School board seeks alternative funding after Supreme Court loss

State programs and grants are among the solutions


November 2, 2023

Moving past their disappointment at the Washington State Supreme Court’s dismissal of their lawsuit, Wahkiakum School District is turning their focus to other avenues of funding.

“We are grossly disappointed with the narrow interpretation that the supreme court chose to read our claim with,” Superintendent Brent Freeman recently said at a meeting of the Washington State Parent Teacher Association. “They dismissed our case because they wanted to interpret it as we were asking for sole funding coming from the state. That was never our intent. We asked for ample funding. I would argue there is a big difference between sole and ample.”

He reiterated that Wahkiakum’s lawsuit was dismissed, not lost, and found room for what he believed was a win: the acknowledgment that funding was a shared responsibility between the state and locals.

Because of the district’s efforts, he told Wahkiakum School District’s Board of Directors, he believed there was a new energy at the state level to act.

“Legislators are trying to put their packages together and there is a lot of talk and recognition that Wahkiakum’s lawsuit is really forcing them to deal with this,” Freeman said.

Freeman also believes that one of the supreme court justices “laid out a pathway for a follow up lawsuit,” which could address a couple of issues, including the creation of laws that are not accessible to everyone.

He used funding through SCAP or the School Construction Assistance Program as one such example. The program provides funding assistance to school districts that want to construct new facilities or modernize what they have, but to be eligible for SCAP, the school district has to pass a bond. That has proved to be all but impossible in an impoverished district like Wahkiakum.

According to Freeman, a bill proposed by Joel McEntire, the Washington State Representative for District 19, was promising if so far, imperfect.

“It could be on the right track,” Freeman said, “but the cap is still too high.”

The bill, which Freeman says is still in flux, currently sets a cap of $1.75/$1,000 assessed value for any district hoping to pass a bond. Freeman hopes a handicapping mechanism might be added to offset poverty or lack of industry in some areas, and lower that cap.

The second potential problem with the bill has to do with the definition of “modern standard,” and Freeman fears that definition might be different for the district than it is for the state, which would fund the difference between what a community might be able to raise for a new facility and it’s total cost.

The district has always actively sought grants, and continues to do so. Along with a $4.9 million grant they’ve already secured, they may already have another $1 million coming, though Freeman is doubtful. A security grant has been implemented, but the district is applying for more grants to upgrade ADA access, bathrooms, add a fire system, improve cyber security, and develop the farm forest across the highway.

An electrical engineer and contractor from Apollo Solutions will visit the school soon to redo a survey, and Freeman hopes to reprioritize projects around the entire district.

“We do a lot of grant work here, but we aren’t patting ourselves for successes,” Freeman said.

Meanwhile, the hits keep coming. Business Manager Sue Ellyson said expenses were incurred for repairs at the grade school, where the sewer system seems to be failing.

The school board will attend a Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) conference in Bellevue in mid-November, and Freeman suggested that at least one in their group attend a trust lands advisory committee meeting at the conference.

“We need to get a Wahkiakum board member on to this,” he said. “This is the committee that actually has county impact, because they are working with the counties about trust lands and the revenue coming from trust lands.”

In other news:

Scott Anderson, who drives bus for the district, put out a plea for bus drivers during public comment.

“Anybody who knows anybody needs a job, or wants to be a substitute bus driver, this district needs them badly,” he said.

Directors accepted a resignation from bus driver Karen Donaldson. They also approved Kyleigh Harlin as the new head wrestling coach and Trystan Mendez as the assistant wrestling coach.

Jansi Merz and Charlie Ashe were approved as assistant girls basketball coaches.


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