Letters to the Editor

School funding: Agree to disagree | Federal Way letters

On Dec. 2, the Federal Way Mirror published an article that I wrote on the Federal Way School District’s lawsuit against the state of Washington titled “Education’s real winners, losers.”

After the article was published, I sent a letter along with a copy of the article to Washington State Supreme Court Justice Debra L. Stephens, whom I referenced in the article. I wanted to share with you my letter and her response dated Dec. 21. First, my letter to Judge Stephens:

"When the court heard the case in June between the Washington State vs. the Federal Way School District, I was present and so I heard both sides present their arguments. Of all the judges on the court, you impressed me the most because when the Federal Way School District’s attorney was making his case, you succinctly summed up the whole case when you said ‘You’re really talking about putting the entire system on the table.’ Given your profound statement, I was shocked and disappointed that you voted with your fellow judges to reverse the trial judge’s decision.

I just wrote an article about the case which was published in the Federal Way Mirror and I have enclosed a copy for you to read. The title of the article was the paper’s (not mine) as I see no real “winners” in this case. Although I know there is legal precedence for your decision, it does not necessarily mean your decision was the fair or the right one. In my opinion, the trial judge got it right because the state failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that, with the state’s current funding system, they are clearly meeting their constitutional requirement of providing ample funding for all the children residing within the state. The clearest evidence of that is the fact that Federal Way is the seventh largest school district in the state; however, it ranks 263rd out of 296 school districts when it comes to dollars-per-student funding. In addition, because of this funding problem, our school board must make annual, multimillion-dollar cuts to our school budget. Because so many cuts have been made over the years, they are getting to the point where their choices are truly limited and they will have no choice but to cut teacher positions, which is only going to make the problem worse, not solve it. I totally agree with our school superintendent when he said ‘your decision was illogical, disappointing and discouraging.’ God is the only one who knows how long it will take our state Legislature ‘to face the music and fix this long-standing problem,’ but given the budget crisis we have, it will probably be later, not sooner. In the meantime, the education of our children will continue to suffer."

Here is Judge Stephens’ response to that letter:

"Thank you for your letter of Dec. 6, 2009, regarding the court’s decision in Washington vs. Federal Way School District. It is important for judges always to remember that our decisions affect real people, and I appreciate it very much when someone takes the time to write me about the work of the court. Yes, even criticisms are welcome. As a parent and someone who has long been involved in education (I am a former school board member), I understand the challenges that face our schools. I appreciate your frustration. What I will share with you, though, is that as a judge, I strive to do what the law requires and to set aside my personal views in reaching a decision. I have pledged to give my very best knowing that the decisions of the court will sometimes be met with disappointment. Again, I thank you for your thoughtful letter and editorial piece enclosed."

I give credit to Justice Stephens for taking the time to listen to my side of the case even though it differs from her judicial decision. The major difference we have is in “what the law requires,” but we can always “agree to disagree.”

Gary Robertson, Federal Way

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