School districts ask court to halt Dorn lawsuit

EVERETT —Five of Washington’s largest school districts, including Everett, want to put the brakes on a lawsuit challenging their use of local levies on teacher salaries and basic education services for students.

Litigating the claims of state schools chief Randy Dorn now would be a waste of time and money because they are part of the McCleary school funding case in front of the Supreme Court, according to a motion filed Monday by lawyers for the districts.

They asked King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus to set aside Dorn’s lawsuit until the McCleary matter is resolved.

“Whatever the precise contours of the school funding system that emerges from the McCleary case, it will significantly alter the legal and factual landscape underlying Dorn’s claims, if not moot them entirely,” reads the motion.

“If Dorn’s lawsuit is allowed to proceed, the Districts would be forced to mount a time-consuming and costly legal defense,” lawyers wrote. “This Court should exercise its authority to stay Dorn’s case until the Supreme Court relinquishes jurisdiction in McCleary.”

The motion was filed on behalf of the Everett, Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Puyallup districts. Initial legal costs are covered through a risk insurance pool. If the legal battle becomes protracted, districts anticipate spending money out of their treasury.

Dorn’s suit, filed July 19, also names school districts in Spokane and Vancouver. The state is a defendant too because the use of local levies is a creation of state law.

The suit contends it is illegal for districts to use local levy dollars to pay teacher salaries and other expenses of basic education that the state is supposed to cover. The suit argues that the practice makes districts complicit in the state’s failure to meet its constitutional obligation to amply fund public schools.

In the McCleary case, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the state needed to pay the full cost of a basic education for all students in public schools. It also found the system of paying for schools to be unconstitutional and directed the state to end districts’ overreliance on local levies to operate. It gave lawmakers until 2018 to comply.

Everett schools Superintendent Gary Cohn assured parents Tuesday that the districts plan a “vigorous defense” against Dorn’s lawsuit.

“Our school board and I are keenly aware that one of the purposes of Mr. Dorn’s lawsuit is to highlight the fact that the Washington Legislature has not taken the necessary steps to fully fund basic education as required by the McCleary court ruling,” he wrote in a statement posted on the district’s website.

“Suing Everett Public Schools or any other Washington school district does not fix the overall school funding situation,” he wrote. “His lawsuit diverts precious resources away from the classroom to the courtroom, taking time and money away from our central goal of educating our students, just as the new school year begins.”

Dorn responded Tuesday by reasserting his desire for the judge to tell the districts when they must stop using local levies for basic education expenses. That, he said, will keep the pressure on lawmakers to reform the use of levies in the 2017 session.

“I don’t want to give the Legislature any more time,” he said. “I want to turn up the heat and get a date certain for when you can’t use local levies for basic education expenditures like compensation.”

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has been unhappy with the Legislature’s progress toward compliance.

Justices demanded lawmakers provide them a plan for ensuring compliance. When they didn’t, the court found the state in contempt. Last summer, they imposed a $100,000-a-day fine to add further pressure.

They’ve scheduled a hearing Sept. 7 to get an update on the state’s progress. Depending on what they hear, the court may end the fines or, in the alternative, impose additional sanctions.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman arrives to talk to reporters, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down Eyman's Initiative 976, a measure that would have steeply discounted the price of car registrations at $30 while gutting transportation budgets across Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Eyman must wait until December to get his day in court

His trial for alleged campaign wrongdoing was halted after a family member of someone on the AG’s staff fell ill.

Everett Community College anthropology instructor Cynthia Clarke. (Everett Community College) 20201123
EvCC mourns the loss of a strong-willed instructor

Cynthia Clarke taught anthropology while raising money for student programs and scholarships.

Members of the Marysville resue team, Matt Campbell (left) and Tobin McGowan string lights on the Marysville water towner Friday November 20, 2020. Holiday lights have been a tradition for decades, but last year the city skipped it because the tower needed repairs. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
After dark year, Marysville tower lights up for the holidays

Last year the water tower was not illuminated, breaking a nearly quarter century-long tradition.

Xiaomei, a recovered mother goat, is now in good health after a bad bout of mastitis earlier this year. (Kira Erickson / Whidbey News-Times)
Whidbey woman takes in two goats deemed lost cause

With snacks, cuddles, massages and Chinese medicine, she nurtured the animals back to health.

14 residents and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at Regency on Whidbey. (Regency on Whidbey)
COVID-19 outbreak being investigated at Regency on Whidbey

18 people have tested positive for coronavirus at the long-term care facility in Oak Harbor.

Whidbey man charged in assault hid loaded guns in kids’ rooms

Guns were found in a kitchen drawer, under a bed pillow and in each of the children’s bedroom closets.

Snohomish man, 26, dies in Saturday night crash

Colton R. Mayhew was the only person in the car. He crashed east of Snohomish and died at the scene.

Burton Clemans, an employee at Sisters for 8 years, packages up a Sisters cookie on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Sisters closes, for now, as eateries enter another lockdown

The four-week ban on indoor dining has local restaurants pondering whether to shut their doors for good.

A police boat heads out across Possession Sound while the search for a Tulalip police officer missing from a capsized Tulalip fisheries boat continues on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Search goes on for overboard Tulalip police officer

A diving expert, fire, fishing and police agencies helping Tulalip PD look for Charlie Cortez.

Most Read