Sehlin plays a poor Santa

Oak Harbor school administrators had quite a Christmas list for Rep. Barry Sehlin, but he wasn’t much of a Santa Claus.

What kind of Santa questions a kid’s list, and then says he doesn’t have the money for it, anyway?

That, in essence, is the role Sehlin played at a special meeting Monday afternoon in which the Oak Harbor School Board met with the 10th District’s state legislators. The two Republican House members, Sehlin and newly elected Barbara Bailey, attended. Both live in Oak Harbor. The lone Democrat, Senator Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, did not attend.

Superintendent Rick Schulte presented the wish list, ranging from a constitutional amendment to allow a simple majority of voters to pass school issues, to guaranteed cost of living pay increases, more technology, more transportation funding, smaller class sizes and a statewide pay system for school employees.

After a long discourse on the chances of the simple majority being approved next legislative session (not good), Sehlin eventually admitted he’s against the proposal. It would require a change in the state constitution, and Sehlin doesn’t want to change it because he favors the lid on taxes provided by the 60 percent voter approval requirement.

“The constitutional restrictions are appropriate,” Sehlin said, as the school board members sat silently. “It seems to me an appropriate limit.”

These comments came after board member Kathy Chalfant had said, “A simple majority is really important to this community,” and Vicki Harring had added, “Why should 40 percent of the voters dictate the election?”

Board members were backed up at the meeting by representatives from the teachers’ union. With the state facing a budget shortfall of an estimated $2 billion next biennium, educators fear the Legislature may chip away at two voter-approved initiatives, I-728 and I-732, which direct money for reduced class sizes and teacher cost of living pay increases.

Harring pointed out that not all I-728 funding was spent as voters desired because of cuts ordered by last year’s Legislature. She warned against further cuts. “While we sympathize, this would be perceived by the voters as another betrayal,” she said.

Lynn Carpenter, teachers’ union representative, acknowledged the state’s financial shortfall and called for new taxes. “Quite frankly we’re interested in new sources of revenue,” she said, pointing out this state has no income tax. “We don’t want to beg for it (additional funding).”

Sehlin replied that it would take a large tax increase to cover even part of the projected deficit. For example, if taxes were increased $200 for every man, woman and child in the state, that would raise only $1.2 billion.

Sehlin said school districts will likely get more money per student next year as they always have, but overall spending on education won’t keep up with the demand for more funds. Education is the biggest budget item and will see some cutbacks, he said: “It’s going to be somewhere in education. Somewhere this growth has to stop.”

As a newly elected legislator, Bailey mostly listened, saying she is on a “steep learning curve.” But she raised a few eyebrows when she said she felt her relationship with the Oak Harbor education establishment had been “adversarial,” over the past few months, no doubt a reference to teachers’ and administrators’ support for her Democratic opponent. But she assured the board that she cares deeply about education.

“We did not think you were our adversary,” Kathy Jones, board president, replied.

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