Becker’s schools bill challenged

2ND DISTRICT: Mailings, signs decry 4-day week

bshannon@theolympian.comOctober 24, 2012 

Campaign mailings and yard signs blanketing the 2nd Legislative District slam state Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, for sponsoring a bill that would have let small school districts such as Eatonville’s consider a four-day school week.

The barrage is paid for by Democratic challenger Bruce Lachney, a former Eatonville School Board member who is campaigning on a theme of longer school years and more public spending on schools. The 2nd District ranges from Rainier and Yelm at the south end to Eatonville, Orting and Graham to the north.

THE CLAIMS

Lachney’s yard signs say, “No 4 day school week. Vote Lachney.”

He also has sent voters at least two mailers making the same point. One of them is a two-sided brochure that has a picture on the front of a boy and a girl with video controllers in their hands as they stare upward (presumably toward a video screen). The caption asks: “If Senator Randi Becker passes a four day school week … What will your kids be doing on Friday?”

The ad cites a Seattle Times story that reports the Eatonville School District was “considering a four-day school week with longer days as a way to cut spending.’’

The mailer goes on to say: “At a time when we should be ensuring our kids have every chance to succeed, Senator Randi Becker sponsored a bill to cut the number of school days from five to four.”

It concludes: “When our kids needed leadership, Randi Becker let them down.”

Another mailer restates the argument: “Randi Becker tried to make it harder on our kids’ futures by cutting their school week to four days.”

THE FACTS

Becker did sponsor Senate Bill 6050 this year, and it would have let some school districts, including Eatonville, petition the State Board of Education for flexibility, including a four-day school week. The bill, which was limited to no more than 25 school districts having 501 to 2,200 students, would have been an expansion of House Bill 1292, which the Legislature passed into law in 2009.

HB 1292 had given the four-day week option to as many as five smaller districts – of which only two opted to go for four-day weeks.

Legislative records show Becker voted against the 2009 legislation twice. And Becker never voted for her bill either. That is because SB 6050 had a hearing in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee but never came up for a vote. It died in committee.

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, sponsored a similar bill after he and Becker met with Eatonville Superintendent Rich Stewart and members of the School Board. But Wilcox’s bill also never got a hearing.

Stewart confirmed he had asked for the legislation allowing flexibility such as a four-day week, all to save money on operations.

“It did not go further. We have not asked them this year to go ahead,’’ Stewart said Monday. “I don’t think it is a dead idea, but for this district it is.’’

Superintendent Tim Garchow of the Rainier School District, another 2nd District school system that would have qualified under Becker’s bill, said no four-day week is in the works in his district either.

WHAT THE CANDIDATES SAY

Becker said she voted against the four-day bill in her first year in the Senate, thinking: “I don’t want to short-change kids. Then I started to see all these cuts to K-12, and these schools are under all these mandates.”

After spending time with school district leaders over three summers, she was persuaded to give a shorter school week a try. Her proposal, introduced Jan. 4, allowed a four-day week only if the state Board of Education approved a waiver for each school district.

Becker said the bill had safeguards to ensure that students spent the same hours in class and that a School Board would be making the initial decision, “which means that communities come together and decide what is right for their kids.’’

Lachney says any education bill “should be about increasing academic performance. It should not be done for budget reasons. … This certainly would have affected academic performance, and it certainly would have affected parents.’’

BOTTOM LINE

The signs and mailer tell a portion of the story.

Becker sponsored, at the request of Eatonville school officials, permissive legislation to let school districts seek waivers for shorter school weeks. But the legislation by itself would have not created any four-day school weeks. And only a fraction of the state’s students would have been potentially affected since just 25 of the state’s 290 districts could have qualified.

That said, Becker does think a four-day week is a good idea that some school districts should be allowed to consider as they try to squeeze savings out of budgets.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com theolympian.com/politicsblog @BradShannon2

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