Tacoma schools in one of ‘most difficult positions’ in state, lawmakers say

King 5 News | September 11, 2018
By Allison Sundell

State lawmakers wrote in a letter Tuesday that Tacoma Public Schools is “in one of the most difficult positions” of any Washington school district and vowed to fix inequities in the legislative funding formula during the 2019 legislative session.

“We recognize that the funding formula agreed upon in 2017 disproportionately affected Tacoma Public Schools and a few other districts,” eight state Senators and Representatives wrote in a letter to Superintendent Carla Santorno and Tacoma school board members.

The letter was signed by Sens. Steve Conway, Jeannie Darneille, Jake Fey, and Christine Kilduff and Reps. Laurie Jinkins, Steve Kirby, Dick Muri, and Steve O’Ban, who all have a portion of Tacoma Public Schools in their legislative districts.

Lawmakers pledged to focus on improving equity for high-poverty districts, addressing levy capacity and salary regionalization factors, and funding special education, health care, support staff, and institutional education costs.

Educators at Tacoma Public Schools, which has about 30,000 students, have been on strike since Wednesday night. Members of the Tacoma Education Association voted to strike after contract talks failed before the first day of school Thursday.

The school district asked the union to enter a binding arbitration process Monday where both parties present their case to a neutral third party and must adhere to the arbitrator’s decision. However, the union declined.

The negotiations stem from a legislative fix to the McCleary decision, where the state Supreme Court ruled Washington was not adequately funding education. The fix included $2 billion for teacher salaries in the current budget.

However, Santorno has criticized the funding model, saying the cap on local levies hurts districts like Tacoma.

“Solving the McCleary challenge was never the end of the education funding discussion, nor was it ever the only policy discussion when it comes to schools,” the letter acknowledged.