Legislature boosts local schools

School employees will receive raises and class sizes will diminish as a result of extra funding approved Sunday by the Washington State Legislature.

The state Legislature finished its session on time, and the two-year budget it adopted contains more money local school districts.

The Legislature provided funding for raises for school employees and additional money to help reduce class sizes.

Another benefit is that school officials will have timely information from the state to develop next year’s school district budget.

“The fact they’re done is great,” Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, said. “It takes away some of the uncertainty.”

He said that in the past, when the Legislature went into an extended session, the state budget wouldn’t be approved until the summer, making it difficult for local school districts to develop a budget before the beginning of the next school year.

The new money comes after the Legislature suspended funding two years ago for raises and class size reduction due to the economic slowdown.

“That was a real positive we’re taking away,” from the session, said State Rep. Chris Strow, R-Clinton, in a Tuesday morning interview. But he said he thought the additional education funding could have been accomplished without raising taxes.

Schulte said school employees will see a 1.2 percent cost of living percent raise next year and a 1.7 percent raise in the following year. The state pay increases don’t cover employees paid by such revenue sources as levy money or other sources. He said the school district is footing the bill for raises for those employees.  He said those raises could cost the district between $150,000 and $200,000.

The school district is receiving an additional $210,000 for class size reduction. The Oak Harbor School District is also receiving $50,000 for the planned new athletic facility at the high school.

The Oak Harbor School Board held a public meeting Monday night to discuss the proposed I-728 budget, the initiative approved by voters to reduce class sizes. School officials estimate the district will receive $1.698 million from that source next year. That money funds 21 teachers, staff training days and summer school at all school levels.

Schulte pointed out that 99 percent of I-728 (Student Achievement Act) money pays for teacher salaries and benefits.

While the school district is working out how to use I-728 funding, the Oak Harbor Education Association wants a plan to balance class size.

“We feel there needs to be a clear plan to balance class size through the school district,” said OHEA Vice President Valerie Goodman. She said that Hillcrest Elementary has too many students while schools such as Olympic View and Crescent Harbor have too few students.

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