Bremerton School District Superintendent Aaron Leavell and Tina Mahaney, president of the Bremerton Education Association, are supporting Initiative 1351 to reduce class sizes in Washington state.
“I think that it’s kind of simple,” Mahaney said. “Every child deserves to learn in an uncrowded classroom. We’re 47th out of 50 in class sizes in the United States and our kids just deserve better.”
Leavell’s support, though, isn’t quite so simple.
“I’m a supporter of 1351,” he said. “I think it’s definitely one of the right things to do for kids and their education system. It does concern me that there’s not a funding plan attached to it. That’s a concern for quite a few folks.”
Some worry that the cost of reducing class sizes will only exacerbate shortfalls in education funding, especially in light of the McCleary decision by the state supreme court which directs the legislature to fully fund basic education.
“Passing 1351 will put pressure on the state legislature to seriously consider class size, but I hope it doesn’t take away from the focus on McCleary,” Leavell said. “I really see them kind of going hand in hand. I think it’s going to draw some huge attention to education again. Quite frankly, we have some classes here in Bremerton that are overloaded, particularly in the elementary schools.”
While passage of the initiative will bring reduced class sizes, Leavell is thinking about actual classroom space that is available in the district.
“If it passes, most districts, including Bremerton are going to be short many, many classrooms,” he said. “It poses an issue of how we’ll find appropriate classroom spaces to support those initiatives.”
Mahaney, though, doesn’t worry about passing I-1351 on the heels of the McCleary decision.
“I don’t at all,” she said. “The way I look at it is the McCleary decision has directed the legislature to meet its paramount duty to fully fund schools. So, class size is just part of that plan. All this is doing is helping the legislature decide what their priorities are for funding. They already have to have a plan and what we’re saying is we’d like class size to be the top priority in that plan.”
Mahaney noted that the Washington Education Association, a statewide teachers union, worked very hard to get I-1351 on the ballot, gathering many of the needed 350,000 signatures.
“Many of my members in Bremerton and all around the county worked very, very hard to make that happen,” she said. “We truly believe its what’s best for our kids.”