The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Educators, legislators discuss school funding inequalities


The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors, along with teachers, staff, and former and current superintendents gave an impassioned plea to visiting Washington State legislators Dean Takko and Brian Blake to consider how to address a budget shortfall created by the legislature’s solution to the McCleary Decision.

Representative Jim Walsh was expected, but did not show up.

Thanks to the McCleary Decision and a prompt from the courts, the legislature had to figure out how to better fund schools in the state of Washington to the tune of $2 billion.

Unfortunately, as Superintendent Brent Freeman said, “it’s not being distributed with any kind of equity into the system.”

Using the Ocean Beach School District for comparison, Freeman calculated that Ocean Beach had been able to give their teachers a 16 percent increase. In order to be treated equitably, he said, WSD would need approximately $1.5 million in the next three years.

“The funding shortfalls are adversely affecting our staff and our ability to teach the kids at Wahkiakum School District,” Freeman said.

“One of the frustrating things about the legislature is that we have a very diverse state,” Takko said. “We try to have one solution fit everybody. I think we knew going into this that it wasn’t going to be this way. We already know the kind of problems that your district and others have. We intend to do something. What that something is, I don’t know right now. I think we’ve gotten the message and I’ve certainly sent the message forward.”

“If you’ve got a good model that is fair and equitable across the state and accomplishes something here that doesn’t upset some other district, I’d be more than happy to hear about it,” he added.

“Low assessed valuation and a high mix factor

create the perfect storm given the funding formula that the legislature approved with the McCleary fix,” former Superintendent Bob Garrett said. “That has to be tweaked. It just has to be tweaked. You can’t expect teachers or classified staff to work for $20,000 less a year than they could get 50 miles away. That’s crazy.”

The high mix factor refers to the number of teachers the district has, and how each teacher fits on the scale of experience and education to plot their salary. WSD has a very experienced, highly educated staff. Of the 28.4 teachers, over 82 percent have a masters degree. More than 50 percent of the staff has been teaching for 16 years or more. Nearly 72 percent have 11 or more years of experience.

Eric Hansen pointed out that this now puts the onus on the superintendent to consider whether to keep the experienced, highly educated teacher who plots at $75,000 or take the second year guy at $45,000 because it’s better for the budget.

“Veteran teachers are going to get hamstrung throughout the state,” he said. “It wasn’t a problem before, but that’s a big chunk of money when you’re looking at salary schedules for negotiations and budgets for districts.”

With the new formula, every teacher is supposed to automatically account for $65,000.

“The problem with that is that money is not being just distributed to the teachers,” Freeman said. “With the levy rollback, the things that we used to do with the levy now have to be done with that $65,000.”

It’s not just teachers that will be affected. It’s classified staff, and ultimately, the students.

“The message is that our teachers and students aren’t worth the money they are in other places,” Director Paula Culbertson said. “It hasn’t solved the problem. It has made it worse. Under the old system, it wasn’t perfect, but at least our community’s voice was heard in the levies. Now our community voice doesn’t count any more.”

“What’s your answer?” Takko asked. What’s an answer that helps out Wahkiakum that doesn’t screw something up in Bellevue?”

“You’re cutting money while holding them to the state standard,” Julie Doumit said. “The message is that we don’t care enough to help you get along. We have some talented teachers that go above and beyond. And our para-educators too. Thank God they are willing to stay here and spend quite a bit of their own money to help these kids. That half a million dollars the first year is really needed to get those kids to that gap. We’ve got some pretty poor families in this town. Teachers help. They are buying clothes, food, school supplies the entire year. Shoes. We’ve got kids coming to school with shoes that are unbelievable. They are spending their own money and still aren’t making what they should be making.”

“We’re to the point where a kid that walks out of this school isn’t going to be given the same chances as a kid that walks out of other schools across the state. That’s not what the intent of the McCleary Decision was,” Freeman said.

“How do we get back to education instead of number crunching? Culbertson wondered.


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