School funding, mental health and a simple majority for school bonds were among the major issues discussed at a recent meeting between legislators and 10 Pierce County school districts.
Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel moderated the study session and presented the joint list of legislative priorities.
Pierce County Legislative Goals
- Revise the Prototypical School Model to compensate for mental health, medical, counselors, safety and social emotional wellness needs as outlined in HB 1216 (2019).
- Fully fund special education, SEBB and transportation.
- Adjust regionalization for Pierce County Districts.
- Allow simple majority for school bonds.
- Clarify there is no liability for school districts due to School Based Health Clinics lawsuits.
What does “basic education” mean, and is it really fully funded?
In 2018, headlines across the state proclaimed that basic education was finally fully funded in Washington. But Pierce County school districts still say that is not the case.
Senator Steve Conway, who was at the meeting agreed, “McCleary was not good for Pierce County,” he said.
The so-called “McCleary fix” leaves room for districts to run necessary levies where state funding still comes up short. This includes special education, transportation and the state’s new health insurance, SEBB, which in Bethel alone will cost the district $7.5 million dollars extra.
“We’ve never had a year where special education and transportation have been fully funded.”
— Superintendent Tom Seigel
Regionalization levels in Pierce County is also a big issue, especially for districts like Bethel, which is currently sitting at 0%. This means the district is getting no extra money to pay staff, while our neighbors are getting 6% and 12% more. Seigel said we need that extra money to help attract and retain teachers and staff.
Simple Majority for School Bonds
Bethel has felt the impact of the 60% supermajority for years. Even though Bethel passed a bond this February (after four failures), Seigel hopes changing the rule will help other districts who are also facing growth and dealing with aging buildings like Bethel.
The original requirement for school bond passage (in the 1889 Constitution of the State of Washington) was a Simple Majority of 50%.
“The supermajority requirement dates to 1932 — one of the worst years of the Great Depression — when voters enacted the restriction through Initiative 64. It was added as an amendment to the state Constitution in 1944.” — Seattle Times
The School Levy rate reverted back to 50% in 2007.
Seigel asked legislators to give voters the opportunity to decide, as changing the supermajority requirement for school bonds would require a constitutional change.
Social Emotional Wellness
“We are in the beginning of a generational change in how we deal with mental health,” Bethel School Board President Brenda Rogers said at the meeting.
She said schools are being called upon more and more to help students who are bringing significant emotional trauma to school with them.
Bethel’s new Social Emotional Learning curriculum is one step towards facing that challenge.
Sumner-Bonney Lake Superintendent Dr. Laurie Dent voiced her concerns about the increasing rate of adolescent suicide.
“Any number over zero is unacceptable,” she said.
It was also noted that Pierce County is the only densely populated county in the state that has not adopted the 1/10 of 1 percent mental health tax.
The next legislative session will begin on January 13, 2020.