The tone was generally respectful but there was a common theme in the remarks of those who came to the microphone during the 21st Legislative District town hall forum in downtown Edmonds Saturday afternoon: We know that balancing the state budget will be hard during tough economic times, but do your best to protect the most vulnerable.
Lawmakers must make significant budget cuts of about $1.1 billion, which “adds up to a lot of programs that have significant worth to lots of our children and individuals in this state,” State Rep. Mary Helen Roberts said.
Comments and questions from those who came to the microphone reflected the same concerns, with heartfelt stories shared by those who work with school children, seniors and the developmentally disabled.
Mountlake Terrace High School teacher Andi Nofziger-Meadows, who serves as president of the Edmonds Education Association, talked about volunteering in the classroom of her kindergarten son. “A little boy who sits at Matthew’s table and his brother were found going through the garbage cans last Friday, looking for food, because they didn’t have any and it was a long weekend.” she said, her voice breaking. “So we need money for social services in the schools, we need money for smaller class sizes. We’re at the breaking point and we need your help.”
Both Nofziger-Meadows and Edmonds Education Association Vice President Bill Van Wyck, a teacher at Edmonds-Woodway High school, also expressed concerns about a teacher evaluation system moving through the Legislature that would evaluate teachers based on student test data. The Edmond School Board –not state legislators — should be determining how their teachers are evaluated, Van Wyck said.
Parents and school teachers alike urged lawmakers to prioritize education funding. One parent in particular — Deb Johnson, mother of an Edmonds-Woodway High School musician and executive director of the Edmonds Public Schools Foundation– urged legislators to value the arts as much as they value other educational opportunities for students. Noting that the foundation will be holding its annual fund-raising breakfast March 23 at Mountlake Terrace High School — site of the district’s new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program — Johnson said she would like to see support for STEAM, adding an “A” for arts to the acronym.
State Rep. Marko Liias said he wakes up each morning thinking about two priorities –” balancing the state budget and getting people back to work.” He noted that the Legislature has already made $10.5 billion in state budget cuts over past three years, and one quarter of that has come from K-12 education. With another $1.1 billion to cut, it’s important that legislators look at revenue opportunities as well, Liias said.
There was one point of controversy, although that too was respectful. Liias mentioned — to audience applause — that he was particularly proud of Legislature’s efforts to pass the marriage equality act. Later in the meeting, in response to a constituent question on marriage equality, Sen. Paull Shin explained why he voted against the same-sex marriage bill. “I grew up in a Christian family and was taught the principles of a Christian faith,” Shin said. Calling it a matter of conscience, Shin said “it was very hard for me to vote yes on this. I know that many of you were disappointed but I had to do what I needed to do.”
Roberts said it was evident based on the types of questions being asked at the Edmonds meeting, “that many of you have sympathy” regarding the Legislature’s budget challenges and needs of those less fortunate. “But you’d be amazed at the mail we get that says, ‘What is your problem? Why don’t you just get rid of the waste and fraud and the abuse?”