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Sat., Feb. 18, 2012

Guest opinion: Guilds’ School needs legislators’ help

If anybody appreciates the value of a penny – even better than Washington state’s fiscally strained  lawmakers – it’s the Spokane Guilds’ School.  Every year as part of its fundraising, the nonprofit organization appeals to the region’s schoolchildren to reach into their pockets literally for their pennies.

And, as children do, they respond. Eagerly.

Still, it takes a lot more than pocket change to finance the nonprofit institution’s mission. So the Guilds’ School and the state’s 14 other neurodevelopmental centers can ill afford for any of their fundraising partners to desert them. Sadly, that’s just what the state Department of Health is about to do.

The 15 centers, only two of them in Eastern Washington, stood to share nearly $650,000 from the department. It’s not a huge amount as state budgets go, but it’s a hefty chunk for a local nonprofit organization. The department isn’t proposing merely a cutback, mind you, but an outright elimination, which will mean the loss of some $40,000 to the Guilds’ School.

All state agencies are under pressure to tighten their belts, but defunding the neurodevelopmental centers is a dubious choice, one that could jeopardize millions more in federal funding now received by Washington.

No one disputes the 15 centers’ value. As the department’s own website  ( mch/ndc.htm) boasts:

“The services delivered at the Neurodevelopmental Centers across Washington are of the highest quality. All professional staff are pediatric specialists. Statewide networking enables the centers to share information and provides opportunities for training and education. On-line computer capabilities allow centers to keep abreast of the latest information. Children and families are assured of receiving state of the art services and information.”

Indeed, for half a century, the Guilds’ School has been there on behalf of developmentally disabled children and their families in the Spokane area. Today it serves some 200 youngsters a year, easing families’ stress while helping children achieve their maximum potential as contributing community members.  The program has averted untold costs that would have been borne by the public.

That may explain why, according to Guilds’ School executive director Dick Boysen, Spokane legislators  have interceded three times in the past dozen years to insert budget language insisting that the Department of Health preserve the neurodevelopmental centers.  Both Lisa Brown, the Democrat who’s now Senate majority leader, and the late Jim West, a Republican, stepped forward to persuade their colleagues to overrule the department’s proposed cut.

Spokane-area lawmakers now have an opportunity to put partisanship aside again on behalf of a vulnerable constituency that needs their bipartisan advocacy.

Two  percent of the children born in Spokane County have disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or other disorders that make them candidates for the Guilds’ School’s services.

To make it possible, a network of public- and private-sector backers do their part to underwrite the Guilds’ School’s activities. That network includes local governments and businesses, civic-minded donors and volunteers. 

We know the kids will continue to donate their share. Surely the state can too.

Doug Floyd is a member of the Guilds’ School Foundation board of trustees.

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