A Public Education
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
A PUBLIC EDUCATION: Republicans in the 42nd District laid out their legislative agenda at a town hall meeting in Blaine over the weekend: Undoing the agreements they agreed to as a solution for the funding of public education after they had already foreclosed on any other solution for funding public education.
Sen. Doug Ericksen introduced a proposal to cut property taxes in Washington by $1 billion—which should be pretty popular in Whatcom County following a levy shift proposed to meet the requirements of the state Supreme Court under their McCleary ruling. In Whatcom County in 2018, the implementation of the McCleary solution may mean a $280 increase in property taxes for property with an assessed value of $250,000.
Republicans last session decided they’d support the levy shift to fund schools only after they had eliminated any other possible revenue source to fund schools. Next step: Campaign against their own agreement.
“My bill would return much of that money to the taxpayers, in the form of a property tax cut,” Ericksen explained. “This year we are seeing a one-time ‘spike’ in property taxes because of the new school-financing system adopted by the Legislature last year. When this plan is fully implemented in 2019, 73 percent of Washington taxpayers will see lower property taxes—including Whatcom County.
“The problem is,” he said, “that last year’s Legislature allowed local school levies for basic education to continue in 2018, while a new flat-rate state levy for schools is being ratcheted up.”
The idea there’s any sort of surplus—after the state has wasted a decade bickering and dithering and stalling over McCleary, and walking back its commitments to teacher compensation (COLA) that were approved by voters before the economic collapse of 2007—that’s all part of Ericksen’s charming fiction.
Despite McCleary, Washington ranks 30th in the nation in its spending per capita on K-12 education. Yet voters support do their schools.
Two local school levies passed by healthy margins last week. Bellingham School District, in particular, passed a $155 million general obligation bond, easily getting well above the 60 percent threshold required for the property tax levy in all but a handful of city districts. Mount Baker School District similarly passed a levy that will generate approximately $1.67 million per year for facilities and technology improvements through the six-year horizon of the levy.
The approval of these bonds won’t increase the overall property tax rate for local schools, as the rate was factored in tandem with the levy shift for McCleary.
While 42nd District lawmakers were busy promising a property tax windfall, they dodged questions about the security and safety of schools in the wake of yet another yet fatal shooting rampage that took the lives of 17 high school students in Florida last week—bringing the number of school shootings to 18 since the start of the year alone.
School safety is a big component of Bellingham’s school levy, with more than $19.5 million slated to complete the upgrade to Sehome High School to a more centralized campus so that the school may be locked down more readily in the event of an emergency. Similar safety improvements will be incorporated into planned expansions to Alderwood, Parkview and Sunnyland elementary schools, older schools in the city’s fastest growing neighborhoods.
“The bond measure includes important safety and security improvements including lockdown shades for classrooms; radio communication tools; PA/intercom service for all school areas, including portables; access control for more secured entrances at schools in need; door locking systems; security cameras for exterior vandalism deterrent and protection; and cameras in some common interior areas such as hallways,” Dr. Greg Baker, superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools, said in a statement. “Additionally, each school has a state-of-the-art emergency panic system, designed to expedite police response to school crises.
“Safety is about more than immediate physical needs,” Baker said. “It is also about maintaining a strong safety net for those who need extra supports. Over the past few years, we have added counselors to all 22 of our schools, and we have an additional grant-funded partnership to offer mental health support to any child in need. We keep working to ensure all of our students have a trusted adult to talk with when they are hurting and that they have the skills to reach out for help when they see someone struggling.
“One of the ways we do this is by focusing on social-emotional learning for students in all grades. Social-emotional learning relates to building social skills that help children understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions,” Baker said.
These programs are reassuring to new generations of Americans; but they also underscore the rising costs to a society that refuses to face up to and solve its fundamental challenges.
Inaction also carries costs.
Asked at the town hall meeting what they intended to do to address the spread of gun violence in public schools, 42nd District representatives declared (unsurprisingly) it’s a mental health issue, and offered as a solution more armed guards in schools. Of course, their party supports neither greater funding for affordable access to mental health care, nor the money for armed guards in schools; their party instead talks of tax cuts and rebates, and with them continued strangulation of government spending per capita on the state’s future.
They put on a pretty poor show. But 42nd D voters are unlikely to hold them accountable for it.