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March 7, 2006

Gregoire: Schools deserve answer

From: The Columbian - Vancouver,WA,USA - Mar 7, 2006

By KATHIE DURBIN , Columbian staff writer

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday the state should stop sending mixed signals about the fate of the Washington School for the Deaf and the Washington State School for the Blind and decide on their future roles once and for all.

The governor expressed strong support for keeping the schools open to serve students with severe visual and hearing impairments. Both residential schools are in Vancouver.

"This is a part of the public that we must serve, and I have every indication we are serving them well," she said.

At her weekly press conference, Gregoire said she was frustrated with the Legislature's record of studying the issue to death without reaching any conclusions.

"We had a study that said we should have them, and we should invest (in) capital construction, and no sooner do we get that answer then we ask for another study, and the next study tells us, no, we shouldn't move forward with those two schools. I think that's an unfortunate circumstance. It gets completely wrapped around the politics of the situation."

Instead, she said, there needs to be an objective look at whether the two residential schools are adequately serving deaf and blind students, and if not, who should provide those services.

"This is a population that desperately needs to be served," she said.

The governor said she has asked Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, to work with her on developing a process for an objective evaluation of the schools' roles. Dunshee, chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee, declined to include $8.1 million in the 2006-07 supplemental budget that Gregoire had requested for a new gymnasium at the school for the blind.

Instead, his committee asked the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to study governance issues at the two schools.

The study, released in January, was expanded by the institute's board of trustees to look at closure options as well, though the study made no recommendations.

Refusing to invest in urgent capital expenditures at the schools is not a solution, Gregoire said. "That's not right, that's not fair."

The process she has in mind, Gregoire said, would be modeled on the federal Base Realignment and Closure process, which evaluates military bases throughout the country based on the nation's defense needs and makes recommendations to Congress on which should close and which should remain open.

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, a member of the House Capital Budget Committee, has called for a similar process.

"An objective group tells us whether once and for all the school for the deaf, the school for the blind need to stay open," Gregoire said. "In order for us to overrule that finding, we would have to have some sort of supermajority."

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