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Initiatives’ failures leave NKSD reviewing next move

For North Kitsap school board president Catherine Ahl, the fight against charter schools in Washington may finally be over.

For a third time, voters in Washington rejected Initiative 55 — which would have provided the option of creating charter schools in the state — by a sound margin. Ahl, a vocal opponent of Initiative 55 as well as two other pro-charter movements in 1996 and 2000, has campaigned across the state against them.

“I hope the issue is put to rest,” Ahl said. “There’s so many other issues that need to be dealt with.”

Perhaps the biggest of all education issues, Ahl said, was school funding. But I-884, an initiative to increase educational funding by adding 1 cent to the sales tax, fell flat at the polls. And the North Kitsap School Board’s battle with funding cuts may be just beginning, in part because of that initiative’s failure.

Charters no more

If passed, Initiative 55 would have allowed for the creation of the off-shoot schools, which, under contract or “charter” from local school boards, use public funds but are not held to the same rules as regular public schools.

The initiative failed by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin statewide, while Kitsap County mirrored that result 57 percent to 43 percent. Every county in the state voted against the initiative.

Proponents of charters believe offering a different approach to education would help struggling students. But opponents like Ahl believe they take money away from public schools — which already have tremendous funding problems — and are also less accountable.

“I believe our public money should have some kind of oversight,” said fellow school board member Dan Delaney. “I think the reason they’re opposed to charter schools is (people) see them as private schools funded with public money.”

Ahl was also quick to point out that alternative options for Washington students — and for those in North Kitsap — are the third most numerous in the nation. She cited Spectrum Community School and the Gordon Options program as two choices NKSD offers that others might not.

“We have choices in our district — can we maybe fund those better rather than trying something completely different?” she questioned.

No penny for education

Voters in Washington also rejected I-884, which would have provided a 1 cent increase of the state’s sales tax to create a billion dollar endowment fund for public education.

The initiative was defeated soundly by a 61 to 39 percent margin across the state and voters in Kitsap turned down the measure by an almost identical percentage.

But the referendum turned out to be a conundrum for North Kitsap school board members, the majority of whom felt that although 884 would give much-needed funding to the district, it would be raising what they feel to be is a regressive tax.

“We need more money,” Delaney said. “That being said, a sales tax is the most unfair tax, and to put the (funding) burden on the poor parts of our communities is not right.”

“The (legislature) needs to look at the whole tax structure in this state,” Ahl added.

Had 884 passed, North Kitsap would have been given a lump sum of $232,000 — $35 per student — for this school year and would have been given $2.3 million per year out of the trust fund each year thereafter. The initiative would have also unlocked funds from I-728, passed in 2000 to reduce class sizes, to the tune of $1.6 million per year each year.

“For us, it’s somewhat of a double whammy,” said NKSD Director of Finance and Operations Nancy Moffatt of 884’s rejection by voters. “It would have provided additional resources, and given us I-728 money.”

Moffatt said that the district will need to cut around $500,000 starting next year, and administrators and board members are to begin asking the community where a more and more limited funding supply should go. She added the district still cannot access $408,000 in levy money passed by North Kitsap voters, due to a restriction put on it by the state legislature.

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