Seaquist to run for top state education post

Ted Olinger Larry Seaquist

Former Washington state Representative Larry Seaquist says he will run for the nonpartisan Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) in 2016.

Seaquist made his unofficial announcement during a public reception for local community leaders and Key Peninsula residents at Blend Wine Shop in Key Center Dec. 29.

OSPI oversees all K-12 public education in Washington state, serving 1.04 million students. Incumbent Superintendent Randy Dorn announced in October that he would not seek a third four-year term.

“We've had now 15 years or so of the public being told that teachers are the problem and that if we just found the bad teachers and graded the bad schools and got rid of them that everything would be OK. And that's simply looking at it backwards,” said Seaquist.

He said the school system has been “underfunded, overstressed to the point where the top third, upper middle class kids zoom through just fine, but increasingly poverty is draining the life out of other families.” Seaquist added that these pressures have contributed to a teacher shortage in Washington, with fewer young people entering or staying in the profession and veteran teachers retiring early.

“We have to fully fund all those schools in those low income districts, and that's way beyond the McCleary requirements,” said Seaquist, citing the need for full-time counselors, nurses and para-educators.

In January 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington state that the Legislature had failed to fully fund public education according to its own definition and as the state constitution explicitly requires.

The court ordered the Legislature to increase spending to an adequate level by 2018. Some spending was increased but the court found this inadequate and in September 2014 held the Legislature in contempt. After a year of no progress, in August 2015 the court began fining the state $100,000 a day. The fine will accumulate until the Legislature fully funds K-12 education and will then be refunded to the state.

When asked how he would increase funding for public schools, Seaquist said “That is the purpose of the Legislature: to decide who gets what and who gives what... Nobody, including me, is anxious to go around and simply raise taxes. For most people, they're feeling like life is pretty thin.

“But we do have to solve these problems without the levies... Levies should be only for the extras that a local district decides it wants for its kids,” he said.

The state Supreme Court also ruled in McCleary that local property tax levy revenues are intended for locally elected “enhancements” and are legally prohibited from funding public education, but school districts across the state have come to rely on them in the absence of adequate funding from the Legislature.

The Peninsula School District is asking local voters to approve a renewal of their existing maintenance and operation levy by special election Feb. 9. The current levy funds approximately 24 percent of the districts operating budget. If approved, the Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EP&O) will have an estimated tax rate of $2.19 per $1,000 of property value for 2017, down from the current rate of $2.30 and decreasing further through 2020, according to the district.

When asked what he would bring to the state superintendent job, Seaquist said “What you need is somebody who is a systems strategy person: early learning all the way through higher ed. SPI both by the constitution and by all the statutes sits on virtually every board that has anything to do with education. So it's not just a K-12 manager role, it's an education system role.

“I bring a lot of executive experience about how you manage things and I bring eight years of legislative experience about how you work with the Legislature on a bipartisan basis,” he said.

Seaquist is a former naval officer who served four terms in the Legislature and led the House higher education committee before losing re-election to Michelle Caldier in 2014.