45th, 48th District candidates participate in forum on education issues

Educational topics were on the agenda for 45th and 48th Legislative District candidates as they participated in a forum co-sponsored by the Lake Washington

Educational topics were on the agenda for 45th and 48th Legislative District candidates as they participated in a forum co-sponsored by the Lake Washington PTSA Council and the Bellevue PTSA Council on Oct. 5 at Redmond High School.

For the 45th Legislative District, Position 1, Rep. Roger Goodman and his opponent, Sammamish Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama, were in attendance, as was Position 2 Rep. Larry Springer, who is running unopposed in this election. For the 48th Legislative District, Position 1, Rep. Joan McBride and her opponent, Ben Phelps, participated in the debate, as did Position 2 Rep. Patty Kuderer and her opponent, Michelle Darnell. The four incumbents are all Democrats, while Valderrama is a Republican and Phelps and Darnell are Libertarians.

Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, the PTSA councils wanted parents, teachers and students to be aware of where the candidates stand on issues in education and how they prioritize it.

The 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling popularly known as the McCleary decision calls for the state Legislature to adequately fund education by 2018, meaning much of the 2017 legislative session will be dedicated to finding the money to do so. While an exact figure hasn’t been attached to this, it is estimated to be somewhere between $1.5 billion and $4 billion. The candidates were asked how they intended to meet the deadline and what tactics they would use to fund education.

“It is the topic that will dominate the 2017 session,” Springer said.

Goodman and Kuderer specifically mentioned a capital gains tax, which would focus on the wealthiest citizens of the state. The Democrats also mentioned carbon taxing and closing corporate tax loopholes as methods to fund education.

“There is going to need to be some new revenue,” McBride said.

Phelps strongly opposed new taxes, as he said, “No plan does that in a fair way.” Valderrama indicated a need for tighter budgeting at the school district level to help keep education funding at a manageable level, while Darnell suggested a complete overhaul of the education system, switching to more reliance on choice, charter and voucher options.

“It’s not just throwing money at this issue,” Valderrama said, adding there has to be accountability for it, both in making sure the money is spent properly and ensuring that teachers are regularly evaluated. Phelps also indicated that the state should be involved in teacher salary negotiations.

Washington is known for its low teaching wages and resulting teacher shortage, so the candidates were asked how they would address this issue.

“We have to analyze the information more closely,” Valderrama said, indicating a need for fair pay among teachers, placing a value on results over seniority, which Phelps echoed in his answer.

“I don’t think we need to throw more money at it,” Darnell said, saying the cost of living and overtaxation were issues that needed to be addressed.

All of the Democrats indicated a need to increase salaries.

“You can’t live in Bellevue on a beginning teacher’s salary,” Springer said. “We should pay them appropriately.”

“We need to treat (teaching) as a profession and value what it does,” Kuderer added.

In 2014, an initiative to reduce K-12 class sizes was introduced, and it was put in motion for kindergarten through third grade. The candidates were asked what they thought about that and extending it to grades four through 12.

All of the Democrats supported reducing class sizes, but they also indicated a need to focus on other things first, such as the McCleary decision and capital projects to renovate and build schools in order to have the capacity for more classrooms.

Their opponents didn’t place a high value on reduced class size, instead saying alternative forms of education such as charter schools should be investigated.

“We need to totally revamp the system,” Darnell said.

Currently, there are no standards in place for the education of paraeducators working with special needs students. A bill passed in the state Senate but failed in the state House. The candidates were asked if standards should be put in place for paraeducators.

The incumbents all indicated putting the standards in place was something that needed to be done, but it was hard to find the funding, especially with the McCleary decision looming ahead of them.

“It couldn’t get shoehorned into the budget,” Springer said.

Valderrama said he was concerned about the lack of action.

“I’m a little perplexed in why it’s taken so long to address this issue,” he said. “It’s not right for (the paraeducators), the kids or the teachers.”

In a lightning round of questions, all of the candidates indicated support for lead testing in school buildings and expanded STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) educational opportunites.

They were divided on the state funding a seven-period day for high schools. Goodman and Kuderer supported it, while Springer, Phelps and Darnell were against it. Valderrama and McBride had mixed opinions about it.

“We haven’t fully funded six periods yet,” Springer, referring to the McCleary decision, said, while McBride said she would like to leave the seven-period decision up to the local districts, not the state.

“Frankly, I want kids to spend more time with their families,” Darnell said of adding the extra period.

The conversation slightly veered from education as Sound Transit 3 was brought up. Goodman, Springer, McBride and Kuderer all seemed to be in favor of it, with the latter saying it was vital to invest in multimodal transportation with the area’s growing population.

“(New residents) must have transportation,” McBride added.

Darnell, Phelps and Valderrama raised some concerns about Sound Transit 3.

“I’d like to see (a plan) that reaches the Eastside a little faster,” Phelps said.

“(Sound Transit 3) is a pig that’s going to suck the air out of the room — it should be kicked down the road,” Valderrama said.

The candidates also discussed the increased abuse of prescription and opioid drugs, with all of them indicating a need for increased education. McBride, Kuderer and Goodman all said it was important to also increase the amount of mental health counseling available at public schools.

Phelps said putting more education in place should be paired with the decriminalization of more drugs, while Springer and Valderrama both indicated the Legislature should leave the problem solving up to local law enforcement, faith communities and citizens.