‘We need help’ — Pierce County schools talk 2019 priorities with legislators

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Local state legislators, superintendents and school board members met recently to focus in on a joint agenda for the next legislative session, which begins on January 14, 2019.

Districts have a lot at stake after the major changes the state made in school funding last year. Prior to the meeting, Pierce County school districts worked together to form a list of priorities they want to see addressed in 2019. Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel led the meeting, and took the group through the districts’ six priorities, allowing time throughout for comments and questions from the crowded room.

Pierce County School Districts’ Legislative Agenda

1. Increase local levy (enrichment) funding

2. Simple majority for school bonds

3. Fully fund special education

4. Fully fund transportation

5. Regionalization adjustment

6. Fund employee health care (SEBB)

60% Supermajority

The 60% supermajority requirement for school construction bonds took center stage as districts lamented the struggles they faced in overcrowding while attempting to get over the state’s high hurdle.

“The outcome of our elections in Bethel and Peninsula would have been a landslide for an elected official. You all know that,” said Peninsula School District Superintendent Dr. Arthur Jarvis as heads nodded around the room.

While some legislators agreed that 50% would be better all around, others said 55% would be a better compromise.

Special education and transportation

Districts around the county weighed in on the lack of state funding for special education and transportation.

“In the 18 years I’ve been here, the state has never fully covered special education costs,” said Superintendent Seigel. “We are always $3 to $5 million short.”

This shortfall results in districts having to spend millions of dollars from their general funds to cover the costs the state doesn’t.

When it comes to transportation, Bethel is also underfunded. But Eatonville Superintendent Krestin Bahr said her district, which extends out into Mount Rainier National Park, is severely impacted by the funding formula the state uses.

“Transportation is a bugaboo for Eatonville,” she said. “We don’t go as the crow flies, and the formula funds as the crow flies. We go over the river, and through the woods…”

Over one third of Eatonville’s transportation costs are not funded by the state.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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