Letters to the Editor

State education: Initiatives hurt school districts

Two education initiatives, I-728 (lower class size) and I-732 (COLA), account for $1.6 billion of Washington state’s $2 billion (and growing) projected budget deficit. During the last budget session I-728 cost $400 million and I-732 cost $300 million. For this budget session I-728 can be expected to cost $600 million and I-732 should cost at least $300 million. The contribution of these initiatives to the budget deficit must be addressed. Unlike last budget session, where a supermajority vote was required to change I-728 and I-732, this legislative session requires only a simple majority vote to change or overturn these two initiatives. The initiatives will be modified or overturned.

I-728 and I-732 worked at cross-purposes and, in addition to damaging the state budget, damaged local budgets as well. I-728 added labor to school districts. I-732 increased the cost of labor. The state funded the I-732 COLA for personnel derived from state funding formulas. School districts have approximately 25 percent more personnel than the state dictates. If all personnel were to receive the approximately 3.6 percent annual COLA, 25 percent of COLA had to come from local resources. For Oak Harbor, that meant approximately $300,000 per year, resulting in a 2002 budget approved fund balance of 1.7 percent, well below the targeted 3-5 percent reserve fund. Without additional revenue (or reduction in personnel), the continued implementation of I-732 in this manner is simply not sustainable.

I do not believe it was the voters’ intent to further enrich highly paid administrators (at the cost of reducing other school district programs or damaging the fund balance), but that is what has happened in the indiscriminate, wholesale implementation of I-732. Administrators and superintendents, with twice to three times the salary of teachers, received twice to three times the benefit of the I-732 COLA.

I-728 and I-732, while not the only potential education targets for deficit reduction, are the two most visible targets with big dollars attached to them. If nothing else I-732 should be eliminated to keep districts like Oak Harbor from providing indiscriminate, wholesale (and in most cases unnecessary) 3.6 percent COLAs to their most highly paid employees.

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