Opinion

Schools foundation changing, but it’s still important to give | Editorial

It’s hardly a surprise anymore when the Vashon Schools Foundation begins its campaign in the spring. Most of us have learned the drill: The state underfunds public schools, so it’s unfortunate but necessary that islanders make up the difference if we want quality schools on Vashon. In years past, teachers have been issued layoff notices and programs tentatively cancelled, only to be reinstated after community fundraising brought in hundreds of thousands to fill the hole.

This year’s campaign, however, has a slightly different bent, as the schools’ budget gap is not as wide as years past. We’re concerned that absent a funding crisis, islanders may not be so inclined to give. However, giving generously to the schools foundation is just as vital as it was a few years ago.

First, the school district is still $150,000 short of what it needs to maintain staffing levels next year and avoid cutting classes or sacrificing class sizes. It’s not the $450,000 budget gap of years past, but it’s no small sum. The district is depending on the community to make up this difference.

And now that the district’s shortfall isn’t so large, it’s time to consider everything that’s been put on the back burner while the district struggled. Take, for instance, textbooks. We were shocked to learn that high school history books are nearly 20 years old. Elementary math textbooks don’t meet new state standards. The science labs at the new high school are impressive, but items like microscopes are old and broken — there hasn’t been money to replace them. And while basic programs at the schools and advanced classes at the high schools have been maintained, some who struggle in a traditional school environment haven’t been served as well. The foundation’s fundraising would bolster StudentLink, the ELL program and summer school, programs that will help more students stay on track and graduate high school. Funding would also go to expand preschool at a time when there’s mounting evidence that preschool benefits young learners for years.

Though the school district needs just $150,000 to stave off cuts, updated textbooks and robust programs for all students are things the district should be providing as well. These aren’t luxury items — they’re still the basics.

It’s not right that the school district has to turn to the community for funding, that we would essentially tax ourselves to have the schools we want. But until the Legislature fulfills the state Supreme Court’s mandate to adequately fund schools in Washington, it’s the reality we face. Last year the foundation’s fundraising was slow, and there was more on the line then. Historically there’s also been a lack of broad-based support — only 30 percent of school district families donated last year. We challenge the community to do better this year and to give generously to assure our schools remain strong.

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