School chiefs hear strategy from Sen. Hargrove to meet high court ruling
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State Sen. Jim Hargrove, second from right, meets with the Students for Sustainability Club at Port Townsend High School on Tuesday. From left are club members Daniel Charlton and Natalie Toews along with Hargrove’s wife Laurie at right. —Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A court ruling that requires Olympia to fund basic education has created an interesting dynamic in the Legislature, a veteran state senator told school superintendents.

“We will spend a lot more on education over the next few years — like billions more,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove at a meeting of East Jefferson County school superintendents at Port Townsend's Northwest Maritime Center.

“We are going to make that investment, which is actually warranted. I for one would like us to get at the end of that period and have things actually be better.”

Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, whose district includes the North Olympic Peninsula, referred several times to the McCleary decision, a 2012 ruling by the state Supreme Court that has its roots in East Jefferson County.

The 2012 ruling — named for Chimacum resident Stephanie McCleary, who was encouraged to file suit by former Chimacum Superintendent Mike Blair — requires the state to implement reforms by 2018.

Hargrove spoke to the Jefferson County Educational Partnership, a coalition of the Port Townsend, Chimacum, Quilcene and Brinnon school districts that meets four times a year to discuss educational strategy.

Tuesday's meeting was billed as a legislative lunch and was to include Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, who both had to cancel due to other engagements.

Hargrove said the court-mandated rules about what should be taught have caused the Legislature to become more involved in what local schools do.

“There is a natural tension,” he said. “We would like to send you money so you can do good things, but we are the ones who are being held accountable.

“Having the Legislature control the purse strings creates an interesting dynamic, so we can't just send money and allow the changes to happen.”

One example of this has to do with class size.

“Over the past 20 years, we made some substantial allocations to schools to reduce class size, and we never saw the class sizes go down,” Hargrove said.

“We would send the money to school districts for that purpose, and they would bargain and spend it on something else . . . such as hiring more staff and increasing salaries.

“But I can't tell you how many times someone has yelled at me because the classes are too big. I say to myself, 'I know we already funded that.'”

Chimacum Schools Superintendent Rich ­Stewart said the requirement to provide 1,080 hours of yearly instruction, an increase of two weeks over the past level, has caused stress in the scheduling of in-service meetings and conferences.

Hargrove, who was not aware of the requirement, said he will “look into this and will see if I can get you some relief.”

”I don't see any major initiatives happening this year,” the senator said, “but there will be some technical corrections.

“I don't see anything happening in education unless it's relatively small, but we do have to start thinking about the following year.

“I don't see us being able to meet the McCleary commitment without closing some tax loopholes, as the economy hasn't recovered that much.”

In addition to Stewart, the meeting was attended by Port Townsend School Superintendent David Engle and Wally Lis, who divides his time between Quilcene and Brinnon.

Two School Board members from each district also attended, as did Assistant Chimacum School Superintendent Art Clarke.

Prior to the meeting, Hargrove talked to members of the high school's Students for Sustainability Club, which is planning a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., in April to talk to federal lawmakers about environmental issues.

Hargrove said he didn't know how the group could persuade those who don't believe in their cause but offered some general advice:

“I've built my legislative career on an effort to make government work and get things done, and the main way to work with both sides of the aisle is to care about what you are doing and keep your word about whatever you say you are going to do,” he said.

“If you say you are going to do something and don't follow through, you can do that exactly once, and no one will ever trust you again.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 10. 2013 7:13PM
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