A Conversation about Education with Kitsap County Area Legislators, School Board Directors, Superintendents and Community Members

Notes by Carrie Riplinger and Mary Swoboda

November 25, 2002

Chris Stokke, President of the Central Kitsap School Board, opened the meeting and introduced Representatives Bev Woods and Phil Rockefeller and Senator Betti Sheldon from the 23rd District, and Board members and superintendents from surrounding districts including Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, North Kitsap, South Kitsap, North Mason and Central Kitsap. Legislators from the 35th District did not attend, although they were invited.


Rep. Bev Woods (R): It is wonderful to see this many folks out on a Monday night. Education is important to us all. Washington State is facing a real downturn in the economy, and we seem to be on the tail end of a national turnaround. We will be facing a budget deficit when we return to Olympia in January of $2.2 to $2.6 billion of a $23 billion budget. The Legislature will need to look at priorities within education, healthcare and transportation. We'll need to reprioritize what money needs to be spent and where. There is a mood to cut taxes but not spending. We have to find a balance and reprioritize what government does, yet remain competitive across the state and the world. I look forward to your input. Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D): Bev and I are in agreement. This is a time when we will be particularly challenged. The State Constitution says we are to "provide abundantly" for education. The courts have set the framework in the Duran #1, #2 and #3 decisions that educating children within our borders is our #1 priority. We won't be doing "budget as usual" with a $2.5 billion deficit. We will have to adopt "results oriented budgeting" by collecting and grouping what we spend money on over the entire budget, then ranking them in terms of value to the public.

The future of long-term education reform is one of the key issues of education. We began education reform in 1993. Although we've made significant progress, we're only halfway through the process. As OSPI Terry Bergeson said, we must "stay the course." There are many things to consider: the certificate of mastery; the scope of the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) and its link to graduation; the relationship between the state's education strategies and the federal "No Child Left Behind" act; special education funding; and a simple majority for levies and bonds (I hope we can finally get the simple majority passed in this Legislative session).

Sen. Betty Sheldon (D): I see so many faces I know and have worked with over the last 10 years. We all have one goal in mind -- to educate our children. We've been struggling to give every child in the state an education. Every time we move in the right direction, there are challenges, a lot of thorny bushes in the path. As parents and educators we know a good education is what our children need. This is a very challenging time. I have a dream that by pouring a lot of money into early childhood education it will get kids on the right track. Then we wouldn't have so many problems. We're committed to do that. I pledge to look at the issues you bring and your priorities, and represent you and the children. We're very committed to do that. Let's make sure we're all on the same page with the same priorities.


South Kitsap Board President Greg Scott: It is hard to start the conversation without considering the larger issues beyond education like tax structure and funding mechanisms. What type of government are we, representative or populist? We're somewhere in the middle and it's very confusing. We ought to be looking at ways to avoid this situation in the future

North Mason Supt. Debbie Wing: Our #1 priority is for legislators to "stand tall" and "stay the course" in what we've accomplished in education reform over the last 10 years. OSPI Bergeson's last speech was excellent. Teaching and learning has improved so much in the last five years. Kids are learning so much more now at their young age. "Please, please, do NOT put more burden back on local communities." Change the requirement to pass levies to a 50% majority, but do not increase the levy lid.

Bremerton Supt. Betty Hyde: It will be a difficult session, but I urge you to "stay the course." We're making wonderful progress with students. We're giving students the skills to live, learn and work in the 21st century. We are very results conscious; we in public schools know how to do this. People judge a community and county by their schools. We can invest in economic development by educating children.

Central Kitsap Board Legislative representative, LeeAnn Powers: We're headed in the right direction; "stay the course" on education reform. We've come a long way in the last 10 years. We don't want this year to take us off the track. The Legislature strongly upheld I-728; please maintain and increase it.

Katherine Gleysteen, Principal of Klahowya Secondary School, explained how I-728 money as made a difference. Klahowya studied disparities between boys' and girls' English scores. Boys don't do as well, so we put failing male students with a male teacher who told them at the outset that they could succeed. They focused on poetry and writing. Most of them passed at least part of their WASL test and several passed all four parts.

Shirley Kamoche, Principal of Jackson Park Elementary, told how her school is closing the achievement gap. Jackson Park is highly mobile and ethnic due to the proximity of on-base housing. I-728 dollars are used to extend the learning day to assist students with reading and math. Fifteen out of 20 students met the reading standard on the WASL. She noted Central Kitsap was fortunate to begin the school year fully staffed, but noted it is important to continue funding through I-732 to allow districts to offer competitive wages to attract new teachers.

Chuck Main, Director of Special Education for Central Kitsap, reminded legislators that special education is a mandated program. Each year the courts redefine special ed, meaning more children are classified "special ed," yet funding for the program drops. In 1998 Central Kitsap had 19 autistic students. Today we have 60. The costs are very high. The State caps special ed funding at 13%, leaving Central Kitsap with 125 kids over that 13% lid -- that amounts to $450,000 not funded. Why is Central Kitsap over? A large number of military families live in on-base housing. There are 50% more special ed kids from military families. Also we have a disproportionate number of kids in preschool. Those kids count against that 13% lid.

LeeAnn Powers asked that the Legislature fund the rising costs of healthcare and retain the current levy lid and levy equalization.

Bainbridge Island Supt. Ken Crawford: We cannot "stay the course" without funding. For us, I-728 was a source of dynamic money. We reprioritized, looking at class size, staffing and professional development. I-728 saved teaching positions that would have been lost due to funding cuts in other state funding. I-728 has become a part of our basic education funding. Our district is very fortunate to be able to pass levies. The best thing the Legislature can do is to keep levy equalization and allow levies to pass with a simple majority.

North Kitsap board Legislative representative Katherine Ahl thanked legislators for coming, but was sorry legislators from the 35th District did not come. "I applaud you for being willing to campaign and serve your state. Others have said, 'stay the course.' I say, 'don't cut education any more!'" Even though the Legislature didn't cut I-728 money has year, you cut other education money. We're just holding our own now because we had to use I-728 money. Last year we were able to start a preschool program, but this year we don't have the money to fund it. Last year we had after school tutoring at Kingston Jr. High, but this year we don't. Kitsap voters passed I-728 and I-732 by 74% and 64% respectively, while other initiatives like I-695 and I-776 passed with a slim majority. "If those initiatives had been school levies or bonds, they would have failed miserably. Mess with other initiatives but don't cut 728 or 732!"

I came up with an acronym, SALT -- "Stable, Adequate, Long-Term" funding. Over the last 3 years, the state funding portion of our budget has been reduced. Local school boards, principals and teachers have been held accountable; now we're asking our legislature to be accountable. I was disappointed to read in the paper that the House Finance and Senate Ways & Means Committee chairs have already announced the tax restructure committee's report will be "dead on arrival" when it is presented on December 3. Our current tax structure got us where we are. We need leaders to take a risk and fix it for the future. "No Child Left Behind" is only a cliché if money doesn't accompany it. So to summarize, #1, don't cut education anymore, and #2 SALT funding. I don't want to live to see Washington State the #50th in education spending.


Question 1. Would you support an income tax; what other revenue sources do you see?

Bev Woods: I don't look at the current State budget shortfall as a necessity to change the tax structure, but as a necessity to change our priorities -- how we spend the dollars we have. We all agree education is paramount, but where do those dollars go? There are mandates and strings attached to the dollars we give to school districts. You are honest, intelligent folks who want to provide the best education possible to your kids. I want to change the way we get money down to the local level. I want to give money without strings attached. I trust you to do what's right. We should not be panicking. How are we going to build the economy and get people to work and buying goods again? I'm not in favor of an income tax. Taxpayers and voters aren't in the mood for one. The legislature would just be spinning its wheels over an income tax. I don't want to put our eggs in one basket again like we did with Referendum 51. The Governor's plan to use zero-based budgeting is a good first step in prioritizing.

Phil Rockefeller: The reality is, look in the mirror. Would you and your fellow citizens vote yourselves a higher tax?

There was a resounding YES from the audience, with one or two vocal NOs.

Mr. Rockefeller continued: With respect, you in the audience don't represent the voters. We have become both a representative democracy and a direct democracy. We've seen direct democracy in action, not only to save dollars and reduce revenues, but also for new spending with no revenue source identified. Unlike the federal government, Washington State is mandated to balance its budget. Unless citizens say yes to tax increases, we'll have to prioritize based on what we have. Zero-based budgeting is only way to get there.

Betty Sheldon: How many of you remember I-695? It passed heartily here and we lost a lot of ferry service. Our transportation funding is low because of I-695. We had to make up $40 million because of it. But that's what the people wanted. It will take time to build the economy. Prioritizing will help, but the shortfall we're looking at will require us to make tough decisions. The initiative system is making it too hard to budget. Income tax has lost overwhelmingly twice. It won't pass now. We ought to look at the Gates report -- the tax restructure committee's report on alternative taxes. In the long-term, an alternative tax system is a good idea. I wish I could make you a big promise, but I can't. This budgeting thing is a real challenge.

Question 2. Will you protect the two remaining Learning Improvement Days (LID)? We lost one this year.

Phil Rockefeller: After the constitutionally mandated basic education, everything else is on the table. We'll examine the priorities for funding K-12 education. I-728 is not constitutionally driven and not legally a part of basic education, though we are obligated to try to honor it. I-728 would probably be ahead of LID when prioritizing. I promise to exercise my best judgment.

Betty Sheldon and Bev Woods dittoed Mr. Rockefeller's comments.

Question 3. People move to places with quality schools. What will you do to ensure Kitsap County keeps quality schools?

Bev Woods: We're not going to do anything to jeopardize education here or in Washington State as a whole, including higher education. Quality education is what keeps companies here and helps grow the economy. We'll determine what revenue the State will bring in over the next 2 years. Then we will establish our priorities, with education being #1. We'll assign percentages and use zero-based budgeting to prioritize. We will protect education and "stay the course."

Betty Sheldon: I agree. "It's so hard to sit here and not promise to do everything you want us to do." Do you know how it feels to cut programs where families are being helped? It's not going to be a pretty sight.

Phil Rockefeller: You may be depressed that we're not here to give you what you hoped for. We're here to give you our best judgments. I ask for your understanding and blessings.

Question 4. Emily Wick, Seabeck ASB President asked, "Will the children of tomorrow get as much money as the children of today?"

Phil Rockefeller: I don't know that we can predict the future. I want nothing more than the best possible education for future generations.

Question 5. Teachers will have to do more with less, but we need need higher entry level salaries for teachers.

Bev Woods: A couple years ago we passed a bill to increase funding for entry-level teachers. We need to continue to strive for that, to provide incentives to get the best quality teachers. We have a budget crisis now and for the short term, things look bleak. For now we need to tighten our belts, re-prioritize and grow our economy. Eventually the economy will be good again and we can pay teachers what they deserve. Right now we need a vision for the future and we need to trust each other and work together. We need to "stay the course."

Phil Rockefeller: I have served 4 years on the House Education Committee and it has been a "labor of love." Our long-term goal is to have a competitive salary system. Under the current terms of basic education, collective bargaining is allowed, so local districts can reallocate funds.

Betty Sheldon: It is really exciting to see kids connect with teachers. I agree salaries need to be a priority.

Question 6. Would you support redefining Basic Education?

Phil Rockefeller: Basic Education funding does not prevent local districts from using it in ways that work best for them. The Legislature needs to look at how State dollars are distributed. We need to look at equity, not equality.

Question 7. What will the Legislature do to change the supermajority requirement for school levies and bonds to a simple majority?

Bev Woods: If the Legislature is going to pass a bond bill, that is, mortgaging dollars to build capital, it takes a 60% majority of the Legislature. School bonds are no different. If we separate levies from bonds, we can probably pass a bill creating a simple majority for levies, then try to pass another bill for a simple majority on bonds at a later time.

Phil Rockefeller: The 60% supermajority is a constitutional anachronism. There was some justification for it in the past, but not any more. If the only way to make progress is to divide levies from bonds in order to pass a simple majority for levies, then that is what we should do. "If you can't get a full loaf, would you take a half loaf instead?"

Betty Sheldon: I supported it in the past, I support it now.

Question 8. If the legislature does not fund I-728, will they repeal HB-1209?

Phil Rockefeller: "Turn our backs on long-term education reform? Not on your life." You've told us to "stay the course." Whatever our weaknesses are in terms of funding, we will "stay the course." It's just like a marriage.

Betty Sheldon: I supported HB-1209 in 1993 and I support it today. Education reform is making a difference. We need to keep our eye on the goal and not waiver.

Bev Woods: We heard your message loud and clear -- "Stay the course." I am curious, though, why no one wanted to discuss the WASL.

Chris Stokke: Thank you for spending the evening with us, and for your candid answers. Just as Bev Woods said she trusts us, we need to trust the legislators to do their job in Olympia. We know you have difficult decisions to make and we need to stay in communication with you. Good luck.

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