The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

Centerville School seeks community input


October 3, 2018

The Centerville School will close in four years, if conditions remain as they are now.

The school is bearing the brunt of the McCleary legislation passed earlier this year. While the legislation was heralded as a resolution to an impasse over adequate funding of public education in the state, ironically it's poised to devastate smaller schools.

The Centerville School will hold a special public meeting next month to invite input from the community over what can be done to head off a worst-case scenario. The meeting is Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Centerville School.

"When the McCleary decision was handed down, there were certain restrictions placed on schools," states Centerville School Principal Kristin Cameron. "And one of the most talked about is limiting local levy funds. Our levy the last two years is actually the levy that we passed in February of 2018. I don't have the figure in front of me, but it's about a $380,000 drop in our local levy funds. The McCleary decision trumps that and says you can only levy a maximum of $250,000, or $1.50 per student, whichever is lesser. So we have now have less money coming in from our local levy dollars."

The situation is the same for most smaller rural schools in the state, including Wishram and Lyle.

"That wasn't the idea. McCleary was going to supplement that loss by providing more dollars," Cameron notes. But it gets worse.

"The other part is that local levies are restricted in how and what you can use it for," Cameron adds. "Before, local levies were exactly that-local school districts had a say in what they could use those monies for. Now they can only be used for things above and beyond basic education; they can only be used for supplemental programs. It has to be above and beyond; it can't take the place of what the legislature defined as basic programs." The McCleary legislation, ostensibly aimed at providing much-needed relief to schools, has actually made matters much worse by restricting levies and making McCleary money available only to supplemental, rather than basic, education programs.

"Our state funds are going to increase, but not at the same rate that it decreased for local levy funds," Cameron points out. "And the legislature does not like anyone to use the term 'levy swap.' But for the people down in the trenches, that basically is what it is. They increased our state school tax dollars and decreased our local tax dollars. If that's not a swap, I don't know what is."

McCleary also created prototypical schools, using a formula to designate what each school should have for resources, including teachers. The formula is a disaster for small schools already struggling.

"They say, 'Centerville, with your 93 students, you should have .2 staff for food staff. You should have .53 teachers. You should have .7 administrators,'" Cameron says. "Well, that's great in a perfect world. "But how do you feed students, whether it's 100 or 500, with a point for foodstuffs? How do you keep a 100-year-old building, in our case, and a four-acre grounds with a point for custodial? We still have to clean and repair things, so that the prototypical school that they're funding is not a real school. This prototypical formulary that they're using is not reality. And they say we can't use local funds to pay for basic education, which is your janitor and your cook and your support staff. So it is very, very difficult."

Cameron cuts to the heart of the matter. "It's very near and dear to our heart that Centerville remains open," she stresses. "We're very fiscally responsible here. We are not over staffed in our eyes or spending funds that we shouldn't, because we're pretty old school and fiscally responsible with our funds, as our board makes sure we are.

"But at this rate, in four years we will have a negative fund balance. Something has to change."

The State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has largely delegated the difficulties to the regional Educational Service Districts (ESD). While providing some basic guidance, the ESDs mostly can only turn over the challenges to local school boards and institutions.

Teachers at Centerville and similar-sized schools are facing severe issues with pay, something that has loomed large in the news of late in the west side of the state, where teacher strikes forced some pay increases. "Teachers are getting a pay raise to make their salaries comparable" in other parts of Washington, Cameron points out. "Well, with the funds in the prototypical school model, that is not going to fund our teachers. We have nothing to give raises with because it's not 'prototypical.' They find an 'average teacher,' so they can pay your first-year teacher." At Centerville, teachers are at the top of their seniority. "They've been at it for 20, 25 years," Cameron says. "Our staff of five teachers-a little over five teachers, because I'm in that mix-we are more seasoned, more expensive teachers. The state is not paying for a teacher who has been here over 20 years because they say that's not in their prototypical school model. When teachers come to Centerville, we die here. We stay till the end. We stay because it's a wonderful place to teach. So that is another problem, because they're not funding classroom teachers for small schools in a mix or a model that will support that."

Bottom line: Centerville wants to come up with a plan, and it wants the community to be involved.

"We want our constituents, we want our families and our friends and our neighbors, to be involved in this really tough decision-making process," Cameron says. "That's the meeting that is happening on Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. here at the school. We're calling it our know-and-grow meeting. We want people to know what's happening, but we also want to make a plan for growth. We want to continue to grow. That's not necessarily to grow in size but grow in quality and years of service to the community."

There are a myriad of factors to consider. "If we have to make cuts," Cameron cites as an example, "where do you want to cut? How do you want us to go about the changes needed without losing who we are and the quality of education? Why do people want to come to Centerville? Because we have high-quality education. We want input and suggestions from the community. We want to give them accurate information so they can talk to their legislators. They can call Rep. [Gina] Mosbrucker or Sen. [Curtis] King and say, 'What about the small schools in your region? Can you talk to other people and say the prototypical school is not working for small schools?' We need to make an adjustment, and we need to do it quickly, or small schools are going to be gone."


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