These are the good old days.
If you work for Coeur d’Alene School District, the July 1 sun is going to shine a little brighter than usual. On that day, your 6 percent pay raise kicks in. It’s the biggest single pay raise in at least 30 years, district officials have confirmed. It might be the biggest pay raise in district history.
The raise is deserved, and that’s not just the newspaper editorial board’s opinion. It’s the consensus of a majority of voters who, in March, wholeheartedly agreed to put 2.5 million of their hard-earned dollars on the table for district workers both this coming year and the next. It’s a tangible thank-you and well done that’s been earned.
But it would be foolish not to issue a note of caution. That big raise is tied directly to the two-year levy approved in March. When the levy expires, the cash pool disappears. You can be sure district administrators and school board members will go back to voters to replenish the pool, and with the good work District 271 has been doing and the healthy shape of the local economy, success at the polling booth is likely to continue.
But, what if?
What if a recession hits between now and spring 2021, when the next levy is likely? How would that affect future funding?
A report released this week relayed a sobering projection from 53 economists: While there’s only a 15 percent chance of recession this year, that number leaps to 60 percent by the end of next year, the economists said.
These are the good old days, but good days don’t come with a lifetime guarantee. At some point, sunshine turns to shadow. District 271 voters in strong fiscal shape today might not be so able or willing to continue to fund good raises a little further down the road, which elicits another question.
Because raises are a financial liability carried over presumably for the duration of employees’ tenure, why not reward workers with bonuses limited to the current year? The benefit is the same but the ongoing liability is strictly limited, which to us makes better financial sense.
On the flip side, evidence of shortsighted compensation policy is abundant just a few miles west of District 271. As Spokane Public Schools is wrapping up its school year in the midst of an economic boom, 244 district employees are being laid off — 172 of them teachers. Some would suggest SPS is only getting what it deserves. Last August, in a fit of fiscal drunkenness, Spokane school officials authorized average teacher raises of 13.3 percent.
Those wonderful, high-paying Spokane teaching jobs don’t look quite so tempting now, do they?