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Superintendent of public instruction withdraws from school levy lawsuit

Jan. 12, 2017 Updated Thu., Jan. 12, 2017 at 2:28 p.m.

Washington schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal poses for a photo in Seattle in 2016. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Washington schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal poses for a photo in Seattle in 2016. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Katie Gillespie Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

On his first day as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, newly elected Chris Reykdal withdrew the department’s involvement in a lawsuit against a handful of Washington school districts, including Spokane Public Schools.

The lawsuit, filed by previous Superintendent Randy Dorn, alleges that seven school districts unlawfully spent local levy dollars on teacher, administrator and classified staff salaries.

Such practice, Dorn argued, violated the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, which compels the Legislature to fully fund basic education by 2018.

“The court, however, has never held that school districts are prohibited from using local levies for employee compensation,” Reykdal wrote in an OSPI statement. “During the 2017 legislative session, it will be critical for the Legislature to both amply fund basic education and clearly define in statute what basic education compensation is and is not.”

Dorn’s lawsuit was filed in King County and also named Seattle, Everett, Bellevue, Tacoma, Vancouver and Puyallup districts.

In a statement, Reykdal urged the remaining intervening plaintiffs – four citizens who joined the lawsuit after it was initially filed – to withdraw their support for the lawsuit.

“This approach is an unnecessary cost for taxpayers,” he wrote.

John Deeder, superintendent in Vancouver, wasn’t available Wednesday, but told the Columbian newspaper last summer that the lawsuit was “a tactic” by Dorn to pressure the Legislature into coming up with a solution to fully funding K-12 education.

Pressure indeed is on the Legislature this session to come up with a plan to comply with the McCleary decision – though if the first few days of the legislative session are any indication, that won’t happen easily.

A bipartisan task force charged with recommending legislation reached a stalemate Monday, dividing along party lines on coming up with a proposal.

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