Schools compile top 10 list of complaints

From medical benefits to the costs of administering the WASL, the superintendents of the three Whidbey Island school districts have identified those pesky and expensive “unfunded mandates.”

Such mandates are required programs ordered by the state, but not fully supported by state funding. As a result, school districts have to dip into scarce local revenues to make up the difference.

The island’s top three school leaders put together a one-page, 10-item list they are sending to state legislators to inform them about high priority items that pose funding problems for schools.

Coupeville School District Superintendent Patty Page said the items on the list are common issues with school districts throughout the state. Here’s the list that was presented at Monday’s Coupeville School Board meeting.

1. Medical benefits, especially the “carve out” and the requirement that the school district negotiate for more benefits. Page said the money the school district has to send back to the state for medical benefits makes union negotiations difficult because there is less money available for current staff health benefits.

2. Administrator salaries, which the state funds at an average of 40 percent of costs. Page said the Coupeville School District makes up the difference by tapping into levy dollars.

3. Student transportation costs, including both operating costs and purchase of new buses.

4. Non-employee-related costs including technology (which officials say is really a mandate because the district can’t do business without it). Other costs include paper, books, and supplies.

5. WASL administration and management.

6. Cost of living adjustments for staff not funded by the state’s basic education dollars.

7. Special education, Section 504, nursing and health services.

8. Required staff training (HIV, sexual harassment, etc.).

9. TRI payments, which are extra days paid in teachers contract in addition to the 182 days the state pays.

10. Reports and data school district’s compile throughout the year.

Page told the school board she hopes the list will help keep the school district’s situation in the front of legislators’ minds when making decisions.

Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte said he hopes the list will at least help keep the Legislature from adding even more unfunded mandates.

Schulte pointed out that several items on the list, such as transportation and special education, would be resolved if the Legislature would fully fund them. He doesn’t expect a total bailout in the upcoming legislative session, however. He said that being in the second year of the biennium with the state budget, any change would be small.

Schulte added that he is confident that the local legislators, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and Rep. Barbara Bailey, are listening, but he questioned whether the list has the attention of others in Olympia.

To help with informing other legislators, the Coupeville School District will send the list to other school districts, who then can pass it along to other legislators.

The list of unfunded mandates stems from a meeting that board members and superintendents from the Whidbey Island school districts had with Bailey, Haugen and Rep. Chris Strow. Since the November meeting, Strow announced his resignation.

During that meeting, school officials talked about unfunded mandates. They eventually decided to come up with a concise list to send to legislators. South Whidbey Superintendent Fred McCarthy helped compile the list.

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