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School leaders, legislators powwow on education issues

Whidbey Island’s three school boards and superintendents sat down with lawmakers for a talk about the districts’ successes and challenges last Thursday.

In the Coupeville High School cafeteria, board members told Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and state Reps. Barbara Bailey and Norma Smith that a major concern was school funding. School districts island-wide have been subjected to painful cuts in recent years, from layoffs to school closures.

The legislators said the state will be looking at another shortfall this year, totaling about $1 billion.

“Legislation can’t be written for things we can’t afford,” Dave McCool, Oak Harbor school board member, said.

“That’s where the political courage has to come.”

The legislators said they understood the frustrations with certain aspects of state law and school funding.

Haugen said education reform has come a long way in addressing unfunded mandates, which are laws that require a local government to perform certain actions, yet provide no funding. However, there are still difficulties.

“For every one person saying undo it, there’s one to say not to undo it,” Haugen said.

The Oak Harbor school board made a list of priorities for the lawmakers that had a self-described “realistic chance for success.”

They asked that Smith, Haugen and Bailey help continue state matching funds for local levies, which bring $800,000 a year to Oak Harbor. The money pays for art and physical education in five elementary schools. There’s a proposal that could eliminate that fund in the next legislative session.

And each of the boards hoped to eliminate unnecessary administrative reporting and put the money back into classrooms.

There are some reports that require the districts to generate a number for filing, with no identified purpose to act upon, Oak Harbor Superintendent of Schools Rick Schulte said.

Schulte recommended suspending some of the reports and looking at the effect. “If no one misses them, we won’t bring them back,” he said.

Smith said that a unified front could make a difference. The lawmakers agreed to address the concerns at the next session of the state Legislature in January and asked that the school boards and superintendents join them.

“The most important thing is to have someone outside of Olympia testify,” Bailey said.

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