Opinion

Campaign for schools is about sustaining excellence | Letter to the Editor

As Vashon’s new public schools foundation seeks to raise $500,000, Superintendent Michael Soltman has a message to share.

This isn’t a funding crisis, he says. If the foundation doesn’t raise the funds, he can cut programs, lay off teachers and still have a program in place that will pass muster with the state. The district won’t go bankrupt. Kids will still be able to graduate and head to college.

But what we’ll lack, he says, is an academic program that reflects Vashon’s richness, vibrancy and high expectations. We’ll have a mediocre school system, not a great one.

As the community-wide fundraising campaign enters a third season on Vashon, Soltman and others are shifting the terms of the debate — talking about the district’s funding gap not as a crisis but a simple reality. It’s part of his effort to get people to think not about saving the schools but sustaining them. About public education as not just the province of government but as a public-private partnership that requires widespread community involvement.

Some will balk at this notion. As high school teacher Martha Woodard makes clear in her letter on the following page, many continue to hold up the ideal of universal education — a once-radical notion that everyone, in every corner of the country, deserves the opportunity to attend a decent, publicly funded school.

At the same time, as Soltman points out, we’re facing a new, hard reality. The state’s financial situation continues to unravel, and if Islanders don’t support the schools, programs many of us consider fundamental to a quality education — math and science, drama and debate, arts and music — will begin to unravel, too.

Soltman, in a recent visit to The Beachcomber’s office, noted that the district continues to push for structural reforms in Olympia. The district is part of an organization fighting to ensure implementation of the state Supreme Court’s far-reaching decision calling for full funding of K-12 public education.

But these reforms, if they come at all, are many years off. And meanwhile, some 1,500 students are passing through our schools’ hallways on any given day. They’re not guinea pigs in a political drama; they’re real kids, some new to the rigors of school, others on the verge of adulthood, whose lives will be shaped by how the community responds to this ongoing financial mess.

We encourage Soltman, the PTSA, teachers and administrators to continue to fight for full state funding, for the fulfillment of the powerful promise of universal education.

We also encourage families, business leaders, retirees and community activists — people who care about public education — to once again step up and support our schools.

Both tracks are critical. Both will have a profound impact on our children today and those in the decades to follow.

 

For more information, visit the Vashon Island Public Schools Foundation website at www.vashonschoolsfoundation.org.


 

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