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Teachers quiz state lawmakers about funding

State lawmakers from the 10th district faced a tough audience Thursday of South Whidbey teachers, administrators and board members.

At the legislative forum, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, and 10th District Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, answered questions about state education funding from 35 South Whidbey teachers and administrators.

Many of the educators present in the South Whidbey Intermediate School community room expressed concern about the state’s failure to increase teachers' salaries while their health care costs are rising. This, coupled with assessment tests and unfunded mandates, are putting unfair demands on teachers and students, they said.

Neither of the legislators promised any solutions, but did agree on the importance of improving education funding.

Dianne Moondancer, director of Bayview High School, said any extra money will help.

“We are coming in on a wing and a prayer without adequate funding,” she said. “Students and teachers continue to do wonderful things and there is intrinsic reward for teachers, but not monetary rewards. Something has to give.”

Bailey told the group they were not alone.

“Your concern is echoed by other school districts,” she said. “Schools are having to look for ways to do can do better with less. It is a struggle.”

Several members of the audience complained about the legislature’s overturning of voter approved education initiatives to fund smaller class sizes and increase teacher pay.

To answer the complaints, Haugen delved into semantics.

“We didn’t overturn the initiatives, there simply wasn’t any money to fund them,” she said.

Haugen also told the group the future doesn’t look a lot brighter. But, she said, there may be money — $44 million — available in the supplemental budget budget for the second year of the current biennium.

But Haugen reminded the group that, as a Democrat, she is in the minority on making money decisions in Washington.

Both women agreed teachers deserve fair compensation and adequate family heath care. They also said reduced funding has seriously cut into student education by reducing money for text books, advanced placement classes, and providing enough teachers, counselors and support staff.

Nancy Thompson, a teacher at Shared Schooling Co-op the state is not placing an emphasis on education. Responding by way of talking about the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Haugen explained why the funding emphasis seems misplaced.

“It should be called the No Teacher Left Behind because that what it is,” she said. “Teachers are going to be held accountable. It is an unrealistic, horrendous burden on teachers.”

Bailey agreed that many things are wrong with the education funding system.

“Put pressure back on the federal agencies,” she said. “Some of these are so unreal they shouldn’t be funded.”

Following the 90-minute question-and-answer session, South Whidbey High School principal Mike Johnson presented each legislator with a Falcon coffee mug, “so you won’t forget us.”

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