Some Peninsula school districts get to keep more federal timber money

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

High-poverty public school districts that rely on federal timber money will get to keep more of their share under a new law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last week.

At least three North Olympic Peninsula public school districts — Quillayute Valley in Forks, Brinnon’s K-8 school and Cape Flattery schools in Neah Bay and Clallam Bay — are likely to be eligible for the change.

The Port Angeles School District might prove to be eligible, but others — such as Port Townsend, Chimacum and Sequim — are definitely not, according to school officials.

House Bill 2207, co-sponsored by Sequim Democrats Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege — both of whom represent the 24th District, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County — “eliminates the reduction in state basic education funding to school districts in counties with federal forest lands.”

The law allows certain school districts to keep up to $70,000 of their federal forest allocation — money provided in lieu of local levy taxes that can’t be collected from nontaxable forestlands.

For the past 32 years, the state has reduced a timber district’s per-pupil general apportionment by the same amount as the federal allocation.

“It just kind of goes in and comes back out,” Quillayute Valley School District Superintendent Diana Reaume said of the dollar-for-dollar deduction.

“It’s just a wash.”

To qualify for the $70,000, a district must have a poverty level of at least 57 percent. The poverty rate is derived from the percentage of students participating in the free or reduced-lunch program.

“It will not affect us because we don’t have a high enough poverty level,” said Anne Burkart, Port Townsend School Board member.

“We don’t get to keep any,” she added.

Brian Lewis, Sequim School District business manager, said the Sequim district also doesn’t qualify for the measure.

The Chimacum School District is another that doesn’t qualify, according to Kevin Miller, board president.

“The funding stream is going first to schools with 57 percent free and reduced lunch,” he said. “Our district does not qualify based on that.”

He added that Chimacum was “one of the primary districts in that fight,” saying the board supported the movement to release funding when it started some three years ago.

Port Angeles school officials aren’t sure yet whether the district qualifies.

While some Port Angeles schools are above the 57 percent poverty line, others are below it, said Superintendent Jane Pryne, and the district overall is “hovering” around the benchmark.

“We’re tracking it every single day,” she added.

The Port Angeles district receives “several hundred thousand” per year in federal timber dollars that the state holds back, Pryne said.

Keeping $70,000 of that appropriation would be significant to the district, she said.

“Seventy thousand [dollars] is a teacher,” Pryne said.

But district officials must check to see how the state is averaging the rate for the entire district.

“Stay tuned,” Pryne said.

Officials with the Forks-based Quillayute Valley School District, which gets about $150,000 per year in federal timber money, are “pretty certain” they will be eligible for the $70,000, Reaume said.

“It’s a teaching unit, so that’s a plus to kids,” she said.

The legislation comes two years after the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision requiring adequate funding for basic education.

The bill passed with bipartisan support — 97-0 in the House and 47-2 in the Senate, with state Sen. Jim Hargrove of the 24th Legislative District voting yes — on March 12 and 13, respectively.

The Washington State School Directors Association was instrumental in getting the legislation passed, officials said.

The law takes effect Sept. 1.

“The Legislature acknowledged that this is something that needs to happen, and it’s going to be phased in over time,” Burkart said.

Burkart predicted that districts below the 57 percent poverty line eventually will be eligible to keep a portion of their federal timber money.

Last month, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said two North Olympic Peninsula school districts — Cape Flattery and Brinnon — would be eligible to keep a portion of their federal allocation.

No other Peninsula districts were listed by the state.

Officials with the Cape Flattery, Crescent, Quilcene and Brinnon school districts could not be reached for comment.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 05. 2014 5:32PM
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