Washington state

Schools sue state over money

SEATTLE - The Federal Way school district has sued the state, saying Washington's formulas for school funding are unconstitutional and unfair.

The district had been trying for years to resolve a 30-year-old problem involving state funding for administrative staff and finally lost its patience, said David Larson, Federal Way parent and school board member.

"It's no longer tolerable," Larson said, of the way districts get different amounts of state tax money for administrative staff.

Federal Way Public Schools is the state's seventh-largest school district, but ranks 263rd out of the 296 districts in dollars-per-student funding, when all funding sources are taken into consideration. Larson said the numbers are even more striking when only state dollars are considered.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in King County Superior Court, accuses the state of failing to fund schools in a uniform or equitable manner, as required by the state constitution. "The funding disparity does not reflect differences in geography, demographics, student population, cost of living, or any other educationally relevant variable," the suit said.

The lawsuit says the state uses an administrative pay formula created in 1977 because of a previous school funding lawsuit. Under that formula, the number of staff salaries paid by the state was basically the same for all school districts, but the salaries the state financed were based on the amount each district paid for salaries in the 1976-1977 school year.

Larson, who grew up in Federal Way and now works as a trial lawyer, said the formula worked at first and some inequities were corrected by the Legislature during the 1980s, but the formula hasn't kept up with population changes.

As a result, school districts have had to put more local money into paying principals, school secretaries, janitors and district employees, he said.

Larson said the school board decided to file the lawsuit after the Washington Learns task force made it clear that its final report would not address state tax support for schools. School funding issues had been part of the task force's original mandate.

Gov. Chris Gregoire expressed disappointment in the lawsuit during a Monday appearance on Seattle public radio station KUOW.

She said she began Washington Learns with the understanding that the state needed to talk about school funding, but then the task force realized it needed to step back and assess the entire state school system first.