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Originally published September 30, 2011 at 7:52 PM | Page modified September 30, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Seattle officials back Dorn's symbolic statement against education-funding cuts

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is refusing to give the governor a list of potential ways state education funding can be cut to help close a projected $2 billion revenue shortfall. He sent a letter to Gregoire this week saying that doing so would violate the state constitution and his oath of office.

Seattle Times education reporter

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In a symbolic showdown between Gov. Chris Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, Seattle education officials are not surprisingly taking Dorn's side.

Dorn is refusing to give the governor a list of potential ways state education funding can be cut to help close a projected $2 billion revenue shortfall. He sent a letter to Gregoire this week saying that doing so would violate the state constitution and his oath of office.

"I cannot, in good conscience, submit a budget ... that is consistent with (your) requirements," he wrote.

It's a symbolic move: All parties, including Dorn, have acknowledged education funding will be cut when the Legislature convenes in November to deal with the shortfall. The only question is where the cuts will be.

And by not submitting a list of ideas to guide the Legislature — as all of the other agency directors have — Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis says Dorn is making it harder for the state to make "the best decisions for the kids."

"We get that Randy Dorn doesn't want to do this," Curtis said. "We empathize with that. The governor doesn't want to do this either. But we have to do this and everybody else is coming to the table with various options so we can at least have a dialogue about it."

The state's Office of Financial Management will identify potential cuts on its own, although it will consult with Dorn's office, a spokesman said.

When asked for a reaction to Dorn's letter, several Seattle Public Schools officials offered their support.

"State Superintendent Dorn has taken a strong stance, and a strong stance is warranted," said Seattle School Board member Peter Maier, who is running for re-election this year. "The state needs to stop using cuts to K-12 education as an answer."

Glenn Bafia, the executive director of Seattle's teachers union, said further cuts would do "permanent harm to students."

Holly Ferguson, the school district's director of policy and government relations said district officials "appreciate Superintendent Dorn's strong advocacy for K-12 education."

But Marty McLaren, a former Seattle teacher now running for the School Board, dismissed the letter as "political posturing," although she said the state isn't adequately funding education.

Last month, with revenue forecasts continuing to come in below expectations, Gregoire asked all state agencies to submit ideas for slicing 10 percent from their respective budgets. That meant $97 million in nonbasic education cuts.

But Dorn, who believes the Legislature has already violated its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education, did not respond by the Sept. 22 deadline. His letter of explanation was expected.

Last year, a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the state was indeed violating its obligation. The state is appealing that decision. Oral arguments were heard in June, and a ruling is expected this year.

Spokesmen for Dorn and Gregoire said the funding disagreement shouldn't be seen as anything more than a disagreement over policy.

"It really is not a fight. It's not about that," Dorn spokesman Nathan Olson said. "We have the utmost respect for the governor and the really tough position that she's in."

But the two elected officials have clashed before. Most prominently, in January, when Dorn called the governor's plan to create a unified State Department of Education a "smoke screen." That plan, in which Dorn would have reported to the governor, never came to pass.

Curtis, the governor's spokesman, said the letter shouldn't affect how the elected officials work together in the future.

For more coverage of Seattle Public Schools, follow Brian M. Rosenthal on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeaTimesK12.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com

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