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Candidates agree: Education is broken

POULSBO – Basic education needs to be redefined and the state's "outdated" funding system demands a major overhaul.

That was the message hammered home Wednesday evening by the six Kitsap County state senate and representative hopefuls at an education-focused forum. The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Kitsap and Region 1 PTA Council at the North Kitsap auditorium.

Nearly 70 community members, including area school administrators and parents, showed up to ask a multitude of questions and listen to the candidates' 90-second responses.

Among the hot button issues: improving public education, the efficacy of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) exam and the deifintion of basic education.

Among the other topics of interest: levies and spending levy dollars to fund basic education, special education needs and funding, transportation, foreign language at the elementary level and cost of living increases for educators.

Although they were political opponents, most were in agreement that changes were necessary, but all were at a loss for how, exactly, to concretely go about affecting that change.

Predominant responses swung full circle back to the fact that basic education must be redefined and the funding system revamped before other issues could be solved. Encouragingly all incumbents and hopefuls said those two categories would be their first priority to address once in office.

"Yes, this (basic education) is our paramount duty," said state Senator Phil Rockefeller, (D — Bainbridge Island). "We do need to redefine basic education and update it. First we have to define a model that ordinary citizens can understand."

Contending for the state senate seat, Connie Lord agreed, saying "we need to put that funding first in to place to the exclusion of everything else. We need to overhaul the whole system."

Up next on the audiences' grueling serving of questions was: "How do you define basic education and what services would it include?"

With the exception of Larry Cooney, looking to assume the 23rd District representative position 1, who said education needs to get back to the basics and that doesn't include arts and physical education, as he did not go to school for those subjects, the rest of the panel supported an all-inclusive subject matter for basic education.

"I really believe the most important thing for children is to be well rounded in reading, writing, math and to know how to socialize, to think to recognize the importance of arts in our communities," said state Rep. Sherry Appleton (D - Poulsbo). "All of these things are what make a child top-notch. Sports are important, we need to encompass a lot of things in basic education."

A common response to the definition question is to allow school boards, school districts, parents and PTAs at the local level to define, based upon their specific needs, exactly what subjects basic education should entail.

Moderator Catherine Ahl, voter education chair and former North Kitsap School District board president, launched into the next round: WASL.

Once again all agreed the WASL is faulty and negatively taking up students' and teachers' time, but some form of measuring the standard or standardized testing needs to be in place, perhaps just not the WASL.

State Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) said her second- and fourth-grade children and other elementary students call the WASL a "waste of a students' time," and that the test should be simplified and shortened. She does support the concept of having high standards and the ability for the state to measure the standards.

Vying to oust Rofles, Mark Lowe mentioned a blast from the past — the IOWA test of basic skills — as a good option for testing basic information and the standards of reading, writing and arithmetic.

"The WASL has become a giant elephant floundering around the classroom," Lowe said. "We have to have a standard but we didn't need the WASL taking up our students' time, testing standards is what our teachers are for. We already have two tests, the SAT and ACT to get into college, not the WASL."

The most forward-moving and solution-based discussion brought forward on Wednesday concerned transportation. As it stands now the state funds transportation as the crow flies and not as the bus drives. This system has resulted in area school districts being underfunded by several hundred thousands of dollars to slightly more than a million in the transportation department.

But that's going to change.

Rockefeller said he introduced legislation to change transportation funding a year ago, which has been passed, and is currently being redefined.

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