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Court's education ruling leaves Kitsap schools plenty to discuss

Two recent developments at the state level have generated plenty of notice within the South Kitsap School District.

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick ruled last week that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide for the “ample” education of its 1 million students.

He ordered the state Legislature to determine the cost of providing a basic education for all students and pay for it, as the constitution mandates. Erlick did not mandate a time frame for that.

Diana Cieslak, education policy analyst at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, criticized the ruling in a news release. The EFF is a non-profit, non-partisan, public policy research group.

“Judge Erlick demands that the Legislature perform an impossible task — to identify to the dollar a single number that represents the exact cost per student of basic education,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all answer in any area of education.”

South Kitsap School District board president Kathryn Simpson supported Erlick’s ruling.

“I read the decision and the judge is very clear that the state has not funded its paramount duty,” she said. “The state has fallen woefully short in meeting its requirements.”

But this might just be the first step for the plaintiffs to gain more funding for schools. After all, the state faces a budget shortfall of $2.6 billion and might appeal. Gov. Christine Gregoire said she and her staff planned to review the decision before they determine their next move.

One measure that has drawn criticism from both Simpson and SKSD assistant superintendent for business and support Terri Patton is discussion of temporarily raising the levy lid from 24 to 28 percent as a way to supplement reduced funding from the state.

Several previous levies — most recently in 2000 — have failed even though SKSD never has approached the levy lid. With that in mind, Patton and Simpson agreed that it is unlikely local voters would approve a levy at 28 percent.

Simpson said raising the levy lid also would affect education standards. She said property-rich districts, where levies routinely are approved, would benefit while others suffer.

Instead, Simpson would like to see the state fully fund education while decreasing the levy lid to 12 percent. She said levies were intended as “enhancements” to help districts fund athletics, facility improvements, smaller classes and other priorities.

Simpson also disagrees with the notion that Erlick’s ruling could force Gregoire to raise taxes to cover basic education.

“I disagree strongly that the Governor has to go out and raise taxes to meet the paramount duty of basic education,” she said. “If they want to raise taxes because they say they need to meet its their paramount duty, it’s a farce.

“The first thing families pay every month is mortgage. The state has to set its priorities.”

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