New legislature to tackle district funding
Milo Carr, Reporter
With the end of the midterm elections came new state representation. These legislators will have a significant impact on multiple issues pertaining to Vashon, including what many see as a lack of funding within our district.
At a public meeting on Nov. 8 to discuss the school funding crisis, District 34 representative Joe Fitzgibbon confirmed that by 2022, the school district may be facing significant financial troubles, including a deficit of nearly $600,000.
Recently elected senator Joe Nguyen has promised to help resolve this issue. He intends to focus on correcting the way the Washington state government calculates money distribution for each school throughout the state. Nguyen finds the current system is problematic, and he hopes to address problems specific to Vashon.
“When neighboring districts have [being] than Vashon, you’re not compensated correctly,” Nguyen said at the Thursday meeting.
Nguyen has also emphasized the importance of paying all teachers a professional wage. This dedication may stem from his wife’s occupation as a special education teacher in the Highline Public Schools.
The battle over the school’s current funding shortages began in 1977, when approximately 24 districts, including the Seattle School District, won a lawsuit against Washington state. This victory confirmed that the Washington State Constitution requires the state government to fund basic education.
However, in 2007, the McCleary family, dozens of school districts, and local teacher unions sued the state for not adequately fulfilling its duty to fund public schools.
In June 2011, the State Supreme Court heard their arguments, and in 2012, they ruled the state had been insufficiently funding schools. The state then had to provide a funding plan by April 2014. After they failed to procure a plan, the court held the State of Washington in contempt and in 2015 began fining them a daily amount of $100,000.
In accordance with the McCleary ruling, extra funds were allocated to King County school districts with the recommendation to give it towards teacher salaries. VISD was one of three school districts in the county that did not receive an 18-percent increase. Rather, they were alloted a 12-percent increase, leading to a difference in funding of approximately $500,000.
Prior to McCleary, teachers were paid based on their education and experience, a policy which encouraged teachers to further their education before coming to teach on Vashon. Now, funding for teacher salaries reflects how expensive it is to live in their district.
Washington state raised property taxes to compensate for increased teacher salaries, making it challenging for educators, working class citizens, and lower middle-class residents of the island to remain financially stable.
The low salary paired with high living costs has made it difficult to find teachers willing to work on the island, forcing the district to cut some positions.
However, according to Fitzgibbon, this situation could be resolved as early as next year.
“The best-case scenario … would be we [Nguyen and representatives Fitzgibbon and Eileen Cody] get down to Olympia in January and say, ‘Hey we have this problem on Vashon,’” he said. “[Even if] they all say, ‘Yes, you’re right, let’s fix it,’ [and] we pass a bill, [the] soonest [the increase in funds] could take effect would be for the 2019-2020 school year.”
Which could, of course, solve the problem in time.
But that’s the best-case scenario.