Superintendent Chris Reykdal has directed lawyers to dismiss his office from a lawsuit against seven school districts over their use of levy money.
On his first day in office, state schools chief Chris Reykdal has directed lawyers to remove his agency from a lawsuit filed by his predecessor,Randy Dorn, against seven school districts over how they use money raised in local levies.
Dorn filed the lawsuit in July against the districts — Seattle, Everett, Bellevue, Spokane, Tacoma, Evergreen and Puyallup — alleging they illegally use local levies to fund basic education, including teacher salaries.
Dorn said he didn’t want to hurt the districts but hoped the suit would put more pressure on the Legislature to boost state spending on education to the level required under the state’s Constitution. Those districts were named as examples, he said at the time.
In a statement Wednesday, Reykdal said that under his leadership “our state’s lead education agency will not sue the very districts we are committed to supporting.”
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The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, stated thatdistricts continue to rely on local dollars to pay for part of teacher’s salaries, despite a Supreme Court ruling known as the McCleary decision, which says salaries are part of the basic education costs the state must cover. Under the 2012 decision, the state must fully fund all the costs of a basic education by 2018.
Dorn said in July that his lawsuit, which also names Washington state as a defendant, addressed a consequence of insufficient state funding: local funding for basic education. He called the current system “unfair and illegal.”
The state provides a portion of teacher salaries, and school districts use local levy dollars for the rest. The local contribution is known as TRI pay — for extra time, responsibility and incentives.
The lawsuit alleged that TRI pay is illegal and allowed the Legislature to avoid fully funding education.
Reykdal, however, said that the state Supreme Court hasn’t ruled that school districts are prohibited from using levy money for employee salaries.
In a statement, he called for the Legislature to fully fund basic education and clearly define what “basic education compensation” is and isn’t.
“Just as local school districts can further lower class sizes beyond the state’s prototypical school-funding model, districts can supplement compensation beyond the state’s contribution,” Rekydal said.
He praised Dorn for playing a critical role in pushing the Legislature to pump more than $2 billion into public education but criticized what he called “excessive litigation.”
At the time the lawsuit was filed, superintendents from the seven districts said they disagreed with Dorn’s approach and noted the lawsuit would cost them money.
Seattle Public Schools spokesman Luke Duecy said the district is pleased with the decision, which will allow everyone to refocus on McCleary and school funding.
Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans was elated to hear the news after he spoke with Reykdal on Wednesday, district spokesman Brian Fox said.
“The lawsuit has been a distraction from that which is our primary task: the daily support of students and student learning,” Fox said.