Legislators to educators: Bucks are scarce

“Yes. No. Maybe ... We’ll try.”

That was the unequivocal answer state legislators gave representatives of local school districts when asked Monday in Silverdale: “Will you continue to support us financially?”

Legislators also tactfully but firmly blamed voters for blowing both hot and cold: Voters demand stiff mandates to improve Washington education. But voters quash virtually every measure to pay for said mandates.

The ambiance of the meeting, held at Central Kitsap High School’s library in Silverdale, was amiable, but somber. The two-hour meeting involved 50 in the audience, half of them school reps, facing off against Reps. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, and Bev Woods, R-Poulsbo; and State Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton.

CK School District Board President Chris Stokke emceed.

Woods started: “We’re looking at a $2.6 billion deficit this year,” she said. “And that’s no small amount in a state budget of $23 billion.”

She said the toughest part will be ranking needs in the state — who gets funded and who doesn’t. Her priorities are education, health, then transportation.

“Education is a top priority across the state and around the world.... But you can’t tell us to cut taxes and don’t cut spending.... I don’t have any answers to that. We’re here to listen to what you have to say.”

Rockefeller stood and said “The state’s Constitution (stipulates that) our first priority is education.” But then he echoed Woods: “But we are facing a general fund shortfall of $2.5 billion.”

Rockefeller said that under the circumstances, traditional budgeting should be abandoned. He advocated “zero-based budgeting” in which legislators start from scratch and re-think all priorities, then parcel out funds available.

He commented on how far the state has come in improving education since 1993, “We’re only halfway there. We must stay the course — certificates of mastery (for students), WASL testing as part of graduation, and the federal government’s ‘No Child Left Behind Act,’ leaves us no choice.”

Rockefeller said the state Constitution should be changed. School levy and bond votes should be by simple majorities, rather than by super majorities. In a simple majority election, anything over 50 percent wins. Super majorities can require 60 percent voter approval or higher to pass.

Sheldon: “We all have one goal — to educate our children so that they can step out into the world and make it. Sounds easy, but it isn’t ... I feel like I’m looking into the abyss” with state budget shortfalls and the unstable U.S. economy. “It’s really challenging right now.

“I have a dream ... we pour lots of money into early-childhood education so that we won’t have the problems we have now.”

Comments from the audience were many.

“I thinks we must look at the larger issue — our tax structure and the whole mechanism of state spending,” commented Greg Scott, representing South Kitsap School District.

Dr. Dorothy Wing of North Mason School District said “We’ve got to stay on course. My children are learning much more than I did at their age.”

Superintendent Betti Hyde of Bremerton School District said “Keep supporting education. We’re all making wonderful progress teaching our kids to live, learn and work in the 21st Century.” She added that kids can learn no matter what their skin color or ethnic or socio-economic background.

Katherine Gleysteen, principal of Klahowya Secondary School, CKSD, said “I feel we’re like a train and that Initiative 728 helped us up the hill.” Referring to the initiative designed to kick-back tax dollars to districts. The source of I-728 was neighboring Bremerton School District.

“But now we’ve found boys are lagging ... unless we put them in with a male teacher and encourage and work with them, then they succeeded. If you could see those kids — they’re so proud.”

She and other local school officials said continued support is essential to close the “achievement gap” between boys and girls, blacks and whites, rich and poor; and those who stay put and those who’re transient being from a military family.

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