Thursday, July 09, 2009

Senator Eric Oemig: Small School Districts are PARASITES!

Why won't Dixie, Damman, and Stehekin stand up for Kirkland, Lake Washington, and Redmond?  WHY NOT, HUH?
Last week the annual WASA/AWSP Conference was here in Spokane, and since I'm still an intern member I headed down to learn some more, check out the exhibits, and see what was shaking.

In the afternoon there was a legislative town hall meeting about education, which was both an unexpected surprise and right up my alley. From the Senate came Curtis King, K-12 Education chair Rosemary McAuliffe, and vice-chair Eric Oemig. The House was represented by their education chair, Dave Quall, and committee member Tim Probst.

The first 20 minute or so were nothing special. Rep. Quall gave shout-outs to some friends in the audience, Senator McAuliffe talked about.....stuff. I struggle with the good Senator sometimes, but such is life.

It's about 23 minutes in that things got interesting, when a question came from the audience about levy equalization (LEA) and how important it is for small school districts. Senator King (who is out of the Yakima area, mind you, so he knows his small schools), offers that he's glad that bill died, while Rep. Probst says that saving LEA was almost "an accident" of the legislative process and talks about the importance of skills centers and career education.

Then there's Senator Oemig:

"I want to take a stab at this LEA question, too, just because I'm a money numbers guy, I'm a fiscal conservative. And there's a lot of energy around that issue. And I was just talking to my school board, and they were talking about how this is so important, levy equalization. Not because they receive any--they don't. This subsidy goes out to smaller districts. And the problem that I see is that we see large districts that are subsidizing small districts advocating for that equity.

"But we're not seeing a symbiotic relationship. It's actually kind of parasitic."

"I don't hear small districts saying hey, raise those levies in those larger districts where they're able to collect the money. We've got to figure out how to solve the funding of education and get revenue where it can be gotten."

"I think we've got to equalize, then, that money statewide. And there's nobody that I've met in the legislature that doesn't think levy equalization is important. But we have to understand the dual role that we see with levies in the districts that are raising them--we have to let them raise those, and we have to equalize them."

"I really want you to think about that after this--that's something that I want you to take away from here."
Being in the room I can tell you his comments caused quite a bit of tut-tutting; the first speaker after him pointed out that levy equalization isn't about big and small, it's about rich and poor--that's why Spokane and Evergreen of Vancouver, two of the largest districts in the state, are also two power-consumers of LEA dollars.

The heart of Senator Oemig's strawman argument, though, is that small school districts aren't advocating hard enough for large school districts, and that's an argument that sort of beggars imagination. The reason people on my side of the state were so against HB1776 was because of the cut to levy equalization--it had nothing at all to do with the fact that it also would have raised the levy lid for affluent school districts. If they get more money, good for them--just leave my damn budget alone.

Remember, too, that back in April Senator McAuliffe was defending LEA cuts because she felt that the stimulus money coming in was an equitable replacement.

It's going to be a big issue in the coming session. If you're in a district that receives LEA money, start prepping NOW. A parent or a teacher? Start talking to your school board and central office admins about the State School Directors Association Legislative Conference in September. WEA members, talk with your Uniserv leadership and your WEA board members and let them know what you think. Legislative Assembly Days are in Olympia in October, and that'll be a good chance to talk with your Representatives about this issue, or any other.

Man the ramparts, folks. It's needed.

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