News

School's back

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

This is a time of year many parents welcome and some students dread.

Back-to-school time.

Another summer coming to an end. The last camping trips or family vacations are winding up over this Labor Day holiday weekend. School uniforms or civilian clothes, depending on the school, are cleaned and ready to go. Pencils, pens, paper, books and new backpacks are prepped for a new academic year. Lunchboxes (remember the metal ones?), paper sacks or one of those reusable bags with a coldpack is pulled out from summer hibernation.

Sept. 7 is day one of the new 180-day school year. Around 20,000 students and more than 3,900 teachers and support staff will be on 36 campuses across the Federal Way Public Schools system.

No school year is like those before it. Sure, there are some similarities, but for the most part they are distinct. The 2004-05 year is no different:

• Among items to watch this year is whether Federal Way and other school districts take the state to court over special-education funding. The districts argue the state constitution and subsequent decisions by courts place the responsibility of funding basic education –– which includes special ed –– in the lap of the state.

However, the districts have been tapping levy dollars to make up the gap between what’s needed for special education and the check the state sends. District officials say that money could be spent elsewhere if the state fully funds special education, especially in light of the Federal Way district’s 2003-04 budget that was more than $6 million in the red because of a drop in enrollment and corresponding state dollars. Federal Way and other districts, including Lake Washington and Issaquah, say they will watch the Legislature to see if funding comes through.

• In 1997, voters in the district approved a levy to build a new high school and middle school and rebuild Truman High School. Todd Beamer High School had its maiden voyage last year and starts this year with its first freshman class. Truman is also complete. The new $18.5 million middle school goes up this year. Crews have cleared some of the land for the school, landscaping and multi-purpose field. Construction on the exterior will continue until winter comes. Crews will go inside the building while the rain comes down and it gets dark at 4 p.m. for most of the winter. The district’s seventh middle school is located on South 360th Street, next to a Federal Way fire station, and is scheduled to open next fall for 700 students.

• Students in the fourth, seventh and 10th grades won’t be alone this year taking state assessment tests. Third-graders through eighth-graders will take “mini-WASLS,” shortened versions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), to satisfy federal education reform efforts. As part of the No Child Left Behind Act, states have to show students are making progress toward meeting local education standards.

Last year, the mini-WASLS were given to a few schools, but this year the abbreviated tests will be given to more students and the results will be published in the fall of 2005. The tests will cover reading and math.

Mark Jewell, Federal Ways chief academic officer, said the tests are meant as building blocks up to the WASL tests given to fourth, seventh and 10th grades. Science will be added for the 2005-06 school year.

• Library aides at elementary schools will work a few more hours this year after the School Board chose to increase their hours over funding junior varsity soccer in high school and outdoor education. The latter program had a 20-plus-year run taking sixth-graders and then fifth-grade students to a camp for a few days. There they learned about science in a hands-on, outdoor classroom.

• Voters will get to choose on charter schools this fall, along with figuring out the new ballot system.

There are several education issues for voters at the polls this fall, including a retail sales tax increase of 1 percent to fund support of education, from preschool for low-income children to higher education. Proponents say the initiative will provide needed funding, while opponents question who will oversee the fund and if more money will mean a better education for children.

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