School funding public forum in Port Townsend today
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Blue Heron Middle School music teacher Bruce Cowan leads, front row from left, Isaac Steime. Kyle Callahan and Patrick Malloy in a tune on Tuesday. Cowan is concerned school budget cuts will jeopardize music programs.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Public school funding in the wake of a court-mandated directive to provide adequate support for education will be discussed at a public forum today. “We need to find a balance,” said state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a Sequim Democrat who represents the 24th District, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

“Everyone pays attention to education,” Van De Wege said, “but the question is, how we are going to get it funded?”

Today's forum will take place at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St., at 7 p.m.

Van De Wege will serve on a panel with Port Townsend School Board Chairwoman Jennifer James Wilson, former Chimacum School Superintendent Mike Blair, Franklin Elementary School Principal Amity Butler and Bruce Cowan, Blue Heron Middle School music teacher.

Members will discuss the state Supreme Court decision referred to as the McCleary decision, the realities of school funding and the response of the state Legislature.

In January 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state isn't meeting its constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic public education, calling on legislators to implement educational reforms by 2018.

The suit that led to the ruling was filed by Chimacum resident Stephanie McCleary, who was encouraged to do so by Blair, then the Chimacum superintendent.

“As a teacher, I'm very concerned about state funding for schools,” Cowan said Tuesday.

“Even when times were good, school funding was in decline, and the court has made it clear that the state is obligated to provide an adequate education.”

Van De Wege said the word “adequate” has not been defined when it comes to an amount spent.

“There are those who think $300 million is enough and others who would like to see $1.4 billion,” he said.

“We need to find somewhere in between those two points.”

Cowan said his teaching content area, music, would suffer if further cutbacks occur.

Cowan said he hopes Van De Wege will come away from the forum with an idea about how important education funding is for the children of Jefferson County.

“Families are suffering, and the low-income people are hit the hardest,” he said.

“Education gives opportunity to everyone, and we need an educated workforce and an educated electorate that can wrap their minds around all the challenges they face in life.”

Van De Wege said he doesn't need convincing.

“We have to understand what the McCleary decision means for the state and decide how we are going to address it,” he said.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County, the American Association of University Women and the Port Townsend-Jefferson County Leader.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: February 26. 2013 6:19PM
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