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

Photo by David Welton
A federal grant will help pay for the cost of adding a charging station to the Clinton ferry terminal.
Federal money to help electrify Clinton ferry dock

The Federal Transit Administration awarded state ferries a $4.9 million grant to help electrify the Mukilteo-Clinton route.

Community Transit is leasing a 60-foot articulated BYD battery electric bus this year as an early step in the zero emission planning process. (Community Transit)
Community Transit testing 60-foot electric bus

The agency leased the BYD K11M for $132,000 this year as the first step in its zero-emission planning process.

Angelica Montanari and daughter Makena, 1, outside of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Everett-Central Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Amid patient woes, CHC of Snohomish County staffers push for a union

Doctors and nurse practitioners are worried about providers being shut out from clinical decisions, which hurts patient care.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of education.
Public school enrollment still down, even as rural districts grow

Smaller districts in Snohomish County seem to be recovering more quickly — and gaining students — than their urban counterparts.

A rack with cards bettors can use to choose their own numbers to purchase lottery ticket on a counter at a market. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Washington resident hits $754.6 million Powerball jackpot

The state lottery is expected to release the location where the ticket was sold today.

Granite Falls
Man shot near Granite Falls; assailants at large

Few details were provided about the shooting Tuesday morning in the 15000 block of 116th Street NE.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A holiday for Lunar New Year, a return of green and white license plates

It’s Day 29. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

FILE - This scanning electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows rod-shaped Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria. U.S. health officials are advising people to stop using the over-the-counter eye drops, EzriCare Artificial Tears, that have been linked to an outbreak of drug-resistant infections of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday night, Feb. 1, 2023, sent a health alert to physicians, saying the outbreak includes at least 55 people in 12 states. One died. (Janice Haney Carr/CDC via AP)
Eye drops linked to Snohomish County man’s death

Amid dozens of non-fatal infections, federal health leaders this week urged people to stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears.

Switzerland delegate Markus Herrmann listens while 12th grade students speak with him during a special event set up for their AP Comparative Government class at Glacier Peak High School on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
European delegates talk American culture with Glacier Peak students

Representatives from 18 different EU countries made a stop in Snohomish during their US tour.

Most Read