Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Timbre of the Timber

One of my big projects this spring was to take a New Business Item (NBI) to the WEA's Representative Assembly regarding federal timber money. It read like so:

Background: OSPI withholds basic education dollars equal to federal forest money from school districts by lowering their apportionment by an equal amount. Money intended for schools for the mitigation of the negative impacts of federal and court actions should go to those schools.

Cost Implications: $18,000,000 to Washington State government

WEA Goal Objectives:
  • Improve the quality of and access to public education for all students
  • Forge partnerships with parents, business, other unions, and community groups.
Recommended Actions

That WEA lobby to ban the deduction of basic education dollars in lieu of Federal timber monies and to let these dollars “flow through” to the districts they are allotted to; and

That WEA work in a two prong approach, one with our congressional delegation and the other with the state legislature, to end the current practice of school district general apportionment money being lowered by an amount equal to the Federal Timber money received, thereby depriving some of our neediest school districts of an available means of support.
Why this? The background is that the Federal government provides money to counties that have had taxable land taken away because of the creation of a national park, monument, or forest; this money is to be split evenly between the county government and any school districts within that county. This was how it was done until the economic crisis of the early '80s, when the powers-that-be decided they'd lower the general fund apportionment for timber districts by an amount equal to what they would have received from the Feds; the practical impact, then, was that the state didn't have to fully fund those schools because Federal money bailed them out of the responsibility.

What's that mean, then? A district like Newport loses nearly $270,000 a year, more than enough for three teachers. Republic, one of my favorite places in Washington, is out $120,000+. Down in Southwest Washington you've got Napavine, Adna, Winlock, and Onalaska who all lose out on $100,000+. For Wenatchee, $600,000. Port Townsend, $562,000. Everett, $140,000. All told, we're talking $18,000,000 a year that should be going to the schools that's being put into OSPI instead.

To me it seemed like a slam dunk, particularly since groups like the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition say that the money is at-risk in the Federal budget anyhow, and if we're not using the money the way it was intended that makes it that much easier for it to be cut off at the source in Washington D.C. Further, we don't deduct other sources of money--impact aide, Title money, federal construction grants--from the general fund apportionment of the districts that benefit, so why do we do that to the timber districts that often need the help the most?

I didn't count on the resistance from the urban locals, particularly in King County.

The first step in getting an NBI in is to send it to the WEA Board Meeting for their take on it. I thought I might get a call, get some thoughts, get something--instead, all I got was a phone call from a sheepish board member saying that the WEA Executive Committee, which is a subset of the WEA Board that meets with Mary Lindquist, had given my NBI a Do Not Pass recommendation, which was then stamped by the WEA Board proper. This was rather damning, because then the NBI goes out to all the delegates attending RA with this scarlet letter attached, and that's no good.

I wasn't willing to concede the point, though--the cause is the right one. I started a Facebook group to help get the word out, sent letters to as many councils around the state as I could, and had a couple of friends within the organization leak me the document that was being passed around opposing the NBI so I could respond to it.

From March to May 15th there was a ton of wrangling. Had some good phone calls, had some bad phone calls. Had a couple of people tell me that I was Neal Kirby's patsy, had a couple of others thank me for taking the issue forward. At one point I was pretty well convinced that I was going to withdraw the NBI, but at the end I decided that I'd rather lose for the right reasons than not fight at all, so it went all the way to the floor of the RA.... which point it was referred to committee. The fight was shaping up to be big locals versus small locals, and that wouldn't have done any of us any good. I'll be making sure that this isn't one of those "Send it to committee to die" deals, because in these economic times that's just too much money to walk away from.

I learned an awful lot by going through the process--if you've ever considered running a new business item at RA, give it a go. You'll create memories to last a lifetime!

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Blogger Dr Pezz said...

How would this money affect the levy equalization monies?

9:34 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Hi Doc, sorry I missed you at RA this year.

Anyhow, the two pots of money (timber and LEA) shouldn't intersect each other since one is federal and the other based off of state funds. The concern expressed by some was that if the state had to actually pay forward the timber money they'd take it out of something else like class size reduction or levy equalization, but it doesn't have to be.

12:04 PM  

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