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Backers tout I-884 fund -- News Roundup

This November, Bainbridge residents may find a school funding boost through the ballot box.

Initiative 884 could swell the Bainbridge School District’s coffers by $1.2 million if the statewide measure passes Nov. 2, according to local supporters.

“We’ve had an erosion of funding in preschools, in K-12 and in higher education,” said Elaine VonRosenstiel, island resident and co-founder of the League of Education Voters. “We have a crisis at all levels.”

I-884 asks voters to increase the state portion of the sales tax from 6.5 to 7.5 percent to pay for public education enhancements. The measure would put a penny in the pot for every $1 coffee, or chip in a nickel for every $5 lunch.

That’s a small price to pay for a much-needed funding boost, VonRosenstiel believes.

The state spends $6.5 billion a year on education out of the $12 billion budget. Despite drawing about half the state’s funds, Washington’s elementary classrooms, which average 24 students, are more crowded than any other state except Arizona and Oregon, according to Education Week, a nationwide education magazine.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates that classrooms will continue to grow, as the state has seen the K-12 system swell by 100,000 students in 10 years, bringing the total to 1 million.

I-884 supporters hope to raise about $1 billion for the state’s 296 school districts to address class sizes, teacher shortages and other problems. The measure would also establish a trust fund for thousands of low income preschoolers and college students.

The League crafted I-884 to fill funding gaps left when I-728 was gutted by the Legislature. VonRosenstiel helped put I-728 on the ballot in 2000 but was disappointed when the state government ignored the 72 percent of voters that backed the measure.

I-884 backers have learned the lessons of I-728. The new initiative contains rules that would build a wall around the money to prevent the Legislature from dipping in or diverting the flow of funds from schools.

“I-884 will help the Legislature do what it didn’t do with I-728,” she said.

While the island already boasts one of the best school systems in the state, local supporters say the initiative would improve overall quality and many existing programs. I-884 would expand many advanced placement classes while reducing crowded island classrooms.

Students outside of the public school system may also stand to gain from the initiative, according to Julie Marler, whose children now attend island private schools.

“We’re leaning toward sending our kids to the public high school in the future,” she said. “The high school gives kids a sense of community. This will reduce the class sizes when they get there.”

Marler also looks forward to her children attending improved state colleges and universities.

“The initiative will put a lot of money toward research to attract better professors,” she said.

Marler, who helped organize a recent fund-raiser for the initiative, has seen interest growing. I-884 had 52 percent support statewide in late September, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

But I-884 has its fair share of detractors. The Citizens for Tax Justice, a nonpartisan research group, says the state is already burdened with the most regressive tax code in the country, unfairly taxing the people who can least afford it.

Washington’s lowest earners bear up to 16 percent of the tax burden thanks to the state’s overwhelming reliance on sales tax revenue, according to Gov. Gary Locke’s Tax Advisory Commission. The state’s top earners pay only about 5 percent of state and local taxes.

Although Locke’s advisors caution about the state’s sales tax inequities, the governor has thrown his support behind I-884.

Other public officials who have expressed opposition to the sales tax back I-884. The initiative tops state Rep. Phil Rockefeller’s pro-education platform as he stumps for a state Senate seat. While Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ron Sims put eliminating the sales tax at the forefront of his campaign, he also backed the initiative as an “interim” measure.

But both leading candidates for governor oppose the measure. State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who defeated Sims for the Democratic nomination in the September primary, said she will not vote for the initiative because it increases the tax burden on the poor. VonRosenstiel also expects no support from Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi who has stated he supports no Nov. 2 ballot initiatives.

VonRosenstiel said she understands reservations about boosting the sales tax, but argues that the pinch is worthwhile.

“No one wants a new tax,” she said. “But this was seen as the most fair because everyone pays it.”

The League rejected tacking the increase to the Business and Occupation tax and other tax options because “not everyone contributes to them.”

She said voters have to bear the burden because policy makers are not confronting education shortfalls.

“Neither gubernatorial candidate has a plan for funding education,” she said. “And that shows how important it is for us to do this. Politicians are not stepping up and dealing with the critical issues.”

– Tristan Baurick

Victuals for Vashon ferries

Vashon Island ferry riders will sip cabernet and slurp clam chowder starting Tuesday, while Bainbridge commuters continue to go hungry.

The Vashon-based Sound Food Cafe’s onboard menu will include Washington wines, teas, sandwiches, salads, soups, granola and pastries. The auto ferries Issaquah, Tillikum and Klahowya will feature the service on their typical Southworth, Vashon and Seattle runs starting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Cascade Con­cessions is still negotiating with union representatives to start service on Bainbridge ferries. The Vancouver, Wash.-based company won contracts for the larger runs last summer but is at an impasse in negotiations with the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific.

The union wants many tenets of its old contract implemented. Cascade Concessions president Nove Meyers considers the old contract a “money loser” but said he felt “encouraged” by a meeting with the union Wednesday. The company could have food service up and running two months after an agreement is reached.

Meyers would not predict when an agreement would be reached but said both parties “are mutually interested in getting to work” on the island’s ferry run.

Sound Foods and the union were able to shake hands over the Vashon runs when the company agreed to hire about a dozen galley workers laid-off in January when Sodexho pulled out. The union agreed to wage concessions while the company agreed to let the union check its books.

Sound Foods is the first locally owned and operated company to serve food on the ferries in over 40 years.

Seattle’s Colman Dock will likely not have food services ready until the end of the year, a WSF spokesperson said this week.

While WSF is nearly done renovating the upper floor of the terminal, vendors will need time to make changes and install equipment. The vendors will eventually have sub sandwiches and espresso available to commuters.

– Tristan Baurick

The new ‘qi’ to battling grief

The rundown feeling of a grieving person may be due to blocked “qi,” the energy that flows through the body.

“People who suffer grief and loss are often surprised at how tired they are,” said Gwendolyn Roush, MSW, a social worker with Hospice of Kitsap County. “It has to do with the relation of body and emotions.”

Roush offers a holistic approach to bereavement that combines a traditional support group discussion with the gentle movements of qi gong (pronounced “chi gung”).

The eight-week “Grief Support through Movement” group begins Oct. 13 at Seabold Hall.

The nonprofit Hospice of Kitsap County provides on-site palliative, comfort care – medical, emotional and spiritual – for terminally ill patients and their families. Hospice patients have reached a point where there either is no cure, or seeking a cure could cause greater pain or lessen the quality of life.

“We don’t treat the disease, we treat the whole person and the family,” said Valerie Youngren, director of development and community relations for Hospice.

Grief support groups are part of that approach and are open to anyone in the community.

Roush is a certified instructor of qi gong, an ancient Chinese practice, that exercises the energy, “qi,” inside a person. The movements of qi gong resemble tai chi, but whereas martial arts focus on physical movement, qi gong’s purpose is to build one’s energy and strength and attract and create beneficial energy inside.

“This focuses on the inside, whether we visualize or feel it (qi),” Roush said, “and the relationship between emotions and the body.”

Group meetings will begin with qi gong exercises to improve the flow of qi and then enhance it. Roush says feeling tired and stiff around the shoulders is a sign of qi “being stuck.”

Afterwards, participants may share what they wish to talk about. Roush will also present information about the normal grieving process and things that come up, before closing with some gentle, easy movements.

Roush says an advantage of combining qi gong with traditional support discussions is it allows those who wish to, to remain quiet, but still draw support from being there.

“It’s about learning and understanding your own energy and emotions and how they relate,” Roush said. “And coming up with coping skills to deal with the grief.”

Hospice of Kitsap County sponsors the “Grief Support through Movement” group, which meets from 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesdays starting Oct. 13 (no classes on Nov. 3 or Nov. 24) at Seabold Hall at the corner of Komedal Road and Ralston Road.

The group is open to adults 18 years and older, and free although donations are welcome.

To register for the group, call (360) 698-4611. See www.hospiceofkitsapcounty.org for more information about Hospice.

– Tina Lieu

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