Elected leaders, school superintendents, and other education leaders gathered virtually for the annual ESD 112 Legislative Forum.
The November 28 forum, held virtually for the third year in a row, was attended by ten legislators (representatives from the 17th, 19th, 20th, and 49th districts), one legislative staffer, and dozens of school superintendents, school board members, and other education leaders.
The forum featured video presentations on key legislative priorities plus insights from school leaders on successes and challenges in their districts. Priority topics discussed include Special Education, transportation, mental health, and school facilities.
Vancouver Public Schools produced a video about the need for additional state funding for Special Education. Currently, most school districts across ESD 112’s Southwest Washington region must use some levy funds, which are meant for enrichment, to cover the costs of state-required Special Education supports. Dr. Jeff Snell (Vancouver Public Schools superintendent), Dr. Mary Templeton (Washougal School District superintendent), and Dr. Dan Zorn (Longview Public Schools superintendent) shared information from their school districts about the Special Education funding needs.
Evergreen Public Schools shared a video about the need to fix and fully fund a simpler state transportation funding model. Transportation costs are not sufficiently funded by the state and districts cannot easily determine how their funding is calculated. As a result, inadequate funding continues to be provided and local levies are utilized to cover funding shortages. John Boyd (Evergreen Public Schools superintendent), Michael Green (Woodland Public Schools superintendent), and a transportation cooperative representative shared perspectives on this issue.
Mental Health Support
Kelso School District shared a video on the increasing mental and behavioral health needs of students and the inequitable access to mental health support from one school district to another. Mary Beth Tack (Kelso School District superintendent), Brent Freeman, (Wahkiakum School District superintendent), and Dr. Ann Varkados (Lyle and Centerville School District superintendent) shared their school district’s perspectives and echoed a need for expanding and maintaining behavioral/mental health services at the regional and school levels and expand the number of schools receiving direct funding support for student mental health services through their ESDs.
Battle Ground Public Schools shared the ongoing concern that a super-majority requirement continues to prevent schools from modernizing their facilities for today’s education needs. Denny Waters (Battle Ground Public Schools superintendent) and Dr. Nathan McCann (Ridgefield School District superintendent) shared the challenges associated with multiple failed bond attempts, especially when more than 50 percent of voters supported the measures. Dr. Milt Dennison (Skamania School District superintendent) shared Skamania School’s recent use of Rural Modernization Grant funds from the state to extend the useful life of the school’s facilities without asking voters to consider a bond.
Both legislators and school leaders expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet and better understand state education needs. The meeting is a precursor to the state’s Legislative Session, which begins in January of 2023.
The full list of priorities and proposed solutions may be found here.