Legislative candidates focus on education at forum
October 23, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Candidates staked moderate positions and touted the importance of education as the contenders for offices to represent Issaquah in Olympia gathered for a candidate forum Oct. 18.
Education emerged as the signature theme in the races to represent local constituents in the state Senate and state House of Representatives. Candidates also tackled issues related to taxation, transportation, land use and — as lawmakers prepare for more budget cuts next year — government spending.
Cosponsored by The Issaquah Press and moderated by Publisher Debbie Berto, candidates shared a dais in the Issaquah City Council chambers before about 70 attendees and a local television audience.
What to know
Watch the Issaquah Candidate Forum daily at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Issaquah ICTV Channel 21 through Election Day, Nov. 6. Or, watch the forum at www.ci.issaquah.wa.us.
On the Web
Read more questions and candidates’ responses from The Issaquah Press’ campaign coverage at http://bit.ly/TcCezP.
Other event sponsors included the American Association of University Woman and the League of Women Voters.
The forum offered voters a chance to learn about issues 19 days before Election Day and a day after King County Elections mailed more than 1.16 million ballots to voters.
Candidates highlight education reform
Issaquah Democrat Mark Mullet and Snoqualmie Republican Brad Toft, Senate candidates for the 5th Legislative District and fathers of children in local school districts, tangled over education funding, teacher evaluations and charter schools.
Education is a top priority for the Legislature in the next session and coming years, as lawmakers determine how to stabilize education funding after a recent state Supreme Court decision.
Toft, in response to a question about teacher evaluations, said the yardsticks could shift the focus to help struggling teachers improve in the classroom.
“Some of the discussion around teacher evaluations has a tinge of hostility to it, because they talk about evaluations and then they talk about how we need to get rid of the underperforming teachers,” he said. “In any evaluation system — whether it’s for teachers, whether it’s in the private or public sector — the goal of evaluation is actually to develop the employee.”
Mullet is neutral on charter school Initiative 1240; Toft supports the ballot measure to bring public charter schools to Washington.
Mullet pointed to endorsements from the League of Education Voters and Washington Education Association teachers union, and said he could bridge the gap between the organizations on the charter school issue.
“These groups, their hearts are in the right place on both sides,” he said. “I think the teachers union, their heart’s in the right place. They want the kids to be successful. The reform community, their heart is definitely in the right place and they’re trying to figure out how we get our schools to a better level.”
The seat opened after then-state Sen. Cheryl Pflug suddenly withdrew from the campaign in May, and Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed the Maple Valley Republican to a state post. Pflug resigned from the Senate in June.
House candidates in the district, Issaquah Republican Chad Magendanz and North Bend Democrat David Spring, focused on school performance and how the state can help local school districts succeed.
“The homeowners in East King County pay 20 percent above the national average in state taxes, but our schools in East King County are funded at 30 percent below the national average in state taxes,” Spring said. “I think that we need a fair tax structure so that we can have fair school funding.”
The state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. State of Washington ordered the Legislature to fully fund basic education by 2018 — a challenge as lawmakers slash programs in a tough climate.
“Education is our paramount duty. It is constitutionally the highest priority we have for funding in this state, so first and foremost, we fund our education system, because that’s going to be leveraged 10 times in the future,” Magendanz said.
The seat opened after incumbent state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, announced plans not to run for another term and instead seek the lieutenant governor post. Voters eliminated Anderson from the race in the August primary.
Most Issaquah neighborhoods fall inside the 5th District — a cross between suburban and rural areas stretched from Maple Valley to Snoqualmie Pass — after post-Census 2010 redistricting.
Dollars for K-12, higher education
Candidates in the neighboring 41st Legislative District focused on education, too.
Issaquah’s Cougar Mountain neighborhoods and North Issaquah fall inside the 41st District, a suburban swath from Mercer Island to Sammamish.
The incumbents in the district, state Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, and state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, used the forum to highlight reform efforts.
“There’s a lot of push behind early education, and how we continue to fund that,” Litzow said. “It is remarkably more cost-effective and more efficient to spend a dollar on a 3-year-old to get them ready for school than trying to save a 16-year-old from dropping out.”
Litzow’s opponent, Mercer Island Democrat Maureen Judge, said legislators must be resourceful to fund education as mandated by the state Supreme Court.
“We need to really figure out how to take those tax loopholes, close them up and also build on the need for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and, really, we need to start that at the middle school level all the way up,” she said.
Maxwell and Issaquah Republican Tim Eaves discussed how the state could help Bellevue College open a planned Issaquah campus.
“The important thing for us to do to help locate our college here in Issaquah is to ensure that we have all of the stakeholders working together — really, the strong partnership between the local businesses demonstrating the need for this location, with the city and the school district leaders here, and with the legislators,” Maxwell said.
Eaves said state support should hinge on economic recovery and a subsequent rebound in state revenue.
“I think the state needs to work on creating a sustainable budget and properly prioritizing things, and if money is available in a prosperous economy in the future when it recovers, then I believe it can be redirected,” Eaves said. “Without that prosperity being regenerated in the state, it will have to be a lower priority.”