Letter to the editor: Responding to charge of fiscal irresponsibility

Dear Editor:

In multiple letters to the editor, Lynne Chelius has characterized me as “fiscally irresponsible” in my service on the Edmonds School Board. Having served proudly in this capacity for the past eight years, including three as President, I am compelled to respond. I agree with Ms. Chelius that our voters deserve the right to information that is “informed and fact-based” and that “critical thinking and pertinent facts” should be employed — as some of this is missing in her opposition to my council candidacy.

The whole basis of Ms. Chelius’ June 15, 2019 letter is that the school board dismissed State Superintendent Reykdal’s letter to school districts to refrain from “bargaining away money they don’t have.” However, this letter was dated Aug. 22, 2018…nearly three weeks after the district and the EEA Teachers Union reached a tentative agreement on Aug. 1, 2018. In fact, boards and superintendents across the state had been pleading for more budget guidance from the legislature and OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) after a tumultuous legislative session, which ended on July 20 after three special sessions. Effectively, Reykdal’s memo was too late to provide real guidance, and landed more as an opportunity for him to take political cover.

The teacher contract was set to expire on Aug. 31, very soon after Reykdal’s Aug.22 letter Ms. Chelius repeatedly references. Does Ms. Chelius suggest that renegotiating the teacher contract with only eight days remaining, taking concessions away, would have been a wise decision? The potential for a teacher strike and delayed school start was very real, bringing with it fiscal damage and divisions in our community. I can’t imagine any school board director would think that is a good idea.

Following the new teacher contract, multiple 2019 legislative actions brought new funding challenges to the district. As a result, I voted with the majority in a difficult 3-2 decision to provide notifications to 25 teachers that their job was not guaranteed in the fall. It was the fiscally responsible action to take to prevent unexpected and drastic program cuts. Many voiced opposition to this action, but did not provide a viable and fiscally responsible plan to make up a $17.7 million budget shortfall. In fact, at our recent Aug. 13, 2019 Board meeting the budget was unanimously approved in a 4-0 vote.

As the new school year begins, it is helpful to understand where we are today. To date, 10.5 teacher positions (reduced from the original 25) were not renewed — a challenging outcome for these teachers. With more retirements, this number could be in single digits.  Balancing this, the nearly 2,000 certified teachers in the Edmonds School District are receiving salaries with meaningful increases — increases allowing greater security and real change to this profession.

Ms. Chelius paints a simplistic description of a very complex problem. The reality is that the Edmonds School Board and District staff have worked extremely hard to balance great uncertainty while continuing to serve the best interests of our students, teachers and community.

Respectfully,

Diana White
Edmonds School Board President
City Council Candidate Position #6

5 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Responding to charge of fiscal irresponsibility”

  1. I would like to understand why “more budget guidance” was needed? What was needed beyond don’t plan to spend more than what you earn? Why would one enter into an agreement that could not be funded in the short term with the funds known to be available?

    Ignored

  2. Ms. White,
    Thank you for your 8 years of service on the Edmonds School Board. I would like to carefully address your arguments.
    I stand by the letters that I wrote to My Edmonds News for the following reasons:
    1. State Superintendent Reykdal’s letter was not, as you say, “the whole basis” of my June 15th letter. It was evidence of a series of missteps and fiscal mismanagement by the School Board. You say the letter from State Superintendent Reykdal came too late to guide you in your decision about the offer to the teachers. However, as you state, a tentative agreement was reached on August 1st, 2018. Given what you knew at the time, you should not have voted to ratify that contract. Instead, you should have exercised leadership and renegotiated that contract. You and the board allowed most all the McCleary money to be allocated to the current teachers, without regard to the future, gambling on the fact that the legislature or taxpayers would pony up once again with more money. In my book, this is not good fiscal management. The taxpayers deserved, after substantial property tax increases, to have that money spent wisely. Teachers did deserve raises, just not the double-digit ones at that volatile time after the McCleary decision.

    2. Again, I ask readers to return to my June 15th letter to MEN where I also cite a strongly worded editorial by the Seattle Times, a staunch supporter of teachers. The editorial board singled out Edmonds as an example of fiscal mismanagement. Stating that the “district’s own budget projections show the district will quickly find itself in the red based on the tentative contract it just negotiated with the local union:, it then listed factors that should have signaled to the Board that a contract with such large pay increases was unsustainable: property tax levies were set to go down starting in January of 2019 and $500 million or so per year of state education funding should have been considered off-limits for teacher salary increases because, starting in the 2019-20 school year, that money has to go to reducing class sizes in the K-3rd grade.

    3. Ditto a recent article in the Everett Herald, “Layoffs, larger classes balance Edmonds’ budget”, August 18th, 2019. The article quotes the district’s executive director of business and finance who said “…the overall financial picture has changed little” and “People wish that it had improved more and so do I. I believe that people were hopeful that the legislature or some other body would make a move to provide additional funds. Disappointingly, no money came in.” Again, the issues were the same: There are three major pieces accounting for the shortfall. The district will lose out on an estimated $6.2 million from its voter-approved local levy. Teacher pay hikes negotiated will cost about $7.8 million in the coming budget year. And a state mandate for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade takes effect this year. To comply, Edmonds will spend $1.25 million to hire 10 elementary teachers.” The Edmonds’ School Board would have been aware of all of these contributing factors, but nonetheless proceeded with the double digit raises. These actions will have repercussions for years to come.

    Edmonds’ voters should take into account your actions as Edmonds School Board President. The analysis contained in my June 15th letter is informed and certainly contains facts pertinent to serving as a steward of taxpayer money. I wrote it because I feel strongly that Edmonds needs Councilmembers who can exercise the necessary leadership around fiscal issues.

    Ignored

  3. The board should not have needed “guidance” to realize that the raises given were unsustainable. It was your responsibility to understand your budget, just as it will be if you are a member of the City Council. I believe that Edmonds deserves better.

    Ignored

  4. Hi Jim,

    https://www.esd112.org/schoolfunding/is a good resource. Largely, the deficit resulted from changes in state law that reduced funding available in combination with planned increases in pay.

    The guidance in question would be the State guiding local districts through dealing with these budget changes. Not spending beyond what you earn has two factors, and in this case “what you earn” unexpectedly dropped for Edmonds schools. To compensate (i.e. to not spend more than they earn), spending had to be cut as well.

    Ignored

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