I-728 only working for maintenance, not enhancement

At a South Kitsap School District board meeting Wednesday, concerned primary school teachers voiced their opinion that students in kindergarten through grade three need more financial backing.

The teachers attended the meeting to hear a presentation from Dan Whitford, the district’s director of instructional services, on funds received from Initiative 728.

According to the Office of Public Instruction, voters approved I-728 by nearly 72 percent in 2000. The initiative grants funds to school districts on a per-student basis with a specific list of permitted uses.

Districts can use the funds for decreased class sizes, extended learning programs, additional professional development to teach-ers, pre-kindergarten support and facilities improvements directly related to class size reduction.

The state Legislature has increased the amount of per-student funding each year, and this year schools will receive $450 per student for this program.

Unfortunately, Whitford said, the funds merely maintain class sizes, and prevent them from increasing because of shortfalls in state funds.

School Board member Kathryn Simpson called the funding adjustments a “shell game” in which schools move new funds into areas where old funds decreased.

“It’s a shell game with money for basic education, but the shells keep getting smaller and smaller,” Simpson said.

Whitford reported that the district puts most of the funds into maintaining class sizes, but the teachers present said the money should be focused more directly towards the primary grades.

In previous years, the district put 67.5 percent of the funds into maintaining class sizes, 16 percent into professional training, 14.5 percent into professional training and 2 percent into pre-kindergarten programs.

Debbie Koeneman, a first grade teacher at South Colby Elementary, said the I-728 funds were meant to cover the earlier grades and that the district hasn’t followed through on that goal.

Koeneman said that educational research shows the earliest grades are vital to the long-term education of a child.

“You’re teaching them how to be students,” Koeneman said. “You’re laying the foundation for their whole education.”

The survey on-line only asks preferences about class size decrease, and does not allow community members and teachers to mark a preference on whether those decreases should take place in primary or secondary grades.

Whitford said he did not make the distinction on the survey because he did not want to pit teachers against each other.

Simpson added quality teaching will make a difference even in larger classrooms.

“The key is professional development of our teachers,” Simpson said.

Whitford also introduced the plan to use some of the I-728 funds for the “Ready for Kindergarten” program, which educates parents on helping prepare their child for the first year of school.

South Kitsap Schools are piloting the program this month, and will implement the program official in the 2007-08 school year.

“We have kids who come to us who have been in school three years already,” Whitford said, referring to children in pre-school, “and others that have no experience in the education system.”

The program is intended to narrow the difference in students’ abilities when entering school.

The district will continue to take public comment on the I-728 funds, and posted a survey on its website, http://www.skitsap.wednet.edu, where community members can state a preference for how the district should use the money.

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