Superintendents make plea for education funding fix

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Superintendents make plea for education funding fix
Newspaper with headline School Funding must be fair; equitable.

Olympia School District Superintendent Patrick Murphy and seven other area school district leaders have made an urgent plea to lawmakers asking them to fix state education funding by the end of this current legislative session.


The Thurston County superintendents’ request for more equitable state funding appears in the form of a guest column published on February 24 in The Olympian newspaper. The column speaks to “serious flaws” in House Bill 2242, a new school funding bill approved by the Legislature last summer.


“The new school funding bill (EHB 2242) was developed behind closed doors by a small group of legislators and staffers with no public hearings,” the column states. “This approach resulted in a poorly conceived set of changes which impact the state’s 295 school districts very differently with some big winners and many losers. The 1.1 million students in our state deserve a state funding model that not only provides ample funding but also does so in a way that is fair and equitable to all.”


Olympia is hit hard by the state’s new funding model, said Jennifer Priddy, assistant superintendent of finance and operations in the Olympia School District. The district is estimating more than a $6 million deficit in the 2018-19 school year. That deficit is projected to climb to more than $9 million the following school year.


The column that Murphy and the other superintendents submitted to The Olympian states, “Three serious flaws in the legislation must be changed this session.” The column requests that lawmakers take action before the legislative session ends in March to do the following:

Restore a state teacher salary schedule and fund each district based upon average teacher costs.
Prior to the passage of House Bill 2242, each school district in Washington received funding from the state based upon the district’s average 
teacher salary. This salary schedule honored the education and experience of teachers, especially in school districts like Olympia with a high percentage of veteran staff. Unfortunately, the new state funding model approved by the Legislature is based on the midpoint of beginning and ending teacher salaries. “This penalizes districts in Thurston County for hiring and retaining well-trained experienced teachers,” the column states.

Murphy explains this further in a recent Olympia School District newsletter article. “In Olympia, we have a significant number of experienced and dedicated teachers who are committed to our community and stay in our district,” he said. “That hurts us in this budget.

Develop an equitable “regionalization” funding model to more accurately reflect the actual differences in cost-of-living in each school district.
In an attempt to address cost-of-living differences, legislators determined that some districts would receive additional “regionalization” funding. Unfortunately, neighboring districts with nearly identical cost-of-living indicators received significantly different levels of funding for salaries.

Olympia School District, for example, did not receive any regionalization money, while neighboring North Thurston Public Schools received 6 percent regionalization.

Restore more local levy authority to ensure our communities maintain the right to choose whether or not to support programs and services for our students which are not funded by the state.
“Voters in our region have a long history of support,” the column states, for local school Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levies. This allows districts like Olympia to provide comprehensive programs supporting academics, arts, activities and athletics, along with the staff that serves in these programs.


Further, the levy pays to enhance state funding items that are not fully funded.  For example, the state formula buys the Olympia School District two nurses, and the district uses the voter-approved M&O levy to augment state funding and hire 10 nurses total.  The state funding level would permit Olympia to provide each school with a nurse for two days a month — “a totally unacceptable level of support,” Priddy said. 


Another example of “egregious state underfunding,” Priddy said, is the lack of support for security personnel.  The state funding formula pays for one security person to be on campus for 3.5 hours per school day at a school of 1,200 students (Capital High School). The money pays for one person for 5.5 hours each school day on a campus of 1,800 students (Olympia High School).


“This is inadequate to cover large campuses with multiple entrances that serves our students for seven hours each day,” Priddy said.


Superintendent Patrick Murphy added, “The state cuts our levy in half. Frankly, this is unacceptable to our parents, our students and our community.”


The eight Thurston County superintendents explain this further in the newspaper column: “The new state funding bill takes away a significant amount of local levy funding from our districts despite local voter approval of these measures. The new law imposes an increase to the statewide school property tax that takes dollars away from our local districts and gives it to other districts, most of which surround Puget Sound from Pierce County north to Whatcom County.”


K-3 Class Size
Compounding the budget problem, the state is asking school districts statewide to reduce K-3 class size. This puts an additional financial strain on an already impacted budget situation in Olympia, Priddy said.


Superintendent Murphy added, “We are cautiously hopeful that a technical fix will occur during this short legislative session to address our needs in Olympia. We will continue to work with our legislative partners to that end.”


Read the full guest column in The Olympian

Read Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s columns in this year’s Spotlight on Success district newsletter