A Unifying Voice: School Board Directors Plan Advocacy for Washington’s 2023 Legislative Session

You need to be an optimist to advocate. And in about 60 days, a lot of optimists will converge on Olympia when Washington state’s 2023 legislative session begins. When it does, Washington’s 1,477 school board members will have a one-page document to complement their advocacy efforts, the 2023 WSSDA Legislative Priorities.

Each year, following its general assembly, the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) articulates its top priorities based on voting and feedback from its members, the school directors of Washington. 

The priorities serve two purposes. First, they highlight the pressing needs of 1.2 million K-12 public school students across the state. Second, they serve as an indicator for legislators of where school boards would like to see lawmakers consider changes in policy or funding.

The priorities and the positions they’re based on are born of a democratic process similar to the creation of bills in the Legislature. Districts enhance their own advocacy efforts with WSSDA’s positions where they find alignment.

“Each school board has its own set of priorities for advocacy, but my hope is that WSSDA’s one-pager can supplement or even hone their voice into a unified direction for advocacy,” said Marissa Rathbone, director of strategic advocacy at WSSDA. “If it does, directors will be speaking with one voice, and therefore able to actualize results. I am excited for them to use the priorities document as a starting point for action.”

The Priorities

WSSDA’s 2023 priorities are:

  • Meeting the Requirements for Special Education
  • Providing the Needed Resources for Ample, Equitable, and Stable Education
  • Feeding Students
  • Constructing Safe and Healthy Schools
  • Transporting Each and Every Student

In the Words of School Board Members

SPECIAL EDUCATION

“Being a mom of special needs kids myself, one of the legislative priorities that pulled at my heart was fully investing in special education,” said Federal Way school board director Luckisha Phillips. “We all saw the deep impacts of remote learning, and special education during remote learning was a different kind of hard. Our students and families have returned to schools asking for help, and directors across the state took the opportunity to advocate for the special education community and push it to one of the top legislative priorities this year,” said Phillips.

“The state sets an arbitrary cap on what they will and will not spend for special education students,” said Granite Falls school director Carl Cary. “Typically, districts have around 10% who are special education students. In our district, we are closer to 20%.  The state, in the way it funds, sets an arbitrary limit on how much it will pay per student. The difference is money we have to take out of the general fund, which is what we use to pay teachers and keep the lights on.”

Cary continued, “due to no fault of their own, these wonderful kids just need more. The adults in the room need to coalesce for these kids who need more and deserve more. To remove the arbitrary cap, and to fully fund special education, WSSDA came together and made that a priority. That is very encouraging, and I was very happy to see that.”

AMPLE, EQUITABLE, AND STABLE EDUCATION

“There are a lot of things that impact my school district,” said School Director Carl Cary. Of Granite Falls. “One of the biggest is regionalization. Every four years, the Washington state Legislature recalculates the formulas used to allocate funding to school districts, but those formulas are outdated. For every dollar Granite Falls receives, the neighboring school district receives even more. They also happen to be a larger district,” said Cary. 

“Being non-rural, it’s also easier for our neighbor to attract and retain diverse, qualified staff, especially because they can pay more. The challenge for us is that a teacher could live in Granite Falls but work in the neighboring town and make $20,000 more on the pay scale. Unfortunately, we had to try our best to be as close to those pay scale gaps as we could. That meant removing services and skinnying down. It’s tough to convince a teacher to stay if they have been here for 15 years with a master’s degree [which the salary formula rewards]. All the barbecues, hugs, and pats on the back aren’t enough to keep them when they can get $30,000 more a year just by driving down the street about 20 minutes.”

FEED STUDENTS

Aurora Flores, a board member for WSSDA and the Manson School District said, “in our district 69.5% of our students self-identify as low-income. This is almost 12% higher than the state average of 47.6%. As food insecurity becomes a real concern in our district, our state, and the nation, the importance of providing school meal programs that meet the diverse backgrounds, preferences and experiences of our students is more important than ever.” 

“Research shows that many students are getting their healthiest meals at school and that those meals play an important role in supporting obesity prevention and overall student health by improving their diets and combating hunger,” said Flores. 

“The research also indicates that student achievement is improved when children have healthy meals. Healthy meals contribute to healthy schools. Given the positives that healthy meals provide our students, WSSDA’s support of our priority to ensure that no student goes hungry during the school day by providing nutritious, healthy meals is crucial.”

CONSTRUCT SAFE AND HEALTHY SCHOOLS 

“We have the largest and sixth largest high schools in the state,” said Steve Christensen, board vice president of Pasco School District. “Our largest high school has 3,164 students enrolled, so we need 32 portable buildings to handle the overflow. The next largest instructs 2,504 students and relies on 29 portable buildings,” said Christensen. 

“We are in dire need of a high school, but to help us get one, the formulas for setting space and construction rates need updating. Current teaching methods require more space and construction costs have also increased.”

“But at the same time, we are a little concerned about equity and distribution of funds, so any update will hopefully make it more equitable statewide. We are not the only school district in this situation, so these formulas need to be adjusted.”

TRANSPORT EACH AND EVERY STUDENT

Eatonville is a small rural school district encompassing 440 square miles,” explains Ronda Litzenberger, WSSDA’s Small Schools Committee chair and vice chair of the Eatonville School Board. “Our buses transport students over mountains, around canyons, through valleys and across rivers. The current one-size-fits all funding model does not accommodate the long distances and sparse population of our community. Inflation has increased the cost of fuel, parts, and buses which has left us in dire need of reliable transportation.  The inability to attract and retain a skilled workforce by paying competitive wages coupled with the tremendous amount of red tape required to properly train and license a new hire has resulted in extreme driver shortages. This shortage has caused daily bus route cancellations; directly impacting our most vulnerable  student populations.  No bus means no education for many of our kids.  I see this lack of funding as an inequity that requires immediate attention.”

Learn more about WSSDA’s positions at wssda.org/positions or see how they’re created.

Cascade, Walla Walla, and North Thurston named School Boards of the Year

Inspect, Identify, Inspire: Boards of Distinction Program

30 Washington School Boards recognized as Boards of Distinction

The Cascade, Walla Walla, and North Thurston School Boards have been named the 2022 school Boards of the Year. These three boards were selected for the highest level of recognition among 30 boards named as 2022 Boards of Distinction by the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA).

The Boards of Distinction application asks school directors to illustrate how their board’s actions and decisions exemplified visionary leadership and helped their school districts close opportunity gaps and increase overall student success. To be awarded, boards had to show a clear link between their leadership in applying the Washington School Board Standards and closing gaps that impact student success.

“All three of these boards showed a clear commitment to supporting student gains in academic performance, mental health, and other areas of student success with decisions and actions that positively impacted their students, staff, families, and communities,” said WSSDA Director of Leadership Development Tricia Lubach. “While all of the Boards of Distinction exhibited effective school district governance and strong leadership, these three Boards of the Year were particularly strategic about using all available resources to make up for learning losses during the pandemic. Each of them provided clear and robust evidence showing how their actions were in alignment with the best practices found in the Washington School Board Standards.” 

Small District Board of the Year

Located in Leavenworth, the Cascade School Board focused budgetary and staffing resources on supporting students whose educational growth was negatively impacted during the pandemic, from the youngest students to those in high school. They established a full-day transitional kindergarten opportunity for 3-4 year-olds needing extra support to be kindergarten-ready, expanded virtual academy access to full-time for any K-12 student, and provided academic interventions for struggling middle school students. The board also authorized a social worker to address mental health needs for the district’s approximately 1,260 students and assisted low-income and rural families in accessing internet connections to access online learning. Cascade’s strategic plan is highly customized to the mountainous community set in picturesque Leavenworth, emphasizing the value of being outdoors and artful creativity, along with connected relationships as part of a quality education within an inclusive environment.

Cascade School District’s board members are: Trey Ising, Cyndi Garza, Judy Derpack, Zachary Miller, and Dr. Mike Worden. The superintendent is Dr. Tracey Beckendorf-Edou. 

Medium District Board of the Year

The Walla Walla School Board, whose district serves about 5,600 students, also took a multi-pronged approach to harnessing resources for students at every level, from pre-K to high school. The board thoughtfully leveraged federal pandemic relief funds (ESSER) to invest in programs and staff focused on closing opportunity gaps between student groups while providing learning acceleration for all students post-pandemic. Particularly impressive was the fact that despite academic disruptions caused by the pandemic, last spring, students outperformed their pre-pandemic peers in nearly every grade for both English and math. The impressive academic gains took place while the board also exhibited leadership in community transparency as it wrapped up district-wide construction as part of a 2018 bond. Additionally, the board steadfastly followed its established policies and procedures when faced with contentious library book challenges. Student voice was a meaningful part of the board’s response to this issue. 

Walla Walla Public Schools’ board members are: Ruth Ladderud, Terri Trick, Derek Sarley, Eric Rindal, and Kathy Mulkerin. The superintendent is Dr. Wade Smith. 

Large District Board of the Year

The North Thurston School Board, based in Lacey, leads a district with about 15,000 students. Like the other Boards of the Year, North Thurston invested in programs and staffing to close opportunity gaps and provide students with multiple opportunities to be successful. They funded a program for supplementary learning opportunities before, during, and after school that nearly doubled students’ growth rates in reading, math, and science. The board authorized expanded implementation of Restorative Practices, actions designed to create a culture of empathy, accountability, and foster a sense of belonging for students and staff. The district also joined the largest federally-funded literacy study ever conducted, resulting in expanded access to instructional time and interventions for students, including in-person, weekly coaching. 

North Thurston Public Schools’ board members are: Dave Newkirk, Gretchen Maliska, Tiffany Sevruk, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, and Graeme Sackrison. The superintendent is Dr. Debra Clemens.

WSSDA will honor the Boards of Distinction and Boards of the Year at the WSSDA Annual Conference in Spokane on November 17-19, 2022. 

2022 Boards of Distinction

Small District Boards of Distinction
  • Cascade – Board of the Year
  • Mabton
Medium District Boards of Distinction
  • Walla Walla – Board of the Year
  • Anacortes
  • Arlington
  • Ferndale
  • Mount Vernon
  • Peninsula
  • Pullman
  • Quincy
  • Riverview
  • Shelton
  • Steilacoom Historical #1
  • Tahoma
  • Washougal 
  • West Valley — Yakima
  • White River 
Large District Boards of Distinction
  • North Thurston – Board of the Year
  • Auburn
  • Bellingham
  • Everett
  • Federal Way 
  • Issaquah
  • Lake Washington
  • Northshore
  • Pasco
  • Puyallup
  • Spokane
  • Tacoma
  • Yakima

About WSSDA 

Formed in 1922, WSSDA comprises all 1,477 locally elected school board directors from across Washington. As a state agency, per chapter 28A.345 RCW, WSSDA supports its members with research-based leadership development opportunities, policy and legal resources, and legislative advocacy support. This work is critically important because school board directors build the future of public education by setting the policy, governance, and budgetary priorities for all of Washington’s 295 school districts serving over 1.1 million students, employing about 160,000 people, with a combined annual budget of approximately $11 billion.

School Directors Electing Peers to WSSDA Leadership Positions

Vote now

Until midnight of October 16, school directors are voting in the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s (WSSDA’s) regional elections to fill positions on committees and the WSSDA board of directors.

Open positions vary by region, but elected positions within WSSDA include:

WSSDA’s regions are called “director areas.” These areas closely resemble the maps for Educational Service Districts. Here is a map of WSSDA’s director areas listing the school districts within them.

Each school board member has been emailed a personalized ballot link and reminder emails to ensure participation. Learn more at wssda.org/elections.

School Directors Vote on WSSDA Positions

General Assembly

On September 30 and October 1, school directors statewide participated in the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s (WSSDA’s) annual General Assembly. Directors discussed the pros and cons of over 70 different proposals for adding, subtracting, and updating the contents of WSSDA’s legislative and permanent positions.

Referring to the first day of the assembly, Woodland school board member Trish Huddleston said, “I honestly can’t believe how much I enjoyed that. It was a long day but fun, intense, and exciting too.”

The assembly is a methodical march, governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, through proposals submitted by school directors for updating WSSDA’s advocacy platform and supporting beliefs and values. A set amount of time is dedicated to delegates wishing to speak for or against each proposal, along with opportunities to ask clarifying questions. Then, once discussion is complete, the assembly votes to adopt or reject a proposal.

“A clear effort was made to give participants time to signal their desire to speak,” said Bellevue school board member Christine Chew. “Answers to rules questions were thoughtfully and efficiently addressed. It was both efficient and inclusive.

Next Steps

The next step for school directors is to tell WSSDA which of its legislative positions should be the highest priority for advocacy efforts in 2023. Board chairs, General Assembly delegates, and board legislative representatives were emailed a form to submit their board’s recommendations.

Once submissions are tallied, WSSDA will create a one-page priorities document that will drive legislative advocacy efforts next year.

The opportunity to update WSSDA’s platform will return next spring during the annual platform revision window. Learn more about the assembly at wssda.org/GA.

WSSDA’s annual cycle for updating and using member-adopted positions.

Behind the Scenes

In recent years, the assembly has been held virtually, broadcast from the WSSDA offices. Each workstation has its own function (or group of functions). Voting management, Zoom screens, the publishing of virtual green and red cards to signify sentiment, and many more operations are divvied up between multiple staff and screens. Collectively, they orchestrate the broadcast seen by delegates and audience members.

One key role not pictured below is the parliamentarian advisory committee (PAC). This group is comprised of three school directors noted for the depth of their knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order. They assist if a particularly unusual procedural question arises by consulting with WSSDA’s policy and legal services director and/or WSSDA’s president, who is the presiding officer for the assembly. The “pac,” as they’re informally called, remains on call via Zoom throughout General Assembly.

Final Slate Set for WSSDA Elections

final slate set for WSSDA elections

Voting in WSSDA’s elections will occur October 1-16, 2022. Voting is conducted via an anonymized, unique ballot link emailed to each public school director on file with WSSDA. If you’re a currently-seated public school board member, update your email address with WSSDA to ensure you receive a ballot.

School directors can view the final slate for their region by clicking on their director area below.

Find your Director Area

If you need to find out what director area you are in, click the button to open a dropdown list. Type your school district’s name to filter the list.

Learn more about WSSDA elections at wssda.org/elections