Education funding: The hits just keep on coming

Ken Vance Editorial

Also, appointment of Gary Medvigy to Clark County Council was predictable, but how will he fit in?

VANCOUVER — It’s been an eventful week of news around Clark County. Here’s my thoughts on two of the highest profile stories of the week.

More education funding woes

I’ve said before, it’s going to be a long year for all Clark County residents following, or impacted by, the education funding crisis in Washington state. If you haven’t already, I’m guessing many of you will grow tired of the upcoming steady stream of bad news that will surely dominate the coming year.

This week, Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) averted a planned strike by members of the Vancouver Association of Education Support Professionals (VAESP) with a new tentative agreement, reached just after midnight Friday, the same day the union said its 700, or so, members had decided to walk off the job.

Let me say, it’s easy for me to have compassion for the paraeducators, secretaries, clerks and other certified staff, most of whom reportedly make less than $20,000 per year. I still subscribe to the premise that if you’re unhappy with the terms of your employment, you’re always welcome to find another place to work. But, one of the things that was the most unsettling to me about last fall’s teacher strikes, which led to double-digit raises for most teachers in Clark County districts, was the fact that teachers demanded the large pay increases knowing they would be paid on the backs of others, such as the certified staff members.

Speaking of things about this issue that are unsettling to me, more than anything else, is the premise that the $1 billion in one-time funding approved by the legislature last year for the McCleary fix needed to be passed down directly for salaries and other certified staff, even though everyone in the state with half a brain knew it would create a financial model for the schools that wasn’t sustainable.

Most observers blame the lawmakers for not delivering a clear message as to how the new money was intended to be spent. I’m not quick to point fingers. Rather, I’m naive and simple enough to believe that everyone involved should have had the foresight to see that there is only so much money in this pie and it needs to be spread around as evenly as possible to make sure that all mouths get fed.

In the dispute with VPS, VAESP members claimed the district was holding on to some of the McCleary money in order to pad their emergency fund. Considering the district has already served notice that it faces a budget shortfall of $11.44 million for the 2019-2020 school year, I would certainly hope they are holding on to some of that McCleary money. It would seem to be incredibly irresponsible not to do so. If my employer had announced to me that he or she didn’t have enough money to fund our budget next year, there’s no way I could justify holding him or her hostage for a double-digit raise this year. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Again, I’ve said it before, but the only way out of this mess is a fix by the legislature this session. And, that fix will be for the lawmakers to allow more of your dollars to be collected in the form of taxes to pay for education.

The details of this new VPS agreement won’t be made public until it is ratified by the VAESP members at their next meeting. However, earlier this week, the district said the union rejected a new offer that would have included additional funding promises contingent on whether or not the state comes through with more money. So, districts are already in such an unenviable position that they are bargaining away funds that will come from legislation that hasn’t even been approved yet.

I struggle to see how the issue of education funding in our state could be any worse than it is right now. I can’t come up with anything other than a very bleak forecast of things to come.

District 4 seat filled on county council

Earlier this week, the vacant District 4 seat on the Clark County Council was filled when Gary Medvigy was appointed by what was reported to be a unanimous vote of the other four councilors.

Clark County Council Clerk Rebecca Messinger delivers the oath of office to Gary Medvigy, who was selected to fill the vacant District 4 seat. Photo by Chris Brown
Clark County Council Clerk Rebecca Messinger delivers the oath of office to Gary Medvigy, who was selected to fill the vacant District 4 seat. Photo by Chris Brown

I attended the meeting of the Clark County Republican Party (CCRP) Precinct Committee Officers (PCO’s) when they voted on the three nominees for the position, left vacant when Eileen Quiring moved over to the position of county chair. There were 11 applicants for the position and I thought the three Republicans nominated were all strong candidates.

It was very interesting to watch the process in action at that nomination meeting. I’m not going to get into too much inside baseball talk about what is going on in the CCRP but that meeting showed the power inside the party has shifted from the moderate side of the group to the conservative side.

John Ley and Brook Pell, the other two nominees for the District 4 position, are outspoken conservatives who are very vocal and visible on local issues. In his comments to the PCO’s prior to the nomination, Medvigy described himself as a “Reagan Republican’’ who voted for Donald Trump in the last election.

Medvigy received strong support from the PCO’s on each of the two ballots taken that night. He was second in votes (to Ley) on the first ballot and then second (to Pell) on the second ballot, so his support within the 117 PCO’s was strong, even though he has been a Clark County resident for only two years. That is likely due to his strong resume, which includes a military career as a U.S. Army major general and as a Superior Court judge in California.

But, it was obvious to everyone immediately after the three nominations were named that the other four county councilors would select the least conservative of the three. Councilors John Blom and Julie Olson, both CCRP PCO’s themselves, rushed to Medvigy after the meeting concluded as if he was their new best friend. Blom and Olson are on the moderate side of the CCRP. Newly elected Temple Lentz is the only pronounced Democrat on the county council so you knew she would vote for the least conservative of the nominees. I’m guessing Quiring saw the writing on the wall and went along with the unanimous vote for political reasons.

The phrase “you better be careful what you wish for’’ comes to my mind in this situation. I don’t see Medvigy as a candidate to become a wallflower on the council. I like what I hear when he speaks, most notably, he already professed to support a third crossing over the Columbia River prior to an I-5 Bridge replacement project. It’s going to be interesting to see how this dynamic on the council plays out over the next year. Remember, the District 4 seat will go to the voters in November and again in 2020 when Quiring’s original term expires.

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