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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Dan Hansen: Schools’ levying authority needs boost

By Dan Hansen West Valley School Board

Washington’s 1,477 school board members form the largest body of elected officials in the state. Our opinions are as diverse as our communities, but all of the directors I’ve met share a common commitment to the good of all 1 million children who attend Washington’s public schools.

So I give Centralia School Board member Jami Lund the benefit of the doubt that his March 7 guest column (“Why schools don’t need another tax hike,” March 7) was well-intentioned.

Lund praises the Legislature for shouldering more of the financial burden for funding basic education, while arguing that schools don’t need authority to raise money to close a funding gap. He fails to mention that the Legislature’s school funding “fix” turned some districts into big winners, while leaving a greater number with big losses. The financial losers include most districts in Eastern Washington, along with many in West Side communities where property values are still reasonable – including Centralia.

As Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Allen noted last fall, the legislative fix “gave with one hand and took with the other.” While legislators were generous with state money, they also severely curtailed districts’ levying authority. The good news for Spokane County taxpayers is that most have seen a reduction in property taxes. The bad news: In a majority of districts statewide – including West Valley, where I serve – the gain is not enough to make up for the loss.

So, yes, we’re asking the Legislature to restore some of our levying authority by passing Senate Bill 5313, the legislation Lund opposes. We acknowledge that relying on local taxpayers to help fund basic education is not a good solution, but it’s one of the few that stands a chance of approval in a Legislature that only addressed school funding inequities because it was under orders by the state Supreme Court.

Instead of suggesting solutions, Lund blames the situation on teachers unions. It’d be easy to chalk that up to sour grapes; while it wasn’t mentioned in Lund’s column, teachers in his district went on strike in September, and Lund was outvoted when his board approved a pay increase that the Washington Education Association lists at more than 23 percent. That’s much higher than the figure he cited for Spokane Public Schools, or at any district in Spokane County.

But Lund’s animosity toward the unions didn’t start during tough labor negotiations last summer. As senior policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation, he has worked for years to weaken public employees unions. Groups that pay the bills for the Freedom Foundation include some linked to big-name advocates for diverting taxpayer money to private schools, such as the Koch brothers and the family of Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s uniquely unqualified secretary of education.

Everyone wants a permanent solution to school funding. I give the state Supreme Court credit for recognizing the inequities, and the Legislature credit for responding with a good first attempt. And schools are doing their part, graduating a greater percentage of students than ever before, helping the disadvantaged gain footing, and offering an array of opportunities for those who want to prepare for professions or attend college.

Now, it’s time for figures from across the political spectrum to work together on solutions to the remaining challenges.

Dan Hansen serves on the West Valley School Board and the Washington State School Directors Association Legislative Committee. He is a former Spokesman-Review reporter and editor.

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