Federal Way schools vs. the state

Reference is made to the June 13 article “Federal Way schools and state face off over funding” by reporter Kyra Low.

I attended this hearing in the Temple of Justice in Olympia. I would like to offer a “different perspective” than what Ms. Low reported.

I was there because I was very interested in what kind of arguments and evidence Assistant Attorney General David Stolier would present to the court to overturn the lower court’s decision, which ruled in favor of the Federal Way School District. After hearing his presentation, I can’t say I was impressed. Their primary argument was that students in the Federal Way School District score better than neighboring schools — but that issue is “totally irrelevant” because it has no bearing on the funding issue.

As Superintendent Tom Murphy correctly pointed out, the issue is fairness and equity about funding — not test scores. As it was pointed out, Federal Way is at the bottom when it comes to state funding (263 out of 296) even though we are the seventh-largest school district in the state, and that is a big disparity. If we were properly funded by the state, we would have had an extra $11.5 million and we would have had a $1.5 million surplus instead of a $10 million deficit.

Incredibly enough, I was “shocked” when Mr. Stolier told the justices that all the school districts were “amply funded.” He must have been in the “Twilight Zone” or he did not do his homework because the Federal Way School District has faced deficits for several years now.

In addition, districts all over the state are facing deficits for the upcoming school year and cutting teacher positions (and other staff as well) left and right. If all these school districts are “amply funded,” why is this happening? Justice Susan Owens asked him pointedly: “How equal is that?” He dodged the question by responding “we don’t have any evidence that it isn’t ample.”

What kind of a response is that? Certainly not one that is going to convince nine justices to overturn the decision.

Lester Porter, the attorney representing our school district, had to respond to several questions from the justices; however, unlike his counterpart, he gave complete and factual responses. He pointed out that there were 230 different levels of funding and asked “how can that be equal?” Justice Debra Stephens correctly concluded that “you’re really talking about putting the entire system on the table.” That is absolutely true because of the state Legislature’s failure to meet their “paramount duty” to properly fund education, year after year.

At the end of her article, reporter Kyra Low concluded that “both sides got hammered in the courtroom.” Sorry Ms. Low, but I have to disagree. It is the state that got “hammered” as they failed to present a convincing argument or any evidence to overturn the case. I concur with Superintendent Murphy’s conclusion that our attorney did an excellent job. It may be a complex case, however, based on what I heard, but I would expect a fairly quick decision in favor of the Federal Way School District.

If that is the case, it is not over because then it will revert to the Legislature who will have to come up with the legislation/funding to implement the court’s decision.

I would like to conclude by asking Attorney General Rob McKenna a $64,000 question: Why did the state government waste the taxpayers’ money and the court’s valuable time arguing a case which only delays the funding the district is entitled to?

Gary Robertson, Federal Way resident