“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children within its borders.” (Washington State Constitution, Article IX, Section 1.)
In 2012, the Washington state Supreme Court, in its McCleary decision, found that the Washington state Legislature was failing in its “paramount duty.”
In McCleary, the Supreme Court stated that the state has the responsibility to provide all funding for basic education. Levies should only be for things beyond basic education, like sports programs and “special” courses of study.
Three years ago, Peninsula School District had more than $2 million in a reserve fund. Since then the state Legislature has balanced the state budget’s multibillion-dollar deficits every year by cutting even more from school funding.
Peninsula School District no longer has a reserve fund.
Faced with 1,000 housing units under construction in Gig Harbor North, the elementary schools at or over capacity and significant deficiencies at one of those schools, the School Board saw no choice but to go to the voters, as its only other source of funding.
Of the 10,615 registered voters on the Key Peninsula, 56 percent cast a ballot. For the Gig Harbor Peninsula, it was 63 percent of its 31,724 registered voters. The levy failed 48.7 percent to 51.3 percent.
“We are disappointed that it (the levy) did not pass,” said PSD Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto. “The needs are still there.”
He said the problems are not going away and that the district will start to see the increase in student load by the start of school next September. About 200 of those 1,000 new housing units are nearing completion now, with more to follow, he said.
According to Cuzzetto, the school board will have feedback sessions starting in early December from every source possible.
He said a strategic plan needs to be determined quickly so that any construction, repair, portable classrooms, et cetera, can be accomplished during the summer months to avoid interference with education programs.
“At this point we have no idea what that strategic plan will be,” Cuzzetto said. “It could be another levy on the ballot, or reallocating for changing budget priorities. But one thing is fairly certain, we cannot expect the Legislature to come through with additional funding.
Cuzzetto pointed out that there is no immediate overcrowding threat to the high schools or the middle schools. The concern is with all the elementary schools on both peninsulas, because “re-districting” is likely. Re-districting is where school boundaries are redrawn to balance school populations with capacity, resulting in significant busing and changing which school a child will attend, he said.
The committee that opposed the levy has already announced that they are preparing a package for input to the December School Board meeting. Public comments are welcome. The meeting will be at 6 p.m., on Dec. 5 at the Henderson Bay High School commons.