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To the Editor:

At a recent Ellensburg School Board meeting it was fantastic to have the little theater filled with people advocating to eliminate the polystyrene trays but also discouraging to see only about four people remain to be informed of the ESD budget. The school district is planning to reduce the 2020-21 budget by at least $250,000 for the 2019-2020 school year. More significant reductions will need to be made for the 2021-22 school year if Olympia closes its legislative session without changes to public school funding. Navigating through the state’s post-McCleary decisions is challenging not only for Ellensburg School District but for most rural districts across the state. The state government is forcing school districts to use their local levy dollars to provide what the state defines as “basic education”. For an example, the state currently only funds:

• 6.5 of ESD’s 8 school counselors

• 0.5 of one of ESD’s 5 nurses

• Zero funds for mental health specialists, and ESD has one mental health specialist

It is us, the local tax payers by way of our levy, who pay for these state mandated but not fully funded positions.

The state also changed and consolidated all school employees into a new state health care plan this year. It is drastically underfunded with our district estimating the need to use approximately $1.6 million dollars out of our general/levy fund to pay for it. For an example, for each employee who opts out of the plan, the district still pays $12,000 for their plan. This means the state is making the district pay approximately $600,000 this year for opted out plans.

These are just a couple of our budget challenges. Our community must engage to understand what is happening at the state and local levels that impact our children’s education. We must commit to finding solutions on how to move forward. Recently I met with one of our local legislatures who shared we may need to close schools before we can get the commitment to fix the problems. The education bills appearing to move forward this legislative term appear to be more unfunded mandates to our levy funding and not solutions to the funding problems across the state. I joined the Ellensburg School District Board of Directors to hold our leaders accountable and to bring our community more transparency. We need to work together to find better solutions for our children’s future.

Jason White

Ellensburg

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