San Juan Island School District superintendent discusses online classes, state funding | Guest column

By Kari McVeigh

San Juan Island School District Superintendent

This school year, all of our schools have been working to increase consistent and systemic protective factors for our students so that regardless of whatever else may be happening in a student’s life, all students find school a safe place to learn, with practices they can count on and a place where they are cared for. Our schools have found ways to have students ready themselves for learning quickly, thus ensuring a consistent learning environment each time their teachers are ready to begin. In one school, all staff members, in their initial greeting of students, ask each student what is going well for them. So, regardless of all the possible turmoil a student might have in their life, they start their day at school reminding themselves of what is going well, that staff care for them, providing them with a kick start to a productive day.

What is going well?

So, as a school district what is going well for us? As I observe classrooms, I see tremendous emphasis being placed on teachers figuring out exactly what each student needs next in their learning. Teachers are engaging in rigorous professional development that is shaping and growing grade level and individual teacher practice. Across the grades, teachers are looking at assessment data on student learning, exploring useful teaching strategies and collaborating with each other to determine what students need to be successful learners. A lot is going very well!

What is also going well is that Griffin Bay School has recently been approved by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction as a single district online school for grades 3-12. This will allow us to address the needs of home school parents, students who travel for large portions of the school year and students who are looking for alternative ways to learn. Students enrolled in this program may come into Griffin Bay School or may have all of their learning needs met online in their own home environment. Our Griffin Bay teachers ensure each student’s needs are met by delivering personalized instruction and attention. Check out this link to see what Griffin Bay School/Online Learning Academy has to offer:

School funding

Although much is going well there are still areas we need to develop. I get a lot of questions about how our school district is funded. You may have heard that Washington state legislators last year created and implemented a complex new school funding model, following the state Supreme Court ruling that Washington had not been meeting its paramount duty to fully fund basic education for decades. The legislature has made great strides in increasing state funding for public education, for which we are thankful. Increases have allowed for improved teacher compensation, better reflecting the expertise and talent in our schools, with average teacher salaries in SJISD rising to $79,000 this year and almost $83,000 next school year.

There is no doubt that the intention of this new funding model was good. Still, it does not cover the full cost of education or the huge increases in cost for special education students and does not take into account that the legislature also dramatically reduced the amount of money the District is allowed to collect from your voter-approved levies. This loss from our voter-approved levy money results in a loss for us of over $500,000 and has greatly contributed to our budget shortfall.

Without a legislative fix, we are bracing for cuts to staff and programs over the next few years to maintain financial viability. This legislation, if left unresolved, will result in massive budget cuts for almost all districts in the state, teacher layoffs for which we are now prepping and fewer students supports all beginning in the fall of 2019. The state must continue to adjust the funding system to match student needs today.

What do we need?

Across the state, districts and educators are joining together to ask the legislature to take swift action on fixes that will avert immediate layoffs:

Special education: State funding is underfunded to meet the mandated costs associated with educating all special needs students. Our general education budget does not provide the capacity to cover these costs.

Salary allocations: The “experience factor” set the 2018 legislature should be expanded and improved. Districts, such as ours with higher–cost, senior staff need additional support. Furthermore, state funding is not adequate to cover classified and administrative salaries.

Levies: Districts need to be able to gain all of the monies that our voters have approved to help provide necessary and voter-approved services for our students.

If you wish to help, please contact our local legislators to discuss these talking points. We would be most grateful.

Thank you for all of your support in helping us to ensure that all is going well.