Sehlin: It's all bad news for schools

South Whidbey educators and board of education members met Dec. 23 with the two 10th District state legislators, Republicans Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey, to discuss education funding. - Gayle Saran
South Whidbey educators and board of education members met Dec. 23 with the two 10th District state legislators, Republicans Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey, to discuss education funding.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

South Whidbey school administrators were not given much hope for their education wish list by 10th District Reps. Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey this week.

At a special meeting Monday at the South Whidbey Intermediate School, the two legislators told a group of about 30 school administrators, teachers and board members that the state's proposed budget will cut education, health and welfare services.

Gov. Gary Locke's proposed budget may slice into education funding by rolling back Initiative 732, which required cost-of-living increases for teachers, and I-728, which requires a reduction of elementary school class sizes.

The budget is designed to counter a $2.4 billion state budget deficit, the legislators said. Though full of cuts, this budget is as unpopular as some in the past, Sehlin said.

"There has never been a state budget anybody wanted to vote for," he said.

Sehlin did most of the talking at the meeting while Bailey remained largely silent. Having won office in November, she did say at one point she believes it is time to re-evaluate how education is funded and to look for more innovative and creative ways to take care of students and teachers.

During her campaign, Bailey spoke repeatedly about making education funding more efficient, but avoided proposing additional tax revenue for schools.

Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, was unable to attend the meeting.

Sehlin, who is generally not an ardent supporter of Gov. Locke, said he was impressed how the governor consulted people from the private sector, business people, agency directors and members of "think tanks" to develop a list of functions for which state government should be responsible.

"And those of you who know me know I am not one to give much credit to the governor, but I do this time," Sehlin said.

Sehlin said education, specifically the two initiatives, are on the chopping block. In answer to several questions from his audience, Sehlin said more taxation will not solve the problem. He alluded to cuts as the solution.

"We have to step back and look at basic education and basic health care funding," he said. "Income tax is not the solution. We have a stable tax structure with business and occupation taxes and sales tax."

Speaking to the two education initiatives, Sehlin said that just because the were approved doesn't mean they will get funded. In this case, he said he and other legislators will ignore the will of the people.

"The money has to be there," he said.

Sehlin said Washington is in "better shape" than other Western states. But that wasn't good enough for most of the people in the audience, many of whom were there to deliver a message that funding for education is mandatory.

Langley Middle School teacher Rachel Kizer asked whether the state has considered book fees on a sliding scale to help fund education. Sehlin replied that legislators see a whole range of ideas like that.

"This is 45 pages listing possible reductions, including education and other areas," he said, holding up a sheaf of papers.

Mike Johnson, principal of South Whidbey High School, said that as a parent, taxpayer and educator he wants the Legislature to know any cuts in education are unacceptable.

Helen Price-Johnson, the South Whidbey Board of Education's legislative representative, organized the meeting to let school district administrators and educators air their concerns about Gov. Locke's budget.

According to estimates, ignoring the education initiatives for annual teacher pay raises and for class size reduction will save the state an estimated $450 million in the coming biennium.

Sehlin acknowledged that school districts will likely get more money on a per-student basis, but overall spending on education will not keep up with the demand for more funds.

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