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Spokane school board votes to plan next budget with a greater emphasis on equity

UPDATED: Wed., March 25, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The COVID-19 pandemic loomed large at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Spokane Public Schools board of directors.

For one thing, the meeting was held via web teleconference, with board members, staff and the public connecting remotely because of social distancing protocols.

Also in the background looms the threat of more cutbacks should the tax base shrink during a recession.

However, that was a topic for another day.

“We will have future conversations to address the estimated impacts and the need to adjust our initial revenue estimates for next year,” Associate Superintendent Linda McDermott said earlier Wednesday.

However, the main agenda item – prioritizing next year’s budget with a greater emphasis on equity – is unrelated to the coronavirus.

The new priorities – which passed 5-0 – are largely philosophical but will be used to guide decisions on the next budget.

The biggest change is an addition to the board’s Guiding Principles, specifically a new mandate to “provide equitable distribution of resources that recognize the diverse needs of students.”

The board also approved key changes in the category of “Planning Standards.”

Gone is a promise of “supporting high-achieving students at all grade levels” and ensuring “content-rich” offerings.

Following the election of three new members in November, the board also has altered its public stance regarding post-graduate aspirations.

The old language cited the need to prepare students “to successfully complete some form of higher education” or technical programs.

The new directive: “Preparing students to successfully complete some form of post-secondary experience: military careers, technical and trade programs, two- or four-year degree.”

Also, in a major change in curriculum emphasis, the new standard eliminates the phrase “content rich” from district-wide guidelines while emphasizing support for “equitable offerings for students of all academic abilities and at all grade levels.”

Discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic consisted mostly of updates from district staff, with Superintendent Shelley Redinger and board members praising the efforts of district staff.

“It’s an interesting time to be school board president,” board president Jerrall Haynes said earlier in the day. “It’s been an interesting time, and there’s been a steep learning curve.”

“However, I’ve been encouraged by the love and support I’m seeing in the community,” Haynes said. “Even though we are in a horrible situation, there are a lot of positives.”

Board member Kevin Morrison said that after discussions with leaders from other districts, he felt Spokane was ahead of the curve.

However, members worried about long-term regression by special education students and English language learners.

“That has definitely been a challenge,” Associate Superintendent Adam Swinyard said. “Our language specialists have been reaching out. … But there has been a lot of apprehension for a lot of families.”

Board member Mike Wiser raised the issue of what might happen should the closure extend beyond April 24, a possibility that appears to be getting more likely as more people become infected.

“I think we all recognize that there is a real and legitimate probability that the closure could be extended, we would need to regroup and have more conversations about what that looks like,” Swinyard said.

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5437

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