Readers from across the state talk about overcrowded classrooms, crumbling buildings, and the lack of supplies.
One good way to understand the complex, often confusing debate about education funding is to hear specific examples about the impact of money — or lack of money — on a student, classroom or school. That’s why, after sharing some stories from teachers across the state, we asked you for yours.
We heard mainly from parents and teachers whose stories had common themes like overcrowded classrooms, crumbling school buildings and the need to spend their own money for school supplies.
Every single person — except one — said their schools need more money.
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“If we had more money, we wouldn’t have to decide between eliminating wood shop or the International Baccalaureate program at our school for 2016-17 (wood shop is being cut). All of our math classrooms would have enough graphing calculators for every student. All students who want to be in band would have instruments even if they couldn’t afford to buy or rent them. Our special education teachers wouldn’t have to spend their own money to buy laundry detergent to clean student clothes after accidents.”
— Lisa Conley, Chief Sealth International High School (Seattle Public Schools)
“More money in my school would mean that I wouldn’t be paying $5,680 for my twins to go to public kindergarten. And I paid for their brother to go to public kindergarten two years ago. That’s over $8,000 from our family for public kindergarten in the past three years.”
— Darcy Perrault, West Woodland Elementary School (Seattle Public Schools)
( Editor’s note: West Woodland is one of 24 schools in Seattle Public Schools that have charged a fee for students to attend a full day of kindergarten. )
“I had 34 students in each of my college-prep science classes this year. I had to buy more lab gear for the increased number of work groups. I had to go on Craigslist to get more chairs. My demonstration table became a student table. Each student got less of me. This year, I’ve already spent over $1,500 on supplies directly for class: string, tape, batteries. There is no budget whatsoever for supplies, beyond the generosity of some parents.”
— Eric Muhs, Ballard High School (Seattle Public Schools)
Alexandra Olins, whose son is in the first grade at Gatewood Elementary in West Seattle, wrote about the need for instructional aides for part of the day. She said there are 24 kids in his class and “the disparity in ability levels … is astounding, from kids that can independently read chapter books to kids that cannot write a word on their own. His class, and all K-3 schools in a good district, should have classroom aides for 1-3 hours per day. No one teacher can meet all of the educational needs of such a wide array of students.
The one reader who offered a different perspective is Kelly Munn, whose children attended Skyline High School in Issaquah and now are enrolled at the University of Washington and Western Washington University. She wrote: “I raised money for my local school, school district and state via simple majority and Initiative 728. Very little of the new money made a difference. What makes a difference is the belief that all students can succeed, a shared vision in the building of what is trying to be accomplished, and the tools to get the goals met. Only then does the money actually help. We keep giving money before we change belief systems and have a shared vision in the school, we hand the schools money and they do just what they have done before, which works good enough for some, but not for a lot of students.”
“I dream that my third-grade son would be in a class of 17-20 kids, rather than 26. He would not have 60 kids in his PE class. He would have more than 15 minutes to eat lunch because his school would not be so overcrowded that five lunch periods are required for the building. He would have a playground. Yes, a playground to play on at recess. I know, I’m asking for the moon here! He would have a teacher that doesn’t sound close to tears when I talk to her on the phone due to the pressures of the teaching 26 little kids. He would not come home with PTA requests for $400. He would not have buses that are regularly 20+ minutes late because Seattle Public Schools has a three-tier bus system and he’s on the last tier. He would not start school at 9:30 a.m. (CRAZY time for little kids to start school) due to the three-tier bus system. The boiler would work and not overheat; each time it happens they have to evacuate the building. I would not get requests for more money for supplies (on top of the $400) and have to buy reams of paper to send to school. I could go on and on.”
— Summer Stinson, Cascadia Elementary School (Seattle Public Schools)
Rebecca Bratsman wrote about her son starting kindergarten this year at Greywolf Elementary in Sequim School District — it’s the first year the district has offered full-day kindergarten. Bratsman writes that the district has tried passing a school bond for the last two years in hopes of building the extra classrooms so they’d have room for full-day kindergarten, but the bond hasn’t passed. At her son’s school, the lack of space has had an impact on things like lunch time and gym time. She writes, “First the school tries having the students eat in their classrooms to save time in the cafeteria, but that ends up making so much extra work for the janitors that they nix that plan and just shorten lunch for everyone. Then it’s decided that the kindergartners in the portables should have PE inside their portables on rainy days because there is no where else for them to go.” She adds that after the school’s insurance company asks for an assessment of the playground equipment, it’s condemned and removed within the week. “When my son has recess, there are three swings and a bridge toy left on the playground for the students to use. He frequently calls it the most boring part of his day.” And after the school district failed to pass a bond for the fourth time in February, she said, district leaders decided they must “conserve their money for more portables.”
“I teach science at a high-needs high school. My students practically beg for more time after school to get help on their work. But because of funding inadequacies there’s no transportation for them (if they stay late). So instead they go home and have to fend for themselves. If we were actually funded as we’re supposed to be these students would be able to understand the work assigned and succeed.”
— Paul Chonka, Arts & Technology High School (Marysville School District)
“Our school PTA has undertaken commitments that require it to raise almost $300,000 in funds each year for the school. About half of this funding goes to pay for staff positions – this amounts to almost a third of the teaching staff at our small school. Our playground is in very poor condition but the school district does not and (at this rate) is not likely to ever have the funds to replace playgrounds. We would need to somehow raise an additional $200,000 to do it ourselves. Our school building and portables, while not in a hazardous condition, are very old, not ADA-compliant, not big enough to house our growing student population, and in desperate need of basic upgrades and expansion (unlikely to happen until 2019 at the earliest, and perhaps not even then — it all depends on the will of the taxpayers). Thousands of hours of unpaid volunteer effort go into fundraising year after year, and the majority of it pays for things that are basic educational items: classroom supplies, library books, technology, field trips, staff salaries, curriculum materials, etc. And since we are able to raise the kind of money that supports these needed items, we are actually some of the lucky ones.”
— Vivian van Gelder, parent and PTA board member at Montlake Elementary School (Seattle Public Schools)
Finally, we want to end on a story from Susan Barnard, a National Board Certified teacher and the 2006 Washington State Teacher of the Year. She has taught at CHOICE High School in Shelton for 22 years and is a member of the Washington Teacher Advisory Council. She wrote:
“Sammi arrived at CHOICE High School in Shelton as a 14-year old mother. As her adviser and teacher, I had welcomed Sammi and baby Jayda into the CHOICE community.
I had gained Sammi’s trust the day I sat next to her on the curb at Safeway, a block from my classroom. She was shaking from a fight she’d had with another girl. Her forehead was bloodied with sidewalk rash and her pride damaged from a two-way barrage of curse words.
A year later I’d mourned with Sammi after her boyfriend shot himself in her front yard. Her friends rushed little Jayda to the back of the house. Another boy tried to stop the bleeding. Dustin died.
As part of Sammi and her friends’ long road to healing, they decided to hold a suicide prevention week for the school. Our CHOICE family pulled together and Sammi and others led a powerful event.
In a place where education was fully funded, a mental health counselor would have been able to step into the role that Sammi and her friends took on. With adequate staffing for anger management, suicide prevention, dropout prevention, and depression, Dustin might also have lived and graduated.
In her senior year, Sammi had a second child and slogged through her remaining credits by doing schoolwork from home and attending summer school.
Two weeks ago, four-year-old Jayda, raced toward me, hugged me hard, and showed off her bright red toenails, which she had specially painted for her mom’s graduation day.
Despite having to arrange for childcare, adjust her schedule because her babies were sick and stay awake in class, Sammi earned her diploma.
But not all teen parents see this outcome.
Years ago, we used levy funds to provide a daycare facility and program, and after the economic downturn, the levy money was redirected toward covering other costs. If basic education were fully funded by the state, we wouldn’t have had to give up those dollars that could have helped our current parenting students and our next generation of tiny Shelton pupils.”