Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) Levy Cliff media event, Renton High School, Jan. 12, 2017
Renton School District Superintendent, Dr. Art Jarvis, press conference comments
Thank you for being here – we appreciate the media’s attention to a critical issue facing our schools. As we gather here at Renton High School, we recognize a great school with a long history and great pride that serves a diverse student body with a rigorous education to prepare all students for college and careers.
Renton High School and virtually every public school in our district and region faces an imminent issue this spring. We all know that school districts have had to rely on local levies to make up for the shortfalls in state funding. In general, the legislature has recognized that districts could get necessary funding through increased levies and they have enabled us by raising the lid. Now we face a “sunset” which will roll back the levy lid. It was installed in the premise that the state would be fixing the system. While I am confident that our legislators will eventually find bipartisan solutions to our very complex financial problems, it is evident this levy cliff will hit school districts before our legislators can arrive at their compromises and solutions.
As Superintendent Welch stated, school districts in this region alone will lose almost a quarter of a billion dollars in the coming year with the reduced levy lid. We in Renton School District would be unable to collect 11 million dollars already approved by local voters! Making the situation much worse is the reality that all of us must prepare multiple budgets with this reduction in mind -- that means in most cases we would begin to reduce staff this spring – before legislators finalize their McCleary solutions.
I want to speak for the children and staff of Renton School District – we cannot withstand that kind of revenue loss. Eleven million dollars equates to the loss of 150 or more teachers and staff members. Furthermore, I cannot imagine sending notices to our staff to inform them of impending layoffs. Those notices would be sent with the knowledge that the state will soon be replacing the lost revenues. In a way it would say, “You are being laid off but don’t worry. We’re sure that we will be able to hire you back later!” Most significantly, those layoff notices would do immediate damage. In the midst of teacher shortages, many of those staff would immediately be offered other job opportunities and Renton schools would suffer those losses for a long time – all because the timing was wrong.
We the superintendents are asking for a very simple extension of the levy lid for at least one year, assuming legislators come together with solutions. That extension prevents damage to school funding while the legislature takes time to engineer a new system that meets the complex needs of all. “First do no harm” is a revered concept – and we ask for it now. Early action on this issue eliminates the uncertainty that would truly damage our schools this spring. This beautiful Renton High School – and all of the others -- will continue the great work unabated while the financial support system is strengthened by our legislators.
We are joined in this plea by our communities and by the citizens they have elected to our school boards. It is my pleasure to recognize one such voice and long-time board member in the Bethel School District, Mr. Warren Smith.