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Saturday, March 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lack of donations trips up bid to focus school budgets

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

It appears that the First Class Education for Washington Initiative, which if passed would have forced school districts to spend 65 percent of their budgets on "classroom instruction," has been suspended.

Brian Janssen, chairman of the Initiative 924 campaign, wrote in an e-mail to the Washington Association of School Business Officials that he was unable to gather enough funds to ensure the campaign's success.

Janssen had been invited to attend the association's conference in May to discuss the initiative but declined, saying: "To ensure success we needed to run a multimillion-dollar campaign, with most of the funds frontloaded for kickoff. With my commitment to being a full-time father to my three young kids, I was unable to fully pursue this to the degree necessary and couldn't provide more funds than I'd already committed."

Janssen's e-mail didn't specify how long the campaign would be suspended or if the group would try to resurrect it later on.

Janssen did not return multiple phone messages left over three days. Erin McCallum, listed on reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission as the initiative's treasurer, and Gayle Morrison, listed as campaign manager, also couldn't be reached.

Under the proposal, expenses not considered part of classroom instruction included counselors, nurses, buses and other transportation, food services, utilities, custodians, grounds keepers and administration, including principals.

Appropriate classroom costs would include teachers, instructional aides, classroom supplies (including textbooks and computers), activities such as athletics, music, art and field trips, librarians and library resources, and special-education instruction, including private instruction for special-needs students.

According to reports filed with the commission, the group received $9,100 in contributions in January — $5,000 of which came from Janssen. The group did not file a report by March 10, the deadline to report any contributions over $200 for February. Under PDC rules, the group did not have to file a report if it didn't receive contributions over $200 during that time period.

The Washington Education Association had helped launch a counter-campaign against the initiative. The WEA was the main contributor toward a ballot committee group called "No Gimmicks for Kids" and authorized $50,000 for polling and attorney fees to fight I-924.

"Our polling around [the initiative] indicated that it would be highly unlikely to succeed," said Charles Hasse, WEA president. "We're relieved. This initiative would have been distracting to the real issue of students and schools facing inadequate funding levels in our state."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

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