Update on Orcas School’s budget | Guest column

by Tony P Ghazel

Orcas School Board Director

I know it may come as a surprise to some, but our legislature was unable to complete its work within the 105 day limit of the “long session.” They are finishing their first “special session” that lasted an additional 30 days and it looks like, as of this writing, that the Governor is calling the legislators back for a second “special session,” which could also last an additional 30 days.

As a member of the Orcas Island School Board I have had the opportunity to work with other school directors and engage the legislators on a variety of issues that deal with education funding and policy.

I am also the Vice Chairman of the Washington State School Directors Association’s legislative committee. As a committee we have had conference calls with Representative Ross Hunter (House Budget writer) and Senator Andy Hill (Senate Budget writer) and both are very passionate about their proposals.

Obviously, there is some space between the Senate and House budget proposals in terms of school fundingm and we are asking that they narrow that space and pass a budget. The budget needs to have in it a considerable additional investment in public education leading to full funding as laid down by the Supreme Court when it affirmed the McCleary decision that the Washington State legislator’s paramount duty is to amply fund education for every student within its borders.

The focus of this special session (and any subsequent special session) should be on passing a budget and adopting a schedule to ramp up education funding by 2018, not on enacting new policy.

The clock is ticking on when school districts must adopt their 2013-14 school year budgets. In order for us on Orcas to adopt a budget by Aug. 1, as mandated by state law, we have to have all our ducks in a row and all the items debated and negotiated no later than the regularly scheduled board meeting on July 25, when we vote on the budget.  We must post notice of the budget adoption meeting at least two weeks in advance of the vote.  Doing the arithmetic, that is a month from today.

So this is what we are asking for in the budget:

The Legislature needs to pass a budget that makes a significant down payment on education funding. Anything less than $1 billion of new funding is not sufficient.

The budget shouldn’t be tied to new reforms – the Supreme Court said the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional duty to fund education. So fund it.

Restore staff salary reductions enacted in the last budget of two years ago.

Fund student transportation to actual costs.

Increase funding for non-employee related expenses such as pencils and books.

Support full day kindergarten.

Encourage and fund school innovation such as our Alternative Learning Experience schools.  School districts must have the authority and flexibility to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Fund special education to actual costs.

Regardless of when the Legislature acts, we have to pay our employees and vendors on June 30, and again on July 31. As it is we are using levy dollars to supplement what the state shorts us and some in the legislator want districts to use some of their fund balances to make some of those payments. On Orcas we have been working hard to maintain our fund balance at a healthy level.

In closing, I want to encourage everyone that can to contact their legislators and express their dissatisfaction with the state’s lawmakers’ inability to come to an agreement on the budget.

To quote Senator Ranker from last Friday on the Senate floor “Let’s get our work done.”