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News / Northwest

State schools chief preparing legal action against districts

By Associated Press
Published: July 14, 2016, 11:02am

EVERETT — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn plans to sue a few school districts that use local levy dollars to pay for elements of basic education, such as teachers’ salaries.

Dorn says basic education is a state responsibility and he believes school districts don’t have the authority to use local levies to make up what the state chooses not fund. He wants the courts to weigh in.

The schools chief, who is leaving office at the end of the year, is preparing a lawsuit to be filed as early next week in King County Superior Court, the Daily Herald reported. Dorn declined to say which districts will be named defendants.

Dorn says some districts are able to pay higher salaries because they use local levies to supplement what the state provides. Other districts are unable to do that because local taxpayers don’t approve levies or approve fewer dollars.

“I do not fault school districts for doing what they are doing,” Dorn told the newspaper. “That is the hand the Legislature has dealt them.”

“My job is to represent the needs of kids in our schools,” he said. “Some kids are getting a 21st century education, and some teachers are getting paid a 21st century wage. But some kids are not getting a 21st century education, and some teachers are not getting paid a 21st century wage.”

In 2012, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the state must fully pay for basic education by 2018. The ruling, known as the McCleary decision, noted that the use of local levies to cover those costs is unconstitutional.

But the justices didn’t spell out whether districts could use local levies when the state isn’t providing them enough money for basic education. Dorn wants them to make a ruling on that issue.

In November, Dorn sought a legal opinion from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on whether school board members have the authority to use local levies for compensation related to basic education services.

Ferguson declined to provide an opinion. He said the question came too close to issues encompassed by the ongoing McCleary case, the Herald reported.