Richland School Board criticizes government intrusion

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 3, 2013 

Richland School Board members are asking lawmakers to stanch the flow of new education policies and directives for the next few years.

The board met with state Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, on Tuesday afternoon during a public special meeting to discuss legislative goals for the coming legislative session.

Board Chairman Rick Jansons said it was almost like the state and federal governments are "ganging up on" school districts through the implementation of new educational standards and testing, requirements for teacher evaluations and mandates on what school lunches must include.

"I don't think we need the federal government telling my third-grader what to have for lunch," Jansons said.

Board members spoke with Haler about a few issues, including getting an exemption that would allow the district to build a school outside urban growth boundaries. The district owns about 20 acres off of Dallas Road near a future development but that land is just outside the boundary.

But much of Tuesday's discussion focused on the problems that state and federal lawmakers create for local school boards. Federal officials are encouraging adoption of the Common Core State Standards in math and language arts and tying test scores to teacher evaluations, which means districts have to spend time training teachers, setting up new testing procedures and reworking employee contracts.

State officials are pushing to increase graduation requirements and to make class sizes smaller, board members said. Those moves could cause problems, such as creating a razor-thin margin for error with students getting the credits they need for a diploma or creating the need for more classroom space in already crowded schools.

"I think they have the best intentions but don't consider the repercussions," said Vice Chairwoman Heather Cleary.

Board member Phyllis Strickler said government intrusion extends to money provided for education. The district has cut from various programs over the years because of a shrinking state budget. Now that a court order is forcing the state to bolster its financial support, lawmakers are tying strings to the money, making it difficult to restore what was lost.

Jansons said a reprieve on new policies will give the district time to implement the current list of mandates and evaluate their success, if state leaders would briefly refrain from perpetual reform efforts.

Haler shared the board's concerns and said he would keep them in mind during the session. He added that he would welcome board members in Olympia if they came to testify on any new education legislation.

Other lawmakers were invited to the meeting, including state Rep. Brad Klippert and state Sen. Sharon Brown, both R-Kennewick, but were unable to attend. Jansons said board members would meet with them in the coming weeks.

Also Tuesday, Jansons and Cleary were sworn into office after winning re-election in November. The board also was set to vote for board officers but put it off until January as board member Rick Donahoe was unable to attend.

Jansons said he wasn't interested in holding onto the president position for another year and looked forward to another board member being nominated.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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