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MISD joins NEWS lawsuit

The Mercer Island School Board of Directors voted unanimously last Thursday to join the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) coalition lawsuit in support of making the state fully fund education.

The district was approached by Mike Blair, the president of NEWS and the superintendent for the Chimacum School District, to join the suit, as the coalition prepares to fight the state’s appeal. Washington Superior Court sided with the NEWS group, saying the state was not meeting its “paramount duty” to “amply fund education.” The court’s decision requires the state to establish the actual cost of amply providing for all Washington children and to determine how to fully fund the actual cost.

The NEWS coalition asked the district for a one-time payment of $7,646, or approximately $1.95 per student, to help defray the legal costs associated with the appeal. The state legislature has appropriated $950,000 for its appeal of the Superior Court ruling.

The Board discussed the possible pros and cons of joining the lawsuit, including the fact that there could be displeasure from parents for not joining.

“The parents who did give to the Bridge the Gap campaign, did universally express dismay with the state legislature for not funding education more,” said Superintendent Gary Plano.

While the Board said they supported the lawsuit and the idea of the state fully funding education, several members cautioned that it could be a long time before any real changes would be seen, if the NEWS group won and the state was forced to make changes. Board member Lisa Strauch-Eggers said it is also likely that the group could come back and ask for more money at a later date, depending on how the suit proceeds.

“A lot of the state’s biggest districts are in it and a lot of our peer districts are, too,” said Strauch-Eggers. “I would be in favor of this, but we have to go in it with our eyes wide open that the number [costs] could easily double.”

There are currently 32 districts that are a part of the coalition, including Bellevue, Seattle, Spokane and Northshore. While many of the districts on the list include the larger, more urban districts, many of the smaller rural districts have not yet joined the group.

“Equal funding of education is basic, and it’s something we should support,” said Board member Dave Myerson. “What perturbs me is that the number of districts who stand to gain the most from this aren’t on here. I’d appreciate if some of the smaller districts, who would gain the most, would support it.” Myerson added that even if those small districts couldn’t afford to financially support the suit, perhaps later in the appeals process vocalizing their support of the cause would be beneficial.

No trial date has been set for the appeal.

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