By June Arnold Chairperson of the San Juan Island School Board
This Feb. 9, our school district will ask the voters to renew a Capital Projects and Technology Levy. This levy will ensure ongoing maintenance and repair of our school buildings (which we the taxpayers own), as well as provide our students and teaching staff with the classroom space and technology infrastructure required to be productive citizens in this digital age. School funding has been in the news a lot lately and it’s probably worth a quick discussion of how Washington schools are funded.
There are four tax-based sources intended for education: state, federal, local maintenance and operations, and capital and technology. State funding normally referred to as basic education funding is provided on a per student basis. Approximately 80 percent of these dollars are dedicated to paying teachers and support position salaries.
The remainder pays for operations of the schools; utility bills, insurance and limited classroom supplies. Next is federal funding, and you may have recently read the about the Every Student Succeeds Act.
This replaces No Child Left Behind and did not provide any new funding, just different reporting requirements. Federal monies make up a small portion of funding and are targeted at special programs supporting at-risk students. Locally we have a Maintenance and Operations and a Capital and Technology Levy.
These run every two years, and span four year cycles like the Summer-Winter Olympic Games. The Maintenance and Operations Levy makes up the difference between what the state and federal government formulas fund. It gives us our small class sizes at the elementary school and advanced placement classes at the secondary level.
The Capital and Technology Levy is super simple – it funds the physical things you can see and touch – roofs, walls, windows, furniture, computers and some of the staff associated with maintaining this stuff. The state provides little or no money for all this stuff and the overwhelming support for these two local levies speak volumes of how we value education and those who provide it in our community.
Finally, you may have heard about the McCleary Decision in the news. The short version is our State Supreme Court ruled the State of Washington is failing to fund basic education as defined by our state constitution. What the ruling actually recognizes is that without local levies, there is not enough money to run schools adequately. In some districts across the state, when local levies fail – teachers are laid off, leaky roofs are not repaired and students do not receive basic education services.
This year the state stepped up and funded minimum COLA raises for teachers and all-day kindergarten in some districts. At some point the state will be required to meet all the terms of the McCleary Decision, but until that happens a significant portion of the responsibility of providing a quality education lies within each community.
I encourage you to support public education and ensure the right to a quality education is not a privilege of the wealthy or lucky, but the right of every child living on this island by voting yes. School funding is messy and complicated, but I am pretty sure we can all agree we would not want to live in a world that did not value the education of our youth. For more information, visit www. sjlevy.org