School board hears reports on kitchen, funding
February 21, 2019
After reviewing a self assessment during a special session, the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors moved into their regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Debbie McClain, a special education teacher at the school since 1981, gave an overview of the program as it is now, and how it has changed over the years.
“Special ed funding is based on 13.5 percent of your special ed student population,” McClain said. “WSD is at 19 percent. Anything above the 13.5 percent is not funded by the state, and the district has to come up with the money to cover those students. At Wahkiakum that’s about 29 students over the 13.5 percent.”
The special ed program is providing services to youths from birth through grade school, middle school, high school, and even for some to attend a program which provides transition services until they are 21.
“We’ve worked really hard to get kids through by making accommodations and adjusting programs,” McClain said.
“Our graduation rates are high compared to numbers in the state,” Principal Stephanie Leitz added.
Allen Bennett gave an update on plans for a commercial kitchen/fish processing facility at the school district. Bennett has been working with Superintendent Brent Freeman, County Director for the Wahkiakum Washington State University Extension Office Carrie Backman, Health and Human Services, and a food science engineer from WSU on the project.
“We believe we know what we want for the program,” Bennett said, “we’re still ironing out details about what will fill our commercial food kitchen.”
The food science engineer has been looking for the best vendors and deals for equipment that will be beneficial to the commercial fishermen, students, and general public who will be using the space. They are also preparing to go out to bid soon for the building.
“We’re working with the grantor, the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office,” Bennett said. “We have an approved budget and there is a lot of buzz in certain circles about this unique opportunity for a small community that will benefit both the school, the commercial fishermen, and the general community.”
They hope to have everything done by September 30.
“There are no district dollars going into this,” Freeman said. “It will be about a quarter million dollar project.”
Freeman spoke later about the district budget, reporting that the official levy dollars were about $660,000 after the levy was capped by the McCleary decision.
“This means the district is short $336,000,” Freeman said.
There is a possible fix from the state of an additional $291,000 but it is not yet certain, according to Freeman.
“I think we’re doing a better job with our grants,” Freeman said. “I think we can make it work. It’s not ideal, it’s still $70,000 short of what we would have. I don’t think it’s fair at all. Toutle Lake gets Local Effort Assistance at just about half a million dollars, and the LEA we get is $69,000. It’s really frustrating, I can’t understand why we are funded the way we are.”
According to an RCW, local effort assistance (LEA) “provides schools in property poor districts with funding for locally determined activities that enrich the state’s program of basic education, thereby enhancing equity in students’ access to extracurricular activities and similar enrichments. The purpose of these funds is to mitigate the effect that above average property tax rates might have on the ability of a school district to raise local revenues to supplement the state’s basic program of education. These funds serve to equalize the property tax rates that individual taxpayers would pay for such levies and to provide tax relief to taxpayers in high tax rate school districts.
“What we are doing now is not sustainable,” Freeman said.