By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News
On Tuesday, October 18, the Marysville-Pilchuck High School auditorium was home to Marysville School District’s first Education Town Hall. The panelists included Washington State Representative June Robinson, Marysville School Board President Peter Lundberg, and Tulalip tribal member, Senator John McCoy.
“Senator John McCoy and Representative June Robinson serve the communities of Everett, Marysville and Tulalip in Olympia during the State Legislative Session which starts every year in January,” states Dr. Becky Berg, Marysville School District Superintendent. “When they are not in Olympia, they also work tirelessly for our local communities in their day-jobs and by meeting and working with citizens to understand concerns and advocate new ideas.”
During the 90-minute Town Hall discussion the focus was all about education; from defining what basic education is, how to best educate MSD students, and how that education may be funded going forward. Senator McCoy took point on many of the discussion questions and, as is his style, didn’t hold back with his honest assessments and ideas on how to best equip MSD students with a quality education that yields productive citizens.
In your opinion, what is basic education?
“Because we have such a diver legislature, lots of different opinions, there are a lot of different ideas about what basic education is. You can say we are constantly defining basic education because each community across the state of Washington is a little bit unique in terms of their diversity and needs. For the students, their community determines what they need survive in that area. I’ve been preaching that you have to take it community by community, which means the school districts, and they have to decide the necessary skill sets of that community in order to survive. For every community, there is a focus and codes of language based on the resources in that area.
Here in the Everett/Marysville/Tulalip area we have Boeing, Fluke, and medical centers. These are technical companies, companies manufacturing aerospace parts, and a large contingent of the healthcare sector. So we have to figure out what needs to be in the skill sets of our students in order to take advantage of these local companies. That’s going to be a different skill set required than students in the Tri-City area, or the Bellevue area, or the Neah Bay area. Each community needs to work on what is required for them to survive and they should gear your education systems to those requirements.”
How do you propose to level the educational playing field?
“I’m watching out for that square peg trying to get into the round hole. No child walks through the door with the same information, even if they live in the same house. We have to get down to where they are, find out where they are, so that we can educate them. Now not every kid is going to be a STEM person (STEM is a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics). That’s probably only 15-20% of students who are going to be STEM people, so why are we gearing everything to STEM? By doing that we are leaving 80% of our students behind when they could be trained up to be very productive citizens of the community.
Whenever I talk to kids I tell them ‘find that one thing that makes you want to get up in the morning and go do it’ because there will be some crazy guy like me who will pay you to do it. Be happy in your work. I think we’ve all seen people who are not happy in their work and their product showed it. Not everyone is going to be an engineer or become a programmer. So that’s what we have to do, we have to get our educators to where the kids are. I have the highest respect for every teacher in the system. I thank them every time I can. They have a hard job. They’re educating the people who are our future. We need to prepare them for everything.”
We seem to all agree that the State needs to meet its duty to fully fund education. In your opinion, where should the money come from?
“The fact remains we need to devise a system that will have everybody in the State participate, everybody. Not everybody is participating in the revenue process. Right now, because of our sales tax system, the middle class and low-income are carrying the burden of all taxes. The upper incomes are pretty much unscathed, so we need to devise a method that everybody participates.”
What do you see your individual role being during the 2017 State Legislative Session when it comes to the State’s mandate to fully fund education by 2018?
“Well, I’m not on any of the finance committees by design. In my prior life I did a lot of working with budgets and quite honestly I got tired of it. Now, I delve into just policy. But that does not relieve any legislator from their responsibility to do due diligence and fund education. We all have something at stake. We all have skin in the game to bring it home for all students in the state of Washington, all students. We need to work together, with one another in order to achieve this.
One thing the Supreme Court was quite clear on, and I agree with, is that salaries should be part of basic education. There will be lots of discussion and we need to solve that problem and move forward. We all have hard work to do and I think we’re up to it. We’re going to do the best job we can to fully fund education so all our kids down the road can become productive citizens.”
What is the one thing you’d like to see the State Legislator accomplish this session when it comes to K-12 education?
“I’ve been in the State Legislator for fourteen years and twelve of those fourteen I’ve dropped the bill to delink, and I will continue to do it. The last three years the Chair of the Senate Education Committee refused to allow that bill to come up, to not even be heard. I will submit another bill to clean them out again and see what happens.
I think the Education Committee ought to be disbanded for five years. Everybody thinks they’re an expert when it comes to education. The Legislator turns over 20% every two years and out of the group we get all these folks who think they have the magic fix. That’s why we have an unsettled education system because every two years a group comes in who wants this or that and everything remains unsettled. We have to stop, let things settle, and see the process work. In my opinion, we have a pretty good school system, but we keep messing with it. We need to stop that and allow current processes to work.”
In your opinion, what skills and capabilities do students need to be a productive citizen?
“That depends on the child. Autistic students can demonstrate great skill and be productive when they are educated at their level. They have skills that will help the community. Every child in the State of Washington has the capability to be a very strong citizen and be productive in this state. Like I said earlier, we have to find out where the student is at and teach them at their level.”
Contact Michael Rios, firstname.lastname@example.org