Burien’s plan to pump up to $400,000 into some city elementary schools was strongly opposed June 5 by three influential school district leaders.
City Manager Mike Martin presented an outline of the proposed “Kids and Cops Initiative” at the school district’s board meeting.
He said the Burien City Council would be considering the initiative on Monday, June 18 with the goal of placing it on the November election ballot.
If approved by Burien voters, the initiative would target some Burien elementary schools with between $300,000-$400,000 over a four year period.
The funds would be direct grants from the city to specific schools with educators in each school determining which programs would be funded.
As a companion to the “kids” portion of the initiative, Burien cops would receive a surge in funding for two years to hire 8-10 additional police officers at a cost of $1.8- $2.3 million.
Martin said the funding for police would alter a misperception about the amount of crime in the city.
“Burien is thought to be the wild west as compared to neighboring cities,” Martin declared. “That is a myth.”
Martin said Burien will have difficulty achieving its vision, particularly for economic development, without improving the academic competitiveness of Burien students.
Although board vice president Bernie Dorsey thanked Martin and Mayor Brian Bennett, who also attended the meeting, for “thinking outside the boss,” the proposed initiative received harsh criticism.
Lois Schipper, Highline Citizens for Schools president, said the initiative would confuse voters who would think they are voting on the district’s regular levy. Schipper’s group helps run the campaigns in favor of school levies and bonds.
Schipper said the district may also place a school construction bond on the spring election ballot, which would be an additional request for school funding. After two successful bond elections, the district’s capitol projects plan has stalled because of the weak economy.
She added that the board is elected to decide school financing issues, while the initiative would provide direct funding at the discretion of school principals and other educators.
Schipper said the Highline district also includes SeaTac, Des Moines, Normandy Park and North Highline. Just funding Burien schools would be a conflict of interest, according to Schipper.
Highline Education Association president Stacie Hawkins also voiced concerns that Burien citizens may think they have already paid for schools through the initiative when they decide on the district’s regular levy.
The teacher’s union head also said working directly with principals on program funding instead of the board and district administrators is a “slippery slope.”
She also noted there is no funding for pre kindergarten programs in the proposal.
Hawkins encouraged Burien officials to collaborate with the district and its board members.
Former board president Tom Slattery said it would be a serious mistake to specially fund schools in only one of the district’s cities.
In a district that depends on levies and bonds for financing, Slattery said it would be “too much risk” to present an initiative that might confuse voters.
He noted that while the city of Seattle funds an education initiative, its borders are the same as the Seattle school district.
He suggesteded that Burien support early education and social services instead.
At the meeting, board members also heard complaints from Highline High parents, student athletes and coaches about the school’s athletic director, Mary Segle.
They complained about lack of cooperation as well as favoritism.
Interim Superintendent Alan Spicciati said the district will review the complaints and indicated he may make more comments at the next board meeting on June 27.