Oak Harbor School Board questions lawsuit funding

The Oak Harbor School Board members are questioning whether the district should financially support a lawsuit against the state over public education funding.

The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, a consortium of 32 school districts that successfully sued the state earlier in the year, wants school districts to make a financial contribution as the case, known as McCleary vs. State, winds its way through the appeals process.

The Network wants the Oak Harbor School District to contribute $1.95 per student, which would equate to approximately $10,000. The school district, however, doesn’t have any obligation to contribute to the legal effort.

“I know this suit will go ahead whether we give them support or not,” Superintendent Rick Schulte said during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

A King County Superior Court judge ruled earlier in the year that the state is failing in its constitutional duty to fully fund public education. Since then the Legislature appropriated nearly $1 million to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Board members were concerned that the money for the lawsuit could be better spent locally and questioned how effective the lawsuit will be.

“I’m not sure what the Network will accomplish even if they win the lawsuit,” school board member Dave McCool said.

The board didn’t make a decision Tuesday night. They postponed it until the June 28 meeting when all school board members can attend.

If the school board approves the support for the lawsuit, then officials may have to make cuts elsewhere.

Schulte suggested that the school board cancel its annual trip to the Washington State School Directors Association conference, which will be held in Spokane this fall. Schulte estimated that trip costs the school district between $5,000 and $6,000.

School board member Peter Hunt suggested that the school board still cancel the trip to the conference, but instead funnel the money back into the district’s general fund.

As for how effective the lawsuit will be, Schulte had mixed feelings. While he appreciated the strong language written in the judge’s decision, it’s tough to predict when and what kind of change will be made.

“Ultimately it’s still the Legislature that has to take action and make a decision,” Schulte said.

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