After being told they were finalists for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) grant from the State of Washington that would have awarded millions of dollars to the district to update their two science rooms in JJSHS, Chewelah Schools was left out of the money after some last-minute changes to the supplemental budget by Olympia lawmakers.
Chewelah Superintendent Rick Linehan took particular notice to the awarding of the STEM Grant money to the Chehalis School District – roughly $5.5 million – for a new STEM wing to be built onto Chehalis’ W.F. West High School. The nearby Centralia School District was also awarded $3.6 million. Roughly $12 million was allocated for the STEM grants by the state this year.
“The supplemental budget came out and the rules were changed at the last minute,” Linehan said in a letter to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. “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.”
Linehan contends that the language in the budget awarded roughly half the grant money to one school district – Chehalis.
In the supplemental budget, the conditions of the grant had a line added that stated, “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 products.”
This line was not in original capital budget adopted by the state legislature in 2015.
W.F. West High School in Chehalis had a $100,000 scanning electron microscope donated by The Chehalis Foundation in 2013. The Foundation is an organization dedicated to community projects and improvement for the town.
According to the foundation’s website, “STEM education is flourishing at W.F. West High School and across the district. In a partnership between the school district and the Chehalis Foundation, current STEM facilities and programs include the most advanced high school Molecular Genetics lab in the state, and a new custom-made digital scanning electron microscope.”
Jeff Burkette, a representative from Eclipse Technologies told the district that this was the first scanning electron microscope that the company had installed at a high school.
“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,” Linehan said to Inslee. “This is hard to swallow as we felt we had competed for the original grant which was a good fit for Chewelah schools.”
Although the grant guidelines limit each recipient to a maximum of a $4 million award, The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash. reported Chehalis received $5.5 million from the program.
Washington STEM received 66 applications from 34 school districts across the state. Along with Chehalis and Centralia – the school districts that received STEM grant money were Franklin-Pierce, Kettle Falls, Nine Mile Falls and Finley.
Linehan asked for Inslee to pay closer attention to the “insider trading that takes the ‘competitive’ out of so called competitive grants – when a few legislators decide to change the bill language to basically give it to one district, possibly their home district.”
Chehalis is 29 miles south of Olympia. The median income of the town for a household was $42,721. The median income for a household in Chewelah is $30,466.
At W.F. West, the new preliminary design of the wing has six science labs and two classrooms, although that number may change throughout the design process, Chehalis Superintendent Ed Rothlin told The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash.
Chewelah was hoping to renovate two science rooms that are currently over 45 years old before being informed they did not receive the grant.
“It felt almost too good to be true and a possible way to give our kids what they deserve,” Linehan said in his letter.
The letter to Inslee was also sent to Representatives Shelly Short and Joel Kretz along with state senators Brian Dansel and John Braun (Braun is the representative serving Thurston, Cowlitz, Lewis and Clark counties) as well as the Chewelah School District Board of Directors.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff
Chewelah Superintendent Rick Linehan’s Letter to Governor Jay Inslee
To: The Honorable Governor Jay Inslee,
I have been a supporter of you for many years, since the first speech I heard you give on how you became involved in politics as a campaign manager with your wife to pass the Selah Bond back in the day. Your story touched my heart as I have spent most of my professional experience in similar school districts and have been equally passionate about passing bonds in those demographically challenged districts — Sunnyside, Kiona-Benton, White Pass and now Chewelah. Being a main contributor at the heart of passing those capital bonds has been among my favorite accomplishments for the many students in those districts who have and will be able to study in schools that are fit for their educational needs. We are trying desperately to give Chewelah’s youth the same opportunities but the fact is that passing a supermajority for a bond in our district has proven extremely difficult over the past 40 years.
When the STEM facility grant came available, it gave us a shot at building modern science labs and renovating two of our current 45 year old science rooms. It felt almost too good to be true and a possible way to give our kids what they deserve. We put together a great STEM grant team that worked hard and recognized it was a competition, as other districts in the state have similar difficulties gaining supermajority support. Acquiring the $100,000 matching funds was formidable, but we attacked that issue as well and were able to say that we had pledges for the match – a difficult triumph in a high poverty district.
Our team was elated when informed that we were one of the finalists and we believed two of the awards would be districts from the east side. When we had the telephone interview there was great hope that we would be one of the chosen few.
At this point, the selection process took a turn that I have never witnessed in my career. The supplemental budget came out and the rules were changed at the last minute. 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, which had such specific language that, in effect, awarded one school district – Chehalis – almost half of the $12 million. 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. This is hard to swallow as we felt we had competed for the original grant which was a good fit for Chewelah schools.
I request you focus some of your attention on this insider trading that takes the “competitive” out of so called competitive grants – when a few legislators decide to change the bill language to basically give it to one district, possibly their home district.
I hope you feel my emotion in this letter, the same emotion that you conveyed in that speech and how proud you were of your hard work passing the bond for the Selah School District. For the good of all the kids in Washington, please see to it that these deceptive practices will not happen again. Thank you in advance for your consideration on this matter.
We are happy for the students that will benefit from this grant, but frustrated by the process.
Chewelah will persevere and continue to keep our district moving forward, but please address this unfair practice.
Chewelah School District
Senator Brian Dansel
Senator John Braun
Chewelah Board of Directors