School district files appeal for facilities suit
August 11, 2022
After the Wahkiakium School District lawsuit against the State of Washington was dismissed with prejudice by Judge Donald Richter in Wahkiakum Superior Court on June 24, district lawyers promptly filed an appeal on June 27 and followed that with a request for direct review from the Washington State Supreme Court.
The district claims in their lawsuit that the state is failing to meet the standard set by Article 9 Section 1 of the Washington State's constitution, which says "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex," when it does not amply fund capital costs that would allow the district to upgrade aging facilities in order to keep students safe and ensure they can compete with their peers in a changing, modern world.
According to school district attorney Tom Ahearne, of Foster and Garvey, and winning litigator in the landmark McCleary case: when the state filed for dismissal earlier this year, in so doing, they acknowledged that the state did not dispute the matter of whether they were responsible for amply providing the education of all kids.
The question for both parties is whether this excludes facilities.
“The whole case rides, lives or dies, on that,” Ahearne said.
Because this question is one that could potentially affect every school district in the state, it gave the district justification to file for direct review with the Supreme Court, which could mean possibly bypassing the usual path through the Court of Appeals.
“Once we file the request for direct review in Supreme Court, it gets a Supreme Court case number,” Ahearne said. “It is sitting in the Supreme Court.”
Wahkiakum will file an opening brief in the Supreme Court. A month later, the state will file their opposition, and a month after that, Wahkiakum will file a reply. After that, the Supreme Court will decide whether to give the matter a hearing date or send it back to the Court of Appeals for now.
Ahearne expected this procedure would begin in September, but he said on Monday, the state requested a report of proceedings, which is a transcription of all the witness testimony, etc., from the earlier hearing, This means the process could take a little longer.
“I don’t know what their purpose is in doing this, but we will find out,” Ahearne said.
Having state wide impact is important to the Supreme Court, Ahearne explained.
On July 26, WASA, the Washington Association of School Administrators, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in support of Wahkiakum’s lawsuit and to say they believe this is a state issue.
“That’s a big deal,” Wahkiakum School District Superintendent Brent Freeman said. “They represent 295 school districts across the state that have come on board to support this. We’ve been saying this all along: A win for Wahkiakum is a win for everybody in the state. Now you have the state agency of superintendents and administrators in schools saying we want you to look at direct review and we are on Wahkiakum’s side.”
Ahearne explained that to file an amicus brief, a request has to be made to file it, along with the brief. The court has to actually grant the motion to file the brief. This means that the motion has been filed with the Supreme Court and is in the court record.
“It’s exciting to me that we’ve got the [Washington State] Supreme Court’s attention,” Freeman said. “A ruling in our favor when the case is finally adjudicated has an implication of tens of thousands of dollars for every single property owner in this county and millions of dollars for this county that are going to be more equitably addressed by a fairer system and a more equitable educational system…for every child that goes through this system in the future. That’s huge.”
“The reason the state is fighting this tooth and nail, if they lose, they’ve got to pay $60 million,” Ahearne added. “That’s chump change to the state budget. But if they lose to Wahkiakum, then the same constitution applies to the other 294 school districts. That’s billions and billions and billions of dollars.”