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Rainier School not in budget

It came as no surprise last week when Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed shutting the doors at Rainier School.

It also came as no surprise when supporters of the 70-year-old facility in Buckley immediately announced plans to fight the governor’s plan.

Rainier School, with its long history of serving people with developmental disabilities, has been on the chopping block before – but the situation was perhaps never this cut and dried. The governor’s proposed budget, built in response to continued economic tough times and anticipated shortages in state revenues, recommends that Rainier School be phased out starting in 2011 with closure due by 2014.

Documents made available as part of Gregoire’s proposal indicate that the decision isn’t simply a matter of finances, however. It’s also part of a push to place the developmentally delayed in smaller, community-based facilities.

That trend has been developing for decades and the numbers at Rainier reflect the societal change. Once home to approximately 1,900 residents, Rainier School – one of the state’s five residential habilitation centers - now has fewer than 400. The five RHCs once had a combined population of nearly 4,000, but that number has been sliced to about 900.

Last week’s news echoed the findings of an October study released by the state’s Office of Financial Management, which recommended the Rainier School phase-out. The governor’s timetable speeds up the process, however.

When the OFM study was made public, forces lined up, ready to do battle in an effort to save Rainier School. Those coalitions renewed the effort following the release of the governor’s proposed budget.

State Rep. Christopher Hurst, whose 31st Legisla-tive District takes in Buck-ley, is confident Rainier School will be saved.

He issues a reminder that the governor only makes budget recommendations and that an eventual spending plan is the responsibility of the Legislature.

“She doesn’t have the power to do it,” Hurst said of Gregoire. “The most powerful person in the Legislature is the speaker of the house and he’s given me his word Rainier School will not close.”

Hurst said he met several weeks ago with Speaker Frank Chopp and received Chopp’s assurance.

Hurst argues that closing Rainier School would be wrong on two fronts.

“It doesn’t save any money, it actually costs money,” he said, pointing to the dollars involved in the phase-out process.

He also believes closure isn’t in the best interests of those who call Rainer School home. Some have spent decades at the Buckley facility.

“From a moral standpoint,” Hurst said, “it’s just the wrong thing to do.”

State Sen. Pam Roach, also of the 31st District, isn’t so confident. It’s a Democratic governor making the recommendation she said, to a state House and Senate that are both controlled by a Democratic majority.

Roach has scheduled a meeting for 3 p.m. today, Wednesday, at Rainier School to help rally support.

Aside from the impact the closure of Rainier School would have on residents, there’s concern over what such a move would do to the community of Buckley. At City Hall, the potential troubles are seen as immense. When the OFM study was released two months ago, Mayor Pat Johnson vowed to be at the forefront of the fight to keep Rainier open.

It’s estimated that nearly 400 of Rainier School’s 900-plus employees live in the Buckley area.

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