From The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash. These stories have been written by Justyna Tomtas
Late changes to legislation detailing the requirements for a competitive grant pursued by districts across the state in essence secured more than $5.5 million for the Chehalis School District to build a new STEM facility onto W.F. West High School.
At least one Eastern Washington school district superintendent was mad enough about the legislative maneuvering to send a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee criticizing what he called “insider trading.”
The amended text of the bill dictated that at least one of the grants be awarded to a school in Southwest Washington with a scanning electron microscope and specific technology.
That requirement, added in the late days of an overtime session, essentially delivered the grant to Chehalis.
It’s the only school district in the region — and among the 34 districts that applied — that has the microscope.
The Chehalis and Centralia school districts received a combined $9.1 million from the state for new STEM facilities when the allocations were announced last week.
The news was welcomed by the local school districts, but incensed Chewelah School District Superintendent Rick Linehan. He said in a letter to Inslee the changes to the legislation eliminated the competitive nature of the grant.
“The supplemental budget came out and the rules were changed at the last minute,” Linehan wrote. “The specific changes were not communicated to the finalists until I took the call from the grant evaluators at OSPI and they informed me that the STEM grant had been rewritten … We were in the running until legislators changed the parameters of the grant without notifying the districts that had spent many hours on their proposals.”
The added wording to the budget dictated that “At least one grant award is made to school districts located in Southwest Washington that currently offer curriculum using equipment called Real-Time PCR and a scanning electron microscope to build partnerships with academia and industry leaders to develop in-depth research projects.”
Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, a ranking member on the capital budget in the House, worked closely on the issue.
“The language that was written was written so that the schools that had the facilities in place could get stronger, and because Chehalis was the only one with the electron scanning microscope, we wanted to make sure they had a good facility for that piece of equipment,” he said.
Jeff Burkette, a representative from Eclipse Technologies, previously told The Chronicle that the electron microscope the company had installed at W.F. West was the first the company had put into a high school.
Chehalis Superintendent Ed Rothlin said the district worked with legislative staff when applying for the grant.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, told The Chronicle some refinements were made in the criteria, but given most of his time was spent on the operating budget, he said he didn’t know where the wording came from.
“I know they made some changes in the language from the underlying capital budget to the final to make sure we got and gave credit for all the STEM work being done around the state,” Braun said.
DeBolt said the idea was to create a pilot program for STEM that would focus on rural facilities that needed upgrades.
“We have two great school districts that needed to take advantage of that,” he said.
Braun said the grants provide a great opportunity for both of the school districts and recognizes the work taking place to promote STEM education in their schools.
“This allows them to kind of take the next big step in creating better and more specific facilities for STEM education,” Braun said.
“I think it’s a big win for the community and our school districts, and more importantly for the students in the school districts.”
As for DeBolt, he said he sees the benefits when he looks at his daughter, who is graduating with honors and an engineering degree.
“She did the molecular genetics program at Chehalis. I see how that changed her and helped mold her,” he said. “I think about it now and if we can truly make it enhance education and get more kids engaged, it would really mean a lot for us to have those skills for kids.”
The board of directors of both the Centralia and Chehalis school districts at their respective board meetings this week celebrated the $9.1 million awarded to the districts to help expand their STEM capabilities.
The Chehalis School Board passed a resolution at its Tuesday night meeting allowing it to get one step closer to getting the money.
The resolution is part of three steps the six school districts awarded money need to take before receiving any funds from the Washington state’s capital budget, said Justin Rogers, Southwest regional coordinator for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The other steps include presenting a finalized budget, and documentation that shows at least $100,000 in private donations has been acquired. Those donations can come in the form of in-kind, cash or equipment donations, Rogers said.
The districts have until June 30 to complete the three required steps.
The Chehalis School District was awarded $5,520,948 to build a STEM wing onto W.F. West High School. The Centralia School District also received funds in the amount of $3,616,403 to build a STEM facility next to Centralia High School.
Centralia School Board members discussed the grant at their Wednesday night meeting, but a resolution will likely be passed at a later meeting after the donation threshold is met.
The district received its first in-kind donation in the amount of $14,000 from Horizons Educational Consulting.
“It’s really exciting to realize that $3.6 million is coming to our school district,” Board President Kim Ashmore said. “Congratulations to Mark (Davalos) and the team that helped get that through.”
The grant award includes a slight increase in funds after additional money was discovered in the administrative budget, Rogers said.
“Everyone got a little bump, it happened at the last second,” he said.
The local school districts applied for a preliminary STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — grant awarded by OSPI and the Washington STEM organization.
The maximum amount for the STEM grant was officially listed as $4 million, with a total allotment of about $12 million, but Chehalis received more than that through a separate program.
According to Rogers, OSPI had a budget of $19.2 million to award to the schools, utilizing $12 million from the preliminary STEM grant, and about $7.2 million through the School Construction Assistance Program.
Chehalis School District received $5.5 million from a combination of STEM funds and the School Construction Assistance Program, Rogers said.
“So in the end, all the money is mixed together as far as the award goes,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Lou Bissett told the board she submitted the budget they previously created for the project in the amount of $6.3 million.
The Centralia School District has not yet passed a resolution as they are still in the process of collecting the $100,000 in donations. The Chehalis School District already has the money needed for the match from The Chehalis Foundation.
The Foundation also donated the $100,000 scanning electron microscope to the district in 2013.
Chehalis School District Faces Favorable Dilemma With $1.1 Million State Grant
The Chehalis School District has found itself in a favorable dilemma.
It has been awarded two grants from conflicting state funds.
The district has been named a recipient for a K-3 Class Size Reduction Grant in the amount of $1,142,777, but in order to accept the funds, the district would have to give up money it was awarded through the state’s School Construction Assistance Program.
In May, the district was named a recipient for the SCAP money in the amount to $1,029,296. The money was allocated along with a preliminary STEM grant to build a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics wing onto W.F. West High School. In all, the funds totaled $5,505,822.
According to Chehalis Superintendent Ed Rothlin, the district applied for the class size reduction grant before the requirements were released.
In order to avoid “double dipping” into funds, the district will have to forfeit one of the allocations.
Since the class size reduction grant would provide the district with $113,481 more than the SCAP money, Rothlin said it is likely they will accept the grant.
“We are still trying to figure out what other requirements there might be to make sure the additional funds are worth (it),” he said.
If the district accepted the class size reduction grant, it would not have to surplus as much square footage, Rothlin said.
To receive the SCAP money, the district could not use Cascade, R.E. Bennett and Olympic elementary schools for educational purposes. If it instead accepted the class size reduction grant, the district would be able to keep an estimated 17,000 square feet at the facilities for educational purposes.
Rothlin said if the district accepted the grant, it could ask for SCAP funding for future building projects.
A decision will likely be made next month once the district has the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of each pot of money, Rothlin said.
The money will be funneled into the construction of two new elementary schools the district is currently designing, in part funded by a $36 million bond passed by voters in last year’s Feb. 10 special election.
The money would not increase the school’s size. It would serve as a supplement to existing funds, Rothlin said.
Seven out of the 58 classrooms proposed for the schools would be paid for with the money.
That number of classrooms already accommodate further growth for the district.
The Chehalis School District has received a plethora of funding this school year.
“Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate,” Rothlin said.