School board backs off joining WEA lawsuit

The usually proactive Sunnyside School Board opted to back off from a request from the Washington Education Association (WEA) at its February meeting.

The WEA had approached the school board at its January meeting about the possibility of joining a WEA-led lawsuit against the state legislature. The lawsuit seeks to get the state legislature to meet its constitutional requirements of funding basic education, which the WEA claims is not happening.

Sunnyside Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole told board members that the legislature seems to be responding to concerns of local school districts in regards to funding.

However, Sunnyside Education Association Co-President Dan Thomas encouraged the board to not sit back and wait for the legislature to do the right thing. He said at the WEA representative assembly last year more than 1,600 people voted in favor of pursuing some sort of legal action in regards to the state funding basic education with no one voting against. Thomas said he felt it would be an act of courage for the board to support the WEA lawsuit.

School board members didn't quite share Thomas' enthusiasm for joining the lawsuit.

Cole explained to the board the trend from school districts across the state is to wait and see what happens with the legislature.

"I think everybody is waiting," said Cole. "Your (Sunnyside School Board) decision is a political decision."

So far, Omak is the only school district to get on board with the WEA, said Cole.

Board member Bill Smith was the most vocal in his opposition of joining the lawsuit. He said he doesn't feel that Sunnyside would be able to start the snowball effect needed to make a difference. Smith said he also has problems with the lawsuit, wondering if another one would be filed 10 years from now asking for the same things. Smith said he wants to see some sort of measure proposed that holds the legislature annually accountable for meeting its funding requirements for education.

Thomas countered by saying he doesn't see any harm to the district in joining the lawsuit.

Smith, though, disagreed with Thomas. What if the governor became upset with the Sunnyside School District for joining the lawsuit, asked Smith, especially after the noise the district made last year with the WASL testing. Smith said he is concerned that the state may pull million dollar programs, such as the Migrant Student Data and Recruitment office from the district. Smith openly said he is concerned with the district offending the legislature by joining the lawsuit.

School board member Lorenzo Garza said the issue is a matter of economics. He said the state is grappling with a budget shortfall and ways to address funding programs, such as education.

"Let's wait and see what the legislature does," said Garza.

New board member Steve Carpenter said he also wants to wait and see what happens with the legislature, but does want to make sure something does take place regarding funding for education.

"I have no problem joining a lawsuit if no action takes place," said Carpenter.

The board made the official motion to not join the lawsuit, but remains open to the idea of pursuing some sort of action at a later date, if the legislature doesn't address the funding issue.


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