Friesen: Budget woes at Marysville schools require larger fix

The state must be responsible for all operating costs, leaving voter-approved levies for the extras.

Ron Friesen

Ron Friesen

By Ron Friesen / Herald Forum

I am so glad to see increasing awareness of the problems facing Marysville’s schools as we struggle to figure out how to meet the education needs of our next generation!

The needs have changed, but the 100-plus-year-old system has not. Our school district’s budget problems did not suddenly happen. It has taken at least 20 years during which time we were constantly told, “Everything’s fine; nothing to see here.”

Our school district certainly must be held accountable for its missteps along the way. But overlooking the problems created by state curriculum mandates and a funding system that does not meet student needs will be a mistake. Wealthy districts have been able to manage with larger levies and budget reserves, while poorer districts, like Marysville, are now on the edge of the cliff.

The funding system is so convoluted that even highly trained, highly paid professionals cannot make heads or tails of it. Claiming “transparency” while trying to explain a nonsensical funding and budget system only shows how ridiculous that system really is. It is time for clarity, not transparency. To that end, here is what I believe is needed.

1. A state funding system that recognizes and fully funds the operating costs in every district so that levy funds are not used for: student economic needs, student current achievement status and needs, student educational pathway needs, increasing costs to maintain aging infrastructure, unfunded curriculum mandates from the state and building operational reserves.

2. A bond approval system that: provides a larger share of state support to districts with lower economic status and construction bonds that can be approved with 51 percent voter approval.

3. Levy funds that are only used to fund extras, not basics.

In order for this to happen:

• Each district must clearly show and justify operation costs to the state and demand full compensation. This is not happening because operation costs are not clearly defined, and levy funds are mingled into operating costs.

• Levy funds must not be used for operations as they are now.

• Levy funds must be clearly designated for the educational enhancements each community decides is most important. They currently supplement the basics, and our important extras are now on the chopping block.

So,

All operation funds must come from the state.

Construction bonds must be supplemented according to district economic status instead of a flat percentage for all districts.

Levy funds, for clearly defined extras each district values come from local voters.

These funds are strictly designated and clearly spent, correctly.

This is the clarity we need, not “transparency.” This is the clarity we do not have. So our budget is a mess. People are justifiably confused and angry. Meanwhile, legislators in Olympia are oblivious while we fight over the scraps.

Holding our school district’s feet to the fire is absolutely the right thing to do. But we must not overlook Olympia which is the root of the problems we face here. And what’s worst, everything but education needs are on the table this session. Our kids only have hard working parents, not highly paid lobbyists. So guess whose needs are being overlooked again.

Ron Friesen is a longtime Marysville resident, a retired music teacher and community and church musician and is committed to community improvement.

Herald Forum

The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them. Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made. To submit essays or for more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at jon.bauer@heraldnet.com or call him at 425-339-3466.

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