Gov. Jay Inslee’s Tuesday visit to the Cascadia Technical Academy was timely given the pressing need to solve the state’s school-funding crisis this legislative session.
Inslee, albeit with a sense of humor, acknowledged the weight of the looming deadline to respond to the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling, which found lawmakers are failing in their state constitutional duty to fully fund public schools.
“Both the House and Senate leadership said, until you bring back some really delicious work prepared by the culinary students at Cascadia tech center, we are not going to start negotiations about the McCleary issue,” Inslee told the crowd of students, teachers and local politicians and officials gathered in the ballroom. “So I am on a mission today.”
The Cascadia Technical Academy’s culinary students are among the groups invited to cater the Governor’s Inaugural Ball every four years, but because of the snow that blanketed Clark County and canceled school for days, the students didn’t make it this year.
So Inslee instead brought the party to the students for a “Mini Inaugural Ball,” signing paper chef’s toques and snacking on hors d’oeuvres students prepared in the facility’s kitchen. Inslee also visited Clark College’s Oliva Family Early Learning Center during his tour of Vancouver.
“It’s great for us to show the skills these high school students have,” said Jason DeLeon, chef instructor at the Cascadia Technical Academy. The program, formerly known as the Clark County Skills Center, serves students from 10 Southwest Washington school districts with more than a dozen technical and career preparatory programs.
Inslee also chatted state politics, telling The Columbian after a tour of the facility that the Legislature has “got to get the job done” to comply with the court mandate on education funding.
Early efforts this year have already stonewalled, after an eight-member task force of legislators charged with making recommendations to the legislature voted 4-4 along party lines.
The state House voted Monday to delay a “levy cliff,” a planned reduction in how much school districts can collect through local property tax levies. Some Republican lawmakers criticized the move, saying it would reduce pressure on the Legislature to reach a decision on education funding.
But Inslee disagreed with that characterization, saying the Legislature had to do something to protect school funding going into budget season.
“The Legislature is not lacking on incentive to pass a school funding initiative,” Inslee said, referencing both the McCleary decision itself as well as the $100,000-a-day fine the Supreme Court imposed on the Legislature after finding it in contempt of court for failing to provide a solution last year.
In the kitchen, meanwhile, students’ minds weren’t on education funding. They clustered around stations, preparing barbacoa tacos, poached salmon served on crispy wontons, shrimp cocktail and roasted potatoes loaded with beef and horseradish sauce.
Brianna Martin, a senior at Union High School, heated tortillas on a flat-top grill minutes before Inslee arrived.
“I’ve always wanted to be a chef, my whole life, but in this class, I get a chance to be the chef I want to be,” Martin said.
Martin said she thrives working the front line, the busiest spot in the kitchen. She likes the pace, she said, and the pressure that comes with it.
So serving the governor?
“I like it,” Martin said, confidently. “I like being challenged.”