Community “engages” in school finance discussion

Parents, community members and staff discuss their ideas about school finances during the second session of Engage Tahoma as staff and School Board members listen. The first two sessions focused on revenue. A second topic, Classroom Technology, will be discussed during engagement meetings on April 30 and May 20. To sign up for those, click here: http://bit.ly/TSDengageTahomaTechnology

Parents, community members and Tahoma staff met April 4 for the second of two sessions about school revenue in the debut of a new district program called Engage Tahoma. Those who attended heard a recap of the finance information about revenue shared in the first session, then broke into small groups to discuss and give feedback about how the district could improve the information it shares — as well as how it shares facts about finances.

The School Board asked Superintendent Tony Giurado to create Engage Tahoma as a way to involve more community members and as a method for two-way communication, something that has been requested both during Giurado’s listening tour in the fall as well as by other community members.

“In order for us to provide the very best education for our students, it requires a partnership between the community, the schools and the families,” Giurado said during the meeting.

School Board President Didem Pierson thanked the participants and stressed that studies show when communities, staff and families engage and participate together, there is a positive impact on student achievement. “Thank you for your willingness to partner with us,” Pierson said.

Attendees had the chance to ask any follow-up questions that had occurred to them since session 1. One staff member asked for clarification about the district’s assessed value, and why other school districts area able to collect so much more money per student. Assistant Superintendent and Director of Finance Lori Cloud explained that the total amount that a school district collects via a levy measure is directly related to the total assessed value of all property and buildings in the district. Tahoma students have less funding available because there is relatively little commercial development in the district — particularly when compared to districts such as Bellevue, Lake Washington, Issaquah and Renton.

Another question focused on how district officials decide whether to ask for a levy amount of $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value or — should the Legislature raise the amount districts may collect — or at a higher rate, such as $2.50, or somewhere in between. Tahoma has historically determined the amount based on the need.

The small groups talked about three questions related to school finance and revenue (School Board members and district staff listened, took notes and facilitated). Each small group then reported out a selection of what they considered the most important ideas they had discussed to the whole group. These included:

Clarity of how levy funds are spent; also, sharing information about how levy funds are spent year-round.

“Humanization” of the needs. For example, don’t just state that levy funds support the MAP and RAP programs; rather, share including a parent/student(s) who benefits from the programs.

Simplify the language and presentation of financial information.

Dispel the misconception that the state has fully funded basic education at the level of service that Tahoma provides. (For example, the state’s prototypical funding model would fund 1.4 full-time equivalent nursing positions; Tahoma supplements that amount with local levy dollars to have 7.2 FTE nursing positions.)

Middle school student Scott Alvord attended with his mom. Asked why he thinks it’s important to learn about school finances and revenue, Scott said that although most of the information felt aimed at the parent level, he appreciates that his school spends money on providing programs and activities so that students can get to know more peers at school and make more friends. It’s also important to learn about how the system works, he said, because “Then you can give your opinion.” If someone would like a method or decision changed, Scott added, it’s a good idea to learn about it and then ask them to consider a different perspective.

Scott’s mom, Amy, said she brought him to the meeting after attending the first session by herself. “I like him to see how the community joins together for the betterment of the school district. The main reason we moved here was for the school district.”

To read about the revenue information shared at the first session, click here.

In the fall, Engage Tahoma will focus on the expenditure side of the finance equation, with two sessions following a similar format.

Next two Engage Tahoma sessions: Classroom Technology
How is technology used in our classrooms today, and how do we envision using it after the next successful technology levy?

Please join us for two sessions about second topic of this year’s Engage Tahoma series: Classroom Technology. The format calls for detailed information at the first meeting and small-group discussion with district staff and leaders at the second meeting.

The technology sessions are from 6-7:30 p.m. on April 30 and May 20 at the Central Services Center.

To sign up, click here.