Washington state needs to do a better job of making sure school districts can afford adequate school security, Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Wade Smith said.
“Overwhelming” input over the past few years has shown a clear desire by parents here to have more safety officers in schools, he said. Enough so that the district employs Deputy Ian Edwards through a contract with Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office and has full-time security employees stationed at Lincoln High School, Pioneer and Garrison middle schools, as well as three at Walla Walla High School.
Yet Washington state only sees a need to fund one — actually 1.03 — security person for a district of nearly 6,000 students, Smith said.
When Washington state’s Supreme Court court said the legislature had finally fully funded basic education under the McCleary decision, it failed to address if the funding formulas were realistic or reasonable, he said.
The decadelong McCleary case was officially resolved in 2018 after the Supreme Court approved lawmakers’ plan to reduce reliance on local property taxes and increase state spending on schools by nearly $5.6 billion.
Still, the state’s education finance system gives the Walla Walla School District just $48,000 for its security needs, Smith said.
This school year will pay out $261,332 for six security guards employed by the district.
Walla Walla Public Schools pays 75 percent of Edwards’ salary and benefits — a contract of about $80,000, Smith said, noting the deputy also works the summer months in a traditional deputy position.
“Therefore, the district spends about $340,000 on student safety, while only receiving $48,000 from the state.”
The state’s formula that decides one security officer is plenty for Walla Walla also decrees the district needs just one-third of a social worker and less than one school nurse, half of a family engagement counselor (a position required by law) and just over nine teaching assistants.
That’s for 1 million square feet of buildings in 12 school sites on a total of 200 acres of campus, Smith said.
According to the state’s Office of Public Instruction, a school district would have to have more than 85,000 full-time K-12 students to generate one school psychologist position, and 40,000 such students to fund one social worker.
To make Walla Walla schools’ security personnel budget balance requires using voter-approved, educational-enrichment levy funds, the only viable tool school districts and communities have to provide adequate levels of staffing, Smith said.
“Whether it be for additional nurses, safety personnel, or our incredible band programs that I watched perform last night to a packed house in the Wa-Hi gym — all funded by local levy since the state does not fund any music or arts in their ‘prototypical’ formula — levies remain critical.”
Those levies had been capped by state law for two years at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At the end of April, however, Washington’s lawmakers voted to relax limits on how much school districts can collect from local property-tax levies, starting in 2020.