For the West Valley School District, as for districts across the state, navigating the implications of the state Supreme Court case that forced Legislators to boost education spending will be among the greatest challenges in coming years.
Both incumbents for the West Valley School Board elections said the district is in good shape, but they emphasized financial uncertainty brought on by the state’s latest push to adequately fund education, as a primary concern.
“A lot of our focus in the next term is going to be adjusting to the new realities of school funding,” said Dan Hansen, who has served on the board since 2014.
His opponent, Gerald Rosenbaum, said he is no longer interested in winning the office, citing required financial disclosures he considers unnecessary. He made the decision to withdraw from the race after the deadline, so his name remains on the ballot, and he is eligible to win the seat.
Hansen said West Valley will be able to collect significantly less money from local levies, which school districts use to boost teacher salaries. He questions whether state funding will balance the loss.
“That remains a big issue,” Hansen said. “Just an area of uncertainty that we’ll have to figure out.”
Hansen and fellow incumbent Robert Dompier, who has served on the board for 16 years, recently attended a legislative assembly of the Washington State School Directors’ Association. Dompier said one presenter explained how, under the current salary schedule, equally experienced teachers could receive different pay in different regions.
“It makes it difficult to recruit teachers when you’ve got a neighboring district paying quite a bit more than you,” Dompier said.
His challenger, Keith Acord, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hansen added that the state is facing a teacher shortage as well. He said the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s Legislative Committee, of which he is a member, is looking at steps to fix this. One of these, he said, is loosening restrictions on out-of-state hiring. This would help to recruit more, and higher-quality, teachers.
Hansen and Dompier also agree that standardized tests are inefficient – wasting time that could be spent teaching children about math, science or history – particularly when educators must frequently administer new tests.
“Schools get geared up for one, and it changes again,” Hansen said. “At some point we need to trust schools to teach kids and put less emphasis on these tests.”
Dompier is the legislative representative for the school board, so he and Hansen both focus on improvement at the state level, for problems widespread across Washington school districts. As for West Valley, Dompier said, the situation is relatively comfortable, with few complaints from constituents.
“We have a real smooth-running district,” he said.
Heading into the first full year of boosted funding from the McCleary decision – the state Supreme Court ruling that forced the Legilsature to increase school budgets, Dompier said, the board will need to “get a year or two under our belts” before coming to the Legislature with any resulting problems.
They have dealt with legislative mandates before. Hansen said one of the board’s major accomplishments in recent years was complying with state orders to reduce class size for kindergarten through third grade.
Hansen agreed West Valley is in an “enviable” position, noting a 98-percent graduation rate, partnerships with neighboring districts, and several innovative, nontraditional programs. He said that while they work through funding issues in the wake of McCleary efforts, they will need to be vigilant to preserve the district’s standards.
“We’ll be on watch for anything that might distract us from that,” he said. “But we’re in a really good position, and we just want to maintain that.”
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