Legislature considers which education proposal to pass

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 9, 2013 

Kennewick schools Superintendent Dave Bond said either budget proposal under consideration by state lawmakers would be good for his district.

Both would provide more money, though one proposal developed by state representatives is the most generous, particularly for all-day kindergarten and students living in poverty.

Now the state Legislature has to decide which proposal it's going to pass.

"We'd usually be past the first round of (staff) contract negotiations at this point," Bond said.

Despite a special session, state lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement about how to pay for education in the 2013-15 biennium, having considered proposals providing an additional $1 billion to $1.3 billion.

House Democrats recently suggested a bill that would pump $700 million more into education, an effort to win Senate Republicans over but criticized by state Superintendent Randy Dorn.

"More than $700 million wouldn't be an investment or even a down payment; at best, it might be considered earnest money," Dorn said in a prepared statement.

Tri-City school administrators said they don't anticipate a decision soon, and the Legislature may take another special session to approve a spending plan. That leaves districts unable to hire teachers and negotiate supply contracts for the next school year and under pressure to get budgets to the local educational service district office for review by a state-mandated July 10 deadline.

"We start expending on that new budget in July, and we may not have one," Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill said during a recent Pasco School Board meeting.

The state is under pressure to fully fund education following a ruling by the Washington Supreme Court in January 2012, commonly called the McCleary decision. While state lawmakers set an initial goal of providing an additional $1 billion to K-12 education in the next biennium, Dorn has said that at least $1.4 billion is needed to begin satisfying the court's ruling.

Until this week, districts were looking at a possible budget of $1.3 billion proposed by the House and Gov. Jay Inslee, or a $1 billion proposal from the Senate.

Pasco would receive $6 million more from the House plan compared to the Senate's. Richland would get $3.7 million more and Kennewick $4 million to $5 million more under the House plan, which depended on closing tax loopholes and ending certain tax credits to pay for itself.

Nevertheless, Rich Puryear, interim superintendent in the Richland School District and its executive director of financial services, said the Senate plan has its good points, as it has more money allocated to a learning assistance fund that goes to the neediest schools.

The differences in the proposals compound problems for finance directors and district officials trying to plan for the future. Hill said she's concerned what the state will provide for salaries as the district has a limited amount of money to cover any shortfall.

The state requires school districts to submit their budgets to their local school districts each July to review and approve them. Puryear said that not only has the state not passed a budget so the districts can start planning, but it hasn't extended the deadline for the districts.

The House Democrats' recent proposal may further complicate planning. Acknowledging the additional $700 million is less than they would like to put toward education, House leaders said it would still help districts reduce class sizes and invest in all-day kindergarten.

Bond and Puryear said they've heard it's increasingly likely the Legislature won't come to a decision in the current special session, with lawmakers possibly wanting to see the state's latest economic analysis due later this month.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service