Orcas School District joins state NEWS network in funding lawsuit

The Orcas Island School District (OISD) Board voted unanimously to join the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) as it pursues litigation against the Washington State legislature “to seek full funding for Washington schools.”

The Orcas Island School District (OISD) Board voted unanimously to join the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) as it pursues litigation against the Washington State legislature “to seek full funding for Washington schools.”

In a conference call with NEWS consultant Jerry Painter, a retired attorney, the board discussed the background of the network, its efforts to ensure that “the state … makes ample provision for the education of the state’s children” and the process of Phase I of NEWS’ lawsuit, which is scheduled to be heard by the Superior Court on June 1, 2009.

The NEWS council looked at similar lawsuits in the U.S. and defined their Phase I goal as “strategic,” holding the legislature to its responsibility to define and fund basic education from stable sources. The lawsuit to be heard next June seeks to order the State of Washington to determine the cost of “21st century basic education” and to set a funding mechanism to pay the cost, said Painter.

He said that, dating from the 1978 Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) funding study to the work of the current Basic Education Task Force, “there are ample studies for the state to rely on.”

The June 1 hearing will be argued under Judge Paris Callas, a King County judge, and is expected to last a month, with the plaintiffs taking two weeks to argue their case, and the state then arguing their side for two weeks.

OISD joins other organizations such as the American Association of University Women, El Centro de la Raza and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, as well as numerous other districts, including Arlington, Kelso, Bellevue, Omak and Vancouver, and many educational associations (teachers’ unions) throughout the state.

The court petition addressing the lawsuit has been amended to name the plaintiffs in the lawsuit as NEWS and two sets of parents and two sets of students, said Painter. Individuals, including school districts and teachers’ associations, are not identified.

NEWS set the costs of the suit by a formula so that members “carry their weight” but are not overly burdened by the price, and would charge OISD $5,000. However, Painter said, the school superintendent “could negotiate for a lesser amount.”

This fee would support NEWS lawsuit through Phase I and an appeal to the State Supreme Court, if needed.

Costs of a second phase by the NEWS coalition would cover elements not addressed in Phase I, Painter said. While he admitted that for many districts $5,000 is “not just cutting into the meat, but into the bone” of their budgets, he also said that the lawsuit shows that communities and districts are doing more than “just complaining” about basic education funding.

Board member Charlie Glasser said, “This is the right time to move on this.” OISD board member Tony Ghazel said that while it was important to “send the message that the funding models and definition [of basic education] are wrong,” it was also important “not to pull money out of funding that we don’t have.” He suggested fundraising or seeking a donation for the cost of joining NEWS.

The Board agreed to ask School Superintendent Barbara Kline to negotiate with NEWS for a lower price, given the organization’s statement that no one would be excluded for monetary reasons. It was also suggested that the Lopez and San Juan Island school districts may want to join the organization. According to teacher Marta Branch, the San Juan Island district had recently signed on to NEWS.School budget

OISD Business Manager Ben Thomas reported that the fund balance was $235,122. As the budgeted amount was $151,898, Thomas commended the board, saying, “Compared to where we were a few years ago, this is unbelievable.” In 2005-2006 the fund balance was $17,997.

Thomas noted that OISD enrollment was about 15 students over the estimate. He also said that there is an additional $33,000 over the $400,000 that is carried over from the last bond issue, dedicated to a voc tech building. That bond will expire at the end of 2009.

Bond discussion

Board member Scott Lancaster said that in going over the paperwork for state assistance on building projects with an OSPI consultant, they found that about $400,000 – $500,000 may be available to the district from the state. Lancaster said that if new buildings were also for the purpose of adult education, “that could add significant funding.”

The board discussed the new bond project with respect to the work already done by architect Carlos Sierra.

Ghazel noted that the cost of the bond determines the architect’s fees, which are not to exceed nine percent.

OISD Board President Janet Brownell emphasized that the board needs clarification of the hiring process.

Brownell was concerned that rollover to the new bond project may not be automatic, and that neither the district nor the architect be harmed if the correct process isn’t followed. “I don’t want this to come back to bite us in a huge way and the board may be required to go through an additional interview process,” Brownell said.

Thomas will check with the Educational Services District office.

Lancaster reminded the board that they were up against a timeline for establishing a bond.

Other reports

PTSA President Barb Skotte announced that a Harvest Fair is planned for Sunday, Nov. 2 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the school’s old gym. Skotte said that the PTSA felt it was important to appreciate the school community, given recent events. This is all coming together at the last minute, she noted, and asked for volunteers and apple donations for the Harvest Fair’s cider press.

Branch spoke for the Orcas Education Association (OEA) and called attention to the School of Distinction award given to Orcas Island High School, recognizing its achievement in the top five percent of schools in the state, based on a six-year average of improved WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) scores. Branch said that the OEA supported joining the NEWS lawsuit.

Michelle Reed, President of the Orcas Island Education Foundation, and Hilary Canty, Executive Director of the Orcas Island Community Foundation, presented a check to the OISD board for $143,563, representing the contributions to the OISD budget from the community. Canty said that of the OICF funds, $28,000 is Education Initiative funding that is pledged annually for three more years, $10,000 is a direct grant from OICF and the remaining funds are from three different donor- advised funds.  The allocation of the funds can be seen at www.islandssounder.com, “Communities” The board and the OIEF and OICF heads thanked Sara Morgan of the OISD business office for her assistance in preparing the list of allocations.

The Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) elementary school program had its first meeting of the Site Council. ALE currently meets in an elementary school classroom. The new Site Council officers are Donna Laslo, President, Susan McCaull, Vice-President, Michel Vekved, Secretary-Treasurer. Further roles are filled by Beth Reigle, as File Manager and Andrea Hegstrom as Minutes Secretary.