Legislators talk education

An education Monday at North Kitsap High School generated several questions but few answers.

At the same time lawmakers are saying the state is in no better shape than last year, the district is preparing to ask voters for a levy renewal.

A theme state Reps. Sherry Appleton and Christine Rolfes mentioned repeatedly on Monday was the need for more money for education.

However, the two did not offer any new ideas on how to get that money.

“It all comes down to budget,” said Appleton, D-Poulsbo. “Real reform comes with money.”

In the past year, state and local funding for education has decreased. The state Legislature cut funding for K-12 education by 5.3 percent in the last legislative session, said Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

“There were a lot of tears,” Rolfes said of the cuts. “I can’t promise that we can defend every program, because we can’t.”

Last May, with a smaller budget in mind, the North Kitsap School District laid off eight teachers. Over the summer, the district rehired all but one of them. But even with a nearly $2 million increase in federal funding over last year’s budget, the district budget for this school year is about $370,000 less than it was last year.

District spokeswoman Chris Case said whether the school district lays off more teachers next year will depend on how much money it receives from state and federal sources. The district is also forming a Citizens Budget Review Committee to aid with formation of next year’s budget.

With such concerns on the horizon, the school board decided last month to place a four-year levy renewal measure on the February 2010 ballot. If approved, the levy would raise $13.2 million for the district in 2010 and increase to $15 million by 2013. The proposed levy rate is the same as the amount that North Enders currently pay — about $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Currently, levy funding provides about $12.5 million, or 20 percent, of the district’s revenue.

The discussion moved on to focus on the need, according to some, for a more solid education funding source than levies.

“We have always done levies. So you never know what your source of revenue is going to be. There’s never a steady flow,” Appleton said. “What we need is ... to get the levy system out of the way, so school boards will know how much money is coming in.”

Getting rid of the levy system would require the Legislature to raise taxes in other areas, an option Appleton said taxpayers would be hesitant to accept, especially at a time when household budgets are also tightening.

But Walt Bigby, superintendent of Olympic Educational Service District 114, which covers school districts in Kitsap and most of the Olympic Peninsula, believes a tax increase for the sake of education could actually help pull the state out of a slumping economy.

“Why does the discussion only deal with the redistribution of the existing revenue?” Bigby asked Appleton and Rolfes. “If we’re going to improve the situation we’re talking about, in terms of future revenue, it’s going to come from an investment this state makes in education. But if we refuse to talk about that in realistic terms ... I don’t know how we’re going to get to this issue of growing the pie, instead of just talking about how we split the pie that’s shrinking in size.”

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