By Krestin Bahr

Education in Washington faces a manufactured funding crisis. In Eatonville, we are having conversations with our families and stakeholders about the potentially large budget deficit and the resulting impending cuts to the Eatonville School District next year. I felt it is important to let our legislators know the difficult choices the district will be facing if the state doesn't fulfill its constitutional duty to fund education. I welcome that conversation.

When a public organization announces that without relief, cuts must be made to programs, schools, staff and services, a standard community response is denial. This will not happen to us. How did this happen?

The answer: For decades, our state support of public education has depended more and more on the use of local levy resources to backfill against underfunded state responsibilities. And when the state does provide funding, in nearly all cases, it underfunds the true cost of the item or work, and local levy revenues must make up the difference.

The Eatonville School District projects a $1,227,097 shortfall between revenues and expenditures for next year and a decrease in 2019 of $1,050,945. These reductions result from our local levy authority percentage dropping from 28.97 percent to 24.97 percent, levy equalization percentage dropping from 14 percent to 12 percent, and losing the ghost revenues from Initiative 728 and Initiative 732 that have been included in our total levy base. This loss is the equivalence of losing 22 teachers, and programs that will ultimately restrict our ability to educate and support our students.

Central to our budget problem is the question of whether educators should be paid like other professionals and fully compensated for the important service they provide for our students. Compensation of teachers and staff makes up 85 percent percent of our budget.

Given that the state Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to address compensation, given that we have a teacher shortage, given that other districts pay more than Eatonville, it is difficult to believe that this is a wise decision. The idea that some districts should be able to have programs that are enriching and equal to a 21st-century education, and others located in more rural, small districts such as Eatonville can't provide such programs due to a lack of funding, is an equity issue. Especially given that there was a legislative commitment to fix the problem by 2018.

Our students' success comes from having highly skilled, highly motivated, creative professionals working together. Yet now, because the state hasn't yet met its constitutional duty, a manufactured funding crisis will damage the future of our students and state.

Our public education funding model doesn't work. We don't have a business solution of raising revenue. In our case, that is the Legislature's and the governor's job. We are pleased that the governor's proposed budget takes a strong first step to address the overall need. The Seattle Times and numerous papers clearly point to the need to fully fund compensation for educators.

We don't want to be forced to make difficult cuts that hurt our students. In Eatonville, our proximity to larger urban districts makes this issue even more pressing as we compete for candidates with the largest districts in the state within our area. Quality education matters. Education provides opportunity and is the backbone of a strong and economically stable community. In our state, a free, ample, and equitable education is a birthright, a civil right, and our state's paramount duty. Now is the time to fulfill that promise to students across Washington.

 

Krestin Bahr is superintendent of the Eatonville School District.