COMMENTARY: Give to Vashon Schools Foundation to ensure quality education amidst budget unknowns

  • Tuesday, September 19, 2017 10:15am
  • Opinion

Maureen Burke (Courtesy Photo)

Welcome back to a new school year. Have you heard the latest? The state Legislature reached agreement on state public school funding per the McCleary court order. Good news, right? It means our public schools will finally get the state funding needed to provide our kids with the education they deserve, right? Well, not so much, at least not yet. School funding and its authorizing legislation are extremely complex. For now, we cannot be sure that Vashon Island School District (VISD) will be funded as needed to provide the education our community’s kids deserve and we expect from VISD.

While McCleary and the new legislation aim to level the playing field between poorer and wealthier districts and to ensure a “basic education” for all Washington state public school kids, it is unclear what “basic education” means under the legislation; just as unclear is the impact on VISD. We know the legislative priority to provide state funding for teacher salaries and reduce the burden on local levies is partially fulfilled, reducing local levy collections. However, the demand for local levy dollars to sustain current district programs remains high. VISD uses levy dollars to subsidize special education, fund teaching positions, provide professional development, and meet bargained-for salary enhancements — all necessary for basic education. It’s extremely unlikely that the additional state funding will provide enough revenue to meet all the legislature’s education-related commitments. Senator Sharon Nelson anticipates that the legislation will need to be tweaked again to address special education funding and other issues discovered during implementation. Plainly, there’s a lot “basic education” doesn’t cover.

The Vashon Schools Foundation will continue to help our community bridge the gap in public education funding just as it has since its inception. The Foundation originated in 2010 as an inspired community’s response to the recession’s impact on state education funding. The prospective loss of teachers, along with projected increases in class sizes, loss of music, art, AP and other programs, was simply untenable. Recognizing that our teachers are at the heart of the excellence in education, our community gave generously to the Foundation, raising over $400,000 in our initial campaign to “Save our Schools” — actually to save our teachers, our class sizes and the programs that define our excellence. Not one teacher received the dreaded pink slip.

We knew the community could and wanted to do more. All told, our community, through the foundation’s annual fundraising efforts over the last seven years, has raised almost $1.7 million to preserve teaching positions and school program integrity. Because of you, our schools continued to thrive when many other school districts have struggled.

The mission of the foundation has now evolved from “saving schools” to providing enhancement and enrichment. As an independent entity, we support VISD priorities including increased mental health services and education, implementation of a racial equity initiative, launching preschool programs, enhancing science programs and updating and revitalizing curriculum and materials in all subjects.

Regardless of the Legislature’s intent to fully fund “basic education,” our community wants more for our kids. The foundation represents our island’s commitment to educational excellence and enrichment; we facilitate our community’s reasonable desire to go beyond basic education and to provide an exceptional educational experience to our children. Your Vashon Schools Foundation is the means by which we achieve the extraordinary. Your contribution is the difference between basic and excellent. You are what makes excellent public education possible.

As we celebrate the back-to-school season, we present you with an opportunity to invest in our schools and help provide an exceptional education for our kids. With a 2017 fundraising goal of $350,000 (a big thank-you to those generous donors who have already contributed $135,000), we hope to provide funding to VISD to:

Enhance a culture of and implement racial equity programming.

Continue to develop STEM and applied science programs.

Continue to implement programs fostering mental health, social skills, and suicide prevention.

Support StudentLink programs for alternative learners.

Update curriculum in science, calculus, algebra and reading.

Provide support for students learning English as a second language.

Please give generously by Sept. 30 (the official end date of our fall campaign) to support our public school students and ensure that their “beyond basic” learning experience continues. Make a donation today or consider a sustaining monthly gift that fits your budget. Contribute online at vashonschoolsfoundation.org or mail your gift to Vashon Schools Foundation, P.O. Box 481, Vashon, WA 98070.

Thank you for your support.

— This is Maureen Burke’s fourth year on the Vashon Schools Foundation board and second year as board president.

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