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Four reasons to renew Federal Way school levy | My Turn
I would like to celebrate the hard work of Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) parents, students, staff, school administrators and board members to recognize the urgency of grading system issues this past fall and identify common concerns and viable solutions.
The collaborative effort led to a significant change in the secondary grading system in December to remove the Power Law and Priority Standard Matrix and their “unintended consequences.” While no grading system is perfect, this change is a decisive example of how stakeholders across the school district worked together to resolve an urgent topic impacting all students.
The next pressing issue that affects all students in FWPS is the upcoming vote to renew the Educational Programs and Operation (EP&O) levy on Feb. 11. I sincerely hope that stakeholders across the district will once again rally to ensure this important funding source is available for our students.
Throughout the fall, several controversial issues surrounding school district spending and policy implementation were raised, and two new school board members were elected with a strong call for change.
However, several district parents and community members are calling for a stronger message and declare voting against the EP&O levy will clearly convey dissatisfaction with the school district’s use of their tax dollars.
They demand more transparency and community input with regard to budget allocations, as well as clear accountability to the public for district administrators to achieve published objectives.
While I agree with the call for more transparency and accountability, failure of the levy in February would be devastating. As mentioned previously in The Mirror, the EP&O levy provides for 20 percent of the district’s operating budget.
Voting “yes” for the levy does not increase current taxes and preserves current local funding for teachers, support staff, important instructional programs, school enrichment, community and partnership outreach and athletic programs.
What are the immediate consequences of a levy failure? District resources at all levels will be redirected from student learning to budget cutting. To avoid layoffs and salary cuts, experienced professionals from a wide range of school occupations will seek out more stable and equitable compensation, for example, in districts supported by local tax dollars.
And FWPS will most likely take the fiscally responsible decision to mitigate potential budget impacts by spending upwards of $200,000 required for any district to rerun a levy this spring.
Thinking longer-term, my top four reasons for asking the Federal Way community to vote “yes” to renew the EP&O levy follow:
1. Our students deserve smaller classroom sizes and quality interaction with the adults with whom they spend the majority of each school day. Reduction of the operating budget by 20 percent could result in laying off 75 classroom teachers and expanding already-brimming class sizes by two or more students.
Research has proven that K-3 students in smaller classes achieve higher levels of academic excellence than cohorts in larger classes. That does not mean, however, that all cuts can be made at the secondary level without dire consequences. Consequences include overcrowding classrooms designed for 35 or less, fewer course choices to facilitate timely graduation and academic rigor, and safety and security issues inherent to reducing the student-to-adult ratio in our schools.
2. Competitive pay and benefits are required to retain our best teachers and education professionals and attract new and highly motivated graduates. Our students rely on a multitude of professionals and trained adults compensated partially through EP&O dollars.
Teachers, para-educators, secretaries, AmeriCorps volunteers, security officers and custodians play key roles in upholding a safe and positive learning environment. If your employer began actions to reduce salaries and the number of employees, wouldn’t you seek employment elsewhere to ensure your family’s financial security?
3. Student instructional programs such as AVID, ROTC, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge and Advanced Placement are supported by levy dollars. In addition, EP&O funds cover the cost of PSAT and SAT tests to ensure that every FWPS student has an opportunity to practice and succeed on these high-stakes exams.
I agree with other community members that much work needs to be done to better prepare a larger percentage of FWPS students to complete college and technical vocational degrees. At the same time, many successful students take full advantage of these levy-funded programs.
4. Music and athletics are also funded in part by EP&O dollars. You will find strong music and athletic programs at every level in Federal Way schools. These programs challenge students outside of core academics and, at the same time, enhance reading, math, communication, time management and social skills students apply to success in and out of the classroom.
Strong schools are the cornerstone of a thriving community, and Federal Way students have benefitted from operational levies for more than two decades. I believe failure of voters to support local funding for schools this year will resound less with the school board and district administrators and more with the students, residents, homeowners and business owners who experience the “unintended consequences.”
For this reason, I appeal to Federal Way citizens to vote “yes” for the EP&O levy. Preserve local funding and seek alternate avenues to communicate and influence change with regard to controversial spending and policy implementation.
If you are still concerned about how FWPS is spending your tax dollars, please join parents across the school district in sharing concerns and solutions. Through the recent success to influence change to the FWPS grading system mid-year, we found there are many informed community members, parents, staff and students willing to stand up and work towards positive change. Two parents launched a website with forums in a searchable blog format to facilitate exchange of information and constructive public debate at www.fwschools.org.
Let’s work together towards positive change in fiscal responsibility, policy implementation and accountability for the school district to produce results, while ensuring local funds are available to offer our students the best public education possible. Vote “yes” for schools.
Angela Worcester is a parent in the Federal Way school district.