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Why the Vashon Schools Foundation Matters

Thank You Vashon!  Last week it was announced that Vashon Island High School is a recipient of the 2013 Washington Achievement Award in two prized areas:  Overall Excellence and High Improvement.   Fewer than 1.5 percent of High Schools achieve this simultaneously:  excellent and getting better!  VHS is being recognized, but it is the entire school system and community that make it happen.

Sooo…, how did that happen?  It is no accident.  Vashon supports education by passing levies, bonds and backing our support groups PTSA, PIE, clubs, sports, and other organizations.  We vote with our ballots, back it up with our checkbooks, and it makes a difference.

Ten years ago, enrollment was declining, state funding was declining, and costs were increasing.  This had gone on for years.  The compounding effect was not obvious, but it was crippling to teachers and administrators striving to educate our students.  The culminating event came with the financial collapse of 2008.  It was painful, but it forced us to confront the new, undeniable reality that public revenue alone would not fund public education sufficiently to adequately prepare our students.  The financial crisis was fought on many fronts:  including reduced pay, higher fees and the creation of the Vashon Public Schools Foundation.  Some programs were reduced or support shifted, but mostly, programs were spared.

Since then, the school district has implemented strategies to stabilize our finances and build solid reserves.  Instead of responding to unpredictable funding, teacher and administrators have shifted their focus to improving programs:   improving teacher training and collaboration, early identification and intervention for challenged students, improving facilities, and more.  We have also restored some of the compensation reductions to keep our teachers from losing ground relative to their peers.  

Did the financial storm pass?  The patient is stable, but public education funding is far from healthy.  Although the legislature is making progress toward fully funding education, decades of financial attrition will not be reversed quickly, if ever.  Washington’s economy has been affected by the evolving global economy.  Forest products and airplane production moves out of our state to be replaced by .com’s and biotech, but not without tax incentives.  The tax revenues are limited and complicated.  The money is not in Olympia, and likely will not be for a long time.

Fortunately for Vashon, we have solutions and the Vashon Schools Foundation plays a critical role.  Our Schools Foundation is more efficient than most non-profits, and the additional resources enable our schools to maintain enhanced offerings and improve our weak areas.  Most importantly for our students, kids are engaged, scores are improving, and graduates are better prepared to thrive in an ever-changing world.  

This year’s Vashon Schools Foundation’ Spring Pledge drive is underway thru May 6th.  The key to reaching our $500,000 goal is participation.  Very generous contributions are wonderful, but broad based modest donations are also essential.  Please consider what is right for you, and make your pledge.  Our schools are making good progress, but maintaining the gains, and realizing the opportunities ahead, requires your continued support.  Thank you!

Steve Ellison
Vashon Island School Board Member, Vashon Public Schools Foundation Member