Supreme court will hear Wahkiakum suit
December 8, 2022
On Nov. 3, the Washington State Supreme Court decided it would hear Wahkiakum School District’s case against the State of Washington.
Wahkiakum has been dealing with aging facilities for some time: an outdated electrical system, a leaky roof, no sprinkler system in the event of a fire, and HVAC issues for a start, and when the community voted against a 22 year $28.75 million bond in 2020 for renovations, Superintendent Brent Freeman and the board of directors decided to try something else.
They sued the state, asserting that the language in the state’s own constitution, which says in Article 9 Section 1, “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,” that this “paramount duty” to “make ample provision” includes facilities, and that it is the state that should be responsible for funding equitable and safe facilities instead of relying on a system that creates “distinction or preference” when it puts the onus on local voters to pass bonds.
For instance, property owners living in wealthy, more densely populated communities might pay a margin in taxes for safe and modern facilities, while economically distressed communities like Wahkiakum, with a smaller population to shoulder the tax burden, might find it too much to bear.
The district wants to ensure that regardless of socio-economic factors, students at Wahkiakum are learning in a safe and up-to-date environment, prepared to compete with their peers as they graduate into a changing, modern world.
The district and their lawyer, Thomas Ahearne, the winning litigator in the landmark McCleary case, asked for a direct review from the state Supreme Court after the lawsuit was initially dismissed with prejudice in Wahkiakum Superior Court by Judge Donald Richter in June.
If they win, this could have wide-ranging implications for school districts across the state, especially for those in economically disadvantaged communities like Wahkiakum.