EDITOR’S COLUMN: The national recession is hitting the Renton School District

Just in case you think that what’s happening in Olympia doesn’t really matter, think again. The massive assault on the state’s education system is going to hurt kids in Renton, their education and the educators who are trying to make them productive citizens.

The Renton School District stands to lose about $6 million in state funding for the 2009-2010 school year. All that money is coming the district’s way because of Initiative 728 that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2000 to help reduce class size.

Faced with a $9 BILLION deficit, the state House and Senate are looking to suspend, end – you pick the word – what everyone thought was a key piece in efforts to improve our state’s schools. But, of course, after two years, the Legislature can undo the work of the citizens who sent them to Olympia, at least when it comes to initiatives.

Those millions pay for 66 teaching positions in the Renton School District. Cuts won’t eliminate all those jobs, but the money has to come from somewhere. Without a doubt, some of the gains made in lowering class size will be lost. That’s just not right, especially when teachers are under increasing pressure to boost the WASL scores of their students.

I know this sounds like hand-wringing. I don’t have the answers. I do know that our state representatives who are friends of education, such as Rep. Marcie Maxwell, are doing what they can to preserve the advances made across the state by local school districts. Maxwell has been there. She was a Renton School Board member.

One thing Renton residents can do is make their voices heard at four community meetings the district is holding over the next two weeks to get your input on where to cut the school budget. Any of those cuts seem untenable, although some are less so than others. The district may have to cut back on transportation, if it means saving a teacher’s job. Of course, that means an inconvenience for someone, likely parents who will have to figure out how to get their athletes – and fans – to a sporting event.

At least Renton is not alone. Across the state, this same scenario is playing out. In the Kent School District (some kids with a Renton address attend a Kent school) the community went through the same exercise to find out what cuts could be tolerated. Cuts there are in the millions, too. Small comfort.

Of course, all this raises the T word – taxes. You’ll notice to the left that this week’s poll asks whether you would vote for a tax increase if it meant saving millions of dollars for the Renton School District. I am always willing to hand over my hard-earned cash to support our schools; you know how I would vote.

But I also have mixed feelings. My wife and daughter are teachers; I know how hard they work. Our other daughter works for the state Liquor Control Board. Part of her job is to help spread the word about the dangers of underage drinking. That certainly is a worthwhile endeavor. But don’t ask me which one – or all – of those three should lose a job. Pit one against the other?

All I know is that this isn’t going to end well. That our education system is going to take a hit. That it might not recover for years. That’s not what I want to see in the state. Do you?

When a grocer closes, we

lose a choice, convenience

I guess I am just in a foul mood today. I don’t like to see our schools in jeopardy. Nor do I like to see our food supply in jeopardy. That may be overstating things a bit, but it’s wrong when something as basic as a grocery store closes. Aren’t they recession-proof? Everyone has to eat.

Apparently not.

I spent a little bit of time this week with Pam and John Lowney, the owners of the Renton IGA just east of town on Southeast 128th Street. Their store is closing, in a matter of days. They put up the good fight, even besting the big chains and big-box grocers that seem to proliferate. They had the good times to help fill their sails (sales?)

But the dark clouds of the recession simply did them in. Also done in were the Thriftway on Grady Way, the Greenfresh Market on Rainier and the QFC in Fairwood. Makes no sense to me. I could say the same about something dear to me that’s also at risk, the newspaper. (Not the Renton Reporter, however).

The Lowneys have been pillars of Renton, active in the Renton Rotary. They gave jobs to 26 people, they fed people for years and they gave back to the community. All that is lost.

There has to be a better way to protect our kids’ schools (and ability to pay for college tuition) and those who toil long hours to keep our pantries full.

But there is an opportunity here, to help others.

This week, everything was 30 percent off at the IGA. Now giving shouldn’t wait for a sale. But just think how many pantries we could fill if we all went to the IGA, filled up a grocery cart and hauled it all to the Salvation Army Renton Rotary Food Bank downtown.

I know that will help erase a foul mood. As Capt. Terry Masango counsels us: Need knows no season.


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