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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Smart Bombs: School district showdown began with Legislature, not teachers

You might know that the Washington Supreme Court ruling that commands the Legislature to fully fund basic education is tied to the state constitution’s “paramount duty” clause. But did you know that’s also one of the legal rationales for why strikes by school employees are considered illegal?

School districts are the agents by which this duty is carried out. Unlike private businesses, districts don’t have the option of just closing up shop if teachers and others withhold their services. That’s why districts go to court and win injunctions against striking employees.

Now, let’s look at the political angle.

The Legislature for more than 30 years has failed – without consequences – to provide enough money to meet the constitutional imperative of a basic education. When the Supreme Court finally came down on lawmakers with its 2012 McCleary decision, and this summer’s follow-up fine of $100,000 a day, some lawmakers said the court had overstepped its bounds and created a “constitutional crisis.”

Actually, lawmakers created the crisis by failing to do their jobs.

Meanwhile, if Spokane school district employees had gone on strike, McCleary critics would’ve cheered any court intervention. But make no mistake, the genesis of the labor strife in Spokane, Pasco, Prosser, Seattle and South Whidbey Island is the Legislature’s failure to fully fund basic education. The problem began there, not with the latest round of contract talks.

It’s only because the consequences were immediate in Spokane Public Schools that the issue was resolved, for now. If there were consequences for lawmakers at any time over the past three decades, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.

So how about directing some of the ire at procrastinating legislators and demand that they end their walkout?

Can’t be bothered. One of the frustrating aspects of the school district showdown is the failure of people to connect the dots between the taxing and spending decisions of government further up the political stream. It’s only when they realize they may not be able to send their children to school that they tune in.

So they lash out at the folks who don’t have the option of pushing the problem off on somebody else. In this case, that would be the district and its employees.

This is particularly annoying when some of the same people vote for tax-limiting initiatives and unrealistic class-size measures that make it very difficult to raise the money necessary to amply fund basic education, which increases the odds of the very disruptions that anger them.

The answer is to stay engaged year-round, because decisions made in Olympia in the spring have a direct effect on schools as they reopen in the fall.

Stay tuned. If the Spokane Education Association signs off on the tentative agreement Tuesday, it will have a one-year contract. So if you want to avoid this drama next year, follow the next legislative session closely.

In the meantime, ask your representative about levy reform and the effect on property taxes, because you’re going to be hearing a lot about that. It’s essential to ending the over-reliance on local levies caused by inadequate state funding.

They won’t mind. They love the topic.

Seriously? Rowan County in Kentucky wasn’t able to issue marriage licenses when Kim Davis ran the clerk’s office, but resumed doing so when she was jailed for contempt of court. So the argument for restoring her to the position is that nobody should be married there because of “religious liberty”?

She should divorce her legal team.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.
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