Letters to the Editor

State education funding and the $64,000 question | Letters

I am a substitute para-educator for the Federal Way School District (15 years now).

Because I am a strong advocate for my fellow para-educators, the schools they work at and for the success of all students in our education system, I testified before the school board at their meeting on June 11.

Some of my comments were quoted in The Mirror’s article titled “FW school district forges ahead despite state budget gridlock.” The article quoted me as follows:

“I hope that some of the anticipated bumps in revenue would be put toward rehiring people who lost positions in the last few years. I must ask you the $64,000 question: what is your number one priority when it comes to funding?” Robertson asked. “Is it funding student fees and athletic transportation or is it, or is it funding programs that ensure our students are successful as they go through our education system? For me, it’s the latter and if you agree, as I hope you do, then I ask you to give serious consideration to my recommendation.”

Robertson’s recommendation would be to restore a number of para-educator and librarian positions that have been cut in recent years. Robertson, a substitute para-educator himself, said the help his position provides to students and staff is invaluable.

“These individuals are much more critical to our students than restoring funding to fees and athletics transportation,” Robertson said. “I’ve worked in these positions so I know how valuable they are to all-day kindergarten teachers and students.”

The good news is our school district is anticipating it will have approximately $4.3 million that it didn’t have last year as the Legislature is taking the McCleary Supreme Court decision (funding basic education) seriously. As a result, the school district has $660,000 more for special education, an all-day kindergarten class is being added at Valhalla Elementary School, and transportation got another $1.6 million, which will free up some levy money that was used to cover those costs.

The superintendent proposed spending $910,000 to eliminate fees and to pay for athletic transportation costs. In addition, he proposed spending another $500,000 to restore elementary counselors, dean positions and a custodian position that were cut in prior years.

On June 25, the board unanimously approved the superintendent’s budget without making any changes, and now we know the answer to the $64,000 question. Do I know why? The answer is “no” because no one in the district or on the board responded even though they had my contact information.

Needless to say, I am disappointed but not surprised. As a compromise, instead of spending $1,410,000 (as described above) all in one year, I would have preferred to do that over a two to four year period so some of that money could be used to restore some of the all-day kindergarten classroom para-educators and librarian positions that were eliminated in prior years. After they had approved the budget, school board member Ed Barney indicated if they received more funding in the future, they needed to keep restoring positions that were cut in previous budgets.  Let’s hope the board remembers his message a year from now.

To quote an analogy: if you don’t at first succeed, try try again … and I will.

Finally, state educators were denied a cost-of-living allowance for the fifth straight year. Instead, the state spent the money to hire a new director of military affairs for the governor’s office. Another bad decision.

Gary Robertson, Federal Way

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