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School board study session focused on funding

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Sunnyside School Board Directors (L-R) Lorenzo Garza, Rocky Simmons and Sandra Linde Tuesday discuss proposed state budget reforms with Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole at a study session.

Sunnyside School Board directors yesterday (Tuesday) sat down at Sunnyside's Sunny Spot Restaurant for an informal discussion at a study session.

Central to the discussion was the proposed state budget and the numerous reforms currently on the table in Olympia being discussed, and how the Sunnyside School District might be impacted.

Dr. Rick Cole, superintendent of Sunnyside schools, said there are currently six reform bills on the legislative table. They include funding for charter schools, the repeal of two voter-approved initiatives (728 and 732), pension reform with no early retirement, a reduction in capital debt levels, health care and government efficiencies, and an adoption of a four-year budget.

Cole said there is a possibility there will be a "ninth order vote." That means three Democrats will break from their party and vote in favor of reforms proposed by the Republican party in the senate.

He said the repeal of initiatives 728 and 732 will open other funding opportunities because the legislature hasn't been funding them as the voters intended.

"There's a lot of smoke and mirrors going on," said Cole.

The proposed budget does, however, include funding for WaKids (Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills), a program intended for early learning.

Director Sandra Linde was pleased to hear the news. "It has been an unfunded mandate," she said.

Cole said the program requires assessments of children entering kindergarten. That, he said, requires additional time from staff.

Another development Cole discussed with the school board members is the possibility that Washington state may drop out of the national curriculum program, referred to as Common Core.

He said other states that have adopted the program are "dropping away." One such state, Kentucky, was the first to join the program, but "...is the first to pull out."

Cole said, "The issue that wasn't thought out is that it takes two to three years to get everyone up and running."

Linde said if Sunnyside schools opt out of the national core curriculum program, the district "...wouldn't have to use so many SES (Supplemental Education Service) dollars with core curriculum."

The school board also discussed with Cole the issue of field trips because spring is typically the time of year educators wish to take their students on such trips.

Cole said the school district has a policy in place that requires groups to raise funds for field trips.

"We've held the line since (the school board approved the policy)," he said.

Cole suggested it may be an issue the school board wishes to revisit when looking at school budgets, however.

Director Miguel Puente entered the funding discussion, stating he recently visited with local administrators Heidi Hellner-Gomez and Brian Hart to discuss the sustainability of grants. Puente said he learned there is a commitment to sustaining the improvements made possible via the Summit and Merit grants at Sunnyside High School, the former of which expires in June.

Puente said the administration has seen a marked improvement with how walk-throughs in the different school buildings, implemented as a result of the funding, have improved the learning environment.

"Grants are great, but they don't provide a lot of flexibility," said Puente, noting the administrators want to continue 20-minute walk-throughs implemented via grant funding rather than brief five-minute visits to classrooms.

He said the administrators are comfortable with the funding that remains through the rest of the school year "...but are assessing how we will move forward without grant money."

Cole said that is important because Sunnyside High School will continue to receive Merit funding for the 2012-13 school year, but school board members will need to address the issue of continuing to pay for one hour of extra instruction time when the funding expires.

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