School board reviews Supreme Court hearing


March 30, 2023

The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors heard a presentation on the robotics program, discussed possible outcomes from the recent Supreme Court hearing on the school district’s lawsuit, and got an update on new security.

The meeting began with a presentation from advisors, coaches, and one student involved in the robotics program.

The student, Jamie Heston, said that students attended First Tech Challenge state, and took 13th place out of 32 teams. He said they were now preparing for a Sea Perch qualifying competition on March 31, while some students have qualified for Skills USA state, and others for other robotics competition.

The group talked about practical applications for some of the robots they are building and discussed ways to fund raise, especially as a team may be headed to the east coast if they qualify at the Sea Perch event at the end of March.

Superintendent Brent Freeman talked about taking a group of students on the trip to the Supreme Court hearing for the Wahkiakum School District’s lawsuit against the state for funding facilities on March 14.

After the hearing, the students went to the Capitol in Olympia, and visited with Representative Joel McEntire, a Wahkiakum High School graduate.

“It was great to see the growth that day,” Freeman said. “They could see how it works. They were so involved and asked some really good questions.”

As for the lawsuit, Freeman said he spoke to counsel Tom Ahearne after the hearing.

“One of the things we need to talk about now,” he told the board, “at the end of the brief, Chief Justice Gonzalez asked Tom, ‘What do you want?’”

“We want to create a task force,” Freeman told the board, “and we want it to be OSPI led.”

Freeman said he had a clear idea of what a prototypical model for capital facilities should look like, and he had presented some of his ideas at a Small School Leadership Conference, where Ahearne and OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdahl also spoke.

“Almost everybody I talked to had no idea what it would look like,” Freeman said.

“We’ve been trying to get on the small rural modernization grant for a long time,” Freeman added. “You’ve heard the state’s office claim that there is this small rural modernization grant which solves everything. That is funded annually at $18.1 million and it is a $5 million cap. So theoretically, three schools could just about tap it dry.”

“We’ve been pushing hard on that for years,” he added. “I’ve yet to receive an award from that program, and I’ve been here for five years, and I’ve applied for them.”

He said that the district was in line to receive a portion of the grant in 2020, which would have been used for security, but when covid-19 hit, the governor line item vetoed everything.

They’ve refloated that, Freeman said, and the district is now waiting for that money.

The $18.1 million available in the small rural modernization grant has grown to $60 million in recent months, but Freeman says that’s still just a drop in the bucket. Even at $60 million, that would only help 12 schools.

Last week, he learned that the state senate bumped the amount in the program up to $100 million.

“That would help 20 schools,” Freeman said. “Wahkiakum is number 36 on the list.”

“We’re still below the line, which lights me up, and we’re carrying the lawsuit,” he said. “But that means that there are 35 schools that have written a greater need than us.”

“One hundred dollars is not enough, but it’s a really good start,” Freeman said. “You are throwing a squirt gun at a forest fire. But something is better now, and there are so many schools that are dying on the vine, falling apart.”

“Every single person I talk to, including legislators and all the legislator’s advocates attribute that $100 million to the five of you,” he told the board. “You guys are moving the needle.”

Director Patty Anderson asked a question that was likely on everyone’s mind.

“If we win this lawsuit where do we stand? We as a board have worked really hard, I just don’t want to be thrown at the bottom of a list somewhere,” she said.

There are no answers yet. The supreme court could respond tomorrow, six months from now, even longer. And even if they rule in the district’s favor, there will still be a lot to work out.

Meanwhile, the district, which has relied on other school district’s throughout the state to help fund the lawsuit, is behind.

“Collecting money for the lawsuit is becoming more difficult for several reasons,” Freeman said, naming cuts, staff reductions, lowered enrollment, rising inflation and more.

“We’ll probably see a slow down in that, but we will push hard over the summer,” he added.

The board of directors approved a tentative Classified Collective Bargaining Agreement. They also accepted resignations from Tiffany Niemeyer as assistant girls basketball coach and Todd Souvenir as the head boys basketball coach. They approved the appointment of two softball assistant coaches, Alexis Cooper and Andrea Miller.

The board went into executive session to discuss the lawsuit and personnel.


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