The Board of Spokane Public Schools

Dear Group,

We voters decide this fall on replacements for three out of five of the members of the School Board of the Spokane Public Schools (aka “District 81”). That is a huge change in leadership.

What is the importance of the Spokane Public School’s School Board? The Washington State Constitution, Article IX, Section 1, reads, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” The School Board of the Spokane Public Schools carries the responsibility to make sure that happens here. 

What is Spokane Public Schools’ significance in the State of Washington? Spokane Public Schools (District 81) is second in the State of Washington in the number of students enrolled with roughly 30,000 students. Seattle Public Schools enrolls around 53,000. SPS is comparable to Tacoma, also about 30,000. (Only three other districts in the State serve over 24,000 students.)

The five members of the School Board of Spokane Public Schools are responsible for a budget of nearly a half a billion dollars (yes, that’s with a “b”). Just 33 million of that, around 7%, (in 2019-20) comes from local property tax levies. (The other 93% comes from Washington State [McCleary mandate and levy caps] coffers and a little from federal sources.) Consider that. Mostly, the School Board is responsible for wisely spending money it receives from elsewhere. The School Board’s power to raise money for the schools is only marginal. Changes in State funding for schools have an outsize effect. You wouldn’t know that from newspaper coverage. That coverage typically focuses on whether or not the School Board is going to ask local voters for more money as another property tax levy.

Responsibility for a half billion dollars, 30,000 students, roughly 2000 teachers, 1000 other staff, and 47 schools…is quite an assignment. Of course, the School Board doesn’t administer a half billion dollar budget without help. The Board hires the Superintendent of Schools, who, with staff assistance, is responsible for keeping track of it all and reporting to the Board. The five members of the School Board meet twice a month. Reviewing materials for these meetings takes around twenty hours a week for a diligent Board member. 

A School Board Member overseeing Spokane Public Schools is elected for a six year term. (That is longer than any other elected office of which I’m aware, except U.S. Senator.) Let’s see, that’s 144 meetings and around six thousand hours of prep work. Serving as a School Board member is an unpaid, elected position. This is a volunteer commitment a Board Member makes to the benefit of our children and our society, a volunteer commitment beyond one’s own life needs. (For a thoughtful article about running for and serving on a generic School Board, click here.)

All SPS School Board members are elected at large by voters living in the boundary of the district (see the P.S. below) with elections occurring in all odd-numbered years. Ordinarily two, then one, then the other two positions are up for election in successive odd-numbered years. This year three positions are open: Position 4 fills out the 2 year term of a School Board member who is stepping down. Positions 1 and 2 are for full six year terms. 

My favorites for the three open positions are Nikki Lockwood, Jenny Slagle, and Erin Georgen. I have met the first two. I find myself in agreement with the ProgressiveVotersGuide.org, which I recommend for more detail.

Keep to the high ground,

Jerry

P.S. District Geography: Like many other district types (legislative, congressional, city, county, fire–see maps in the reference section below) the areas served by Spokane Public Schools and the City of Spokane are not quite the same. Probably due to annexation of land by the City of Spokane, some residents of Spokane are served by School Districts other than Spokane Public Schools. It’s confusing. It is hard to find a map that clearly compares the Spokane the City and Spokane the School District. Washington State School Districts are not drawn to conform with the communities they serve, nor do they conform to Washington State legislative districts: parts of the Spokane Public School’s District (81) lie in Legislative Districts 3 (central Spokane), 4 (east), 6 (south, west, and north), and 7 (northeast). 

Starting in the north and going clockwise, District 81, i.e. the Public School District that is Spokane Public Schools, is bordered (click for a not very user friendly map) by Mead, Orchard Prairie, West Valley, Central Valley, Freeman, Liberty, Cheney, Great Northern, and Nine Mile Falls School Districts.