some school districts are unable to pass levies or generate enough money from theirs to offer Everett-sized salaries.

The McCleary decision from the state Supreme Court directs the state to amply fund basic education by 2018 and points out that the use of local levies to cover the costs is unconstitutional.

But what that decision doesn’t do is spell out whether it’s okay for school districts to do so when the state isn’t providing enough money for elements of basic education, such as salaries.

That’s what Dorn wants a court to determine. If it turns out he’s right, it would bring added pressure on the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee to find a remedy that ensures public schools are provided a reliable, equitable and ample source of money to operate.

“I do not fault school districts for doing what they are doing,” he said. “That is the hand the Legislature has dealt them.”

“My job is to represent the needs of kids in our schools,” he continued, “Some kids are getting a 21st century education and some teachers are getting paid a 21st century wage. But some kids are not getting a 21st century education and some teachers are not getting paid a 21st century wage.”

Dorn in November requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Bob Ferguson on whether school board members have the authority to use local levies for compensation related to basic education services. Ferguson declined to provide one, saying the question came too close to issues encompassed by the ongoing McCleary case.

Dorn then began making plans for legal action. He said he wanted to file the lawsuit in February while the Legislature was in session, but held off at the behest of some school leaders who wanted to see if lawmakers might address the matter in the session.

They didn’t. Now Dorn, who is retiring at the end of the year after two terms, said he’s not waiting any longer, even though some still are asking him to hold off.

“It’s never going to be a good time,” he said. “The longer we wait, the worse it gets.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos

More in Opinion

Trump supporters’ attitude still the same

“Support Trump? Sure,” she said. “I like him.” These words by Pam Shilling from Trump Country western Pennsylvania reflect what many Trump supporters are thinking a year after the 2016 election victory, according to an article excerpted from “Politico.com” by “The Week” (Dec. 1, 2017).

Readers note: Change in comments section

The Courier-Herald has switched to a different online reader-comments platform.

Former fan finished with disrespectful NFL players

I lived off the grid for 15 years and the one thing I missed the most was watching pro football.

Carrying firearms about to change at the state Capitol

If you come to the state Capitol and want to see lawmakers in action, there are a few rules to follow while sitting in the galleries overlooking the Senate and the House floors.

Thank you everyone who made ‘Make A Difference Day’ a success

I want to thank everyone who makes every day a “Make a Difference Day” in Black Diamond.

Seek a sense of security, purpose in our lives

Thousands of years ago, the Greeks and the Romans worshipped a pantheon of gods: Jupiter, Juno, Venus, Mercury, Artemis and Athena. If you search for a list of Greek and Roman gods, they number at least 100. These gods reflected human frailties and their strengths.

Nationwide infrastructure needed to combat Alzheimer’s

Too often Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are treated as a normal aging issue, ignoring the public health consequences of a disease that someone in the U.S. develops every 66 seconds.

Don’t give into the pressure of driving drowsy

Eleven years ago, a drowsy-driving car wreck left me with injuries that still challenge me today.

Opening our minds can be a beautiful thing

As a leader of my church’s Sunday Adult Forum, I had a goal: to put a human face on Islam for the members of the congregation and community.

GOP has no place in small-town politics

Mission creep, according to Miriam-Webster is: “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization.”

Dismantling racism requires radical patience

The other day my friend, a POC (person of color), had to explain to his friend, a white woman, why using the N-word wasn’t acceptable.

Enumclaw mayor deserves a thanks for a job well done

I have always been proud to say I live in Enumclaw.