Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's Getting a Little Loud

So I'm a veteran of school levies, working for and against them. I have never campaigned against a levy because I thought the district didn't need the money. It has always been about the circumstances and/or use of the money. In every levy that I have opposed, I got "you're hurting the kids." (I had one fine community member tell me how I must like kicking puppies.)

This levy campaign, whichever way you fall on the ballot, is certainly interesting. (I have to wonder how much more attention it would get if it was the only item on the ballot. This is such a crowded ballot that members of our Committee have gotten blank stares, "What school levy?" or "Didn't we already do that?") The endorsements are certainly all over the place.

I would say I find that the League of Women Voters (who have taken the position of "no position") had the most anguished answer. Here's what they had to say:


"The League of Women Voters decided to take "no position" on the Seattle Public School Proposition was approved. The League of Women Voters of Seattle endorsed the February 2010 Seattle Public Schools Levies but at the time expressed concerns about authentic engagement with the community and the continuing lack of adequate state funding. With the 2010 audit results this summer, we are additionally concerned about responsible, transparent use of the Seattle Public School's resources for the benefit of children in the classroom and accountability to the voters. While our positions state that "all levels of government are responsible for schools" we also "oppose the use of special levies and private funding for basic services, operation and maintenance." It is for these reasons that we are taking no position on the current levy."

They say a lot in a short bit of writing. Engagement, lack of adequate state funding, audit, transparency, accountability, levies. This group seems to get a lot of what others miss.

But now it seems more personal (in terms of wording, not direct attacks although I guess you could take it that way if you weren't used to it). In the Schools First piece in The Stranger Slog, Sharon Rodgers says, "I am appalled that there are individuals actively working to bring down Prop. 1, the Seattle School Levy. I can only assume that they just don't get how horrific state cuts to education have been and will continue to be."

Appalled? A school levy is a levy which is a tax. So no one can ever speak out publicly against a school levy? I'm appalled at anyone in democracy who says that during an election season, a voter doesn't have the right to publicly speak their mind. The first line of defense in any democracy is the voter and you don't have to wait for the "right time" to use your vote.

I do know how bad the cuts are because (1) our district chose to take cuts at the school level while (2) NOT freezing the travel budget (as they said they would) or taking other cuts at the headquarters. (No, they did NOT cut 80+ jobs as they love to say they did. They reclassified many of them.) Mayor McGinn took a pay cut; what about the Superintendent? I also know from a recent conversation with a state legislator that there is some irritation that the district is complaining so loudly when many other state departments and programs took far worse cuts while education was largely shielded. We are all in this together, you know. If I saw that the district was running lean and mean, I'd believe this argument.

I also like the argument that the district wants to fund "priority" items like textbooks. Yes, but how come they've waited so long? Why, if textbooks are a priority, do we need a supplemental levy to buy them? Why is there no line item in the budget (as Director Martin-Morris asks)?

As for the audit, it seems like many are dismissing it or saying that the district has a plan to address it so all is well. (I have sat at Audit Committee meetings and yes, they are working on it but the jury is waaay out.) Peter Maier, despite his voting for the Board Resolution, seems to be saying it is all some accounting errors. That's the stance of LEV as well.

"Aside from the simple accounting problems, the lack of transparency is crazy making. It must be resolved and now."

Simple accounting errors? That's probably a comfort to those parents of Native American students who have been waiting for someone at the district to make sure their federal grant dollars are used properly.

Here's what President DeBell had to say at tonight's Board meeting on the subject of the audit response:

"We need to have high ethical conduct and compliance in Seattle Public Schools in serving children and spending tax dollars." Agreed. So, I'm thinking if they have to create an Ethics board and have an Ethics officer, then there's something more than simple accounting errors.

What does LEV's Chris Korsmo have to say to open her endorsement article?

Deep breath. Pull out my thick skin and put on my big girl pants. Here it comes haters and doubters.

Again, if you speak out again a school levy, you're a hater? Also, what are big girl pants?) I have never said anything like that to anyone at Schools First. Let's see what she says about AFTER we vote in the levy:

I'm still voting yes. I'm still holding out faith. I respectfully request accountability in return."

Just ask and ye shall receive. And this is precisely what Schools First and LEV and all the other apologists and enablers (hey, I didn't call them haters) say every - single - time. "Just let's pass this levy and I promise, we'll hold their feet to the fire." It never happens or if it does their version of "feet to the fire" doesn't work.

That it's getting louder may mean that some are feeling the heat, hearing the teachers and parents who are frustrated and tired of waiting for change that never comes.

I know, some of you will say, "What if the levy fails and the district STILL doesn't listen?" Well, that's a possibility but I suspect they will be getting a LOT of pressure from around the city if that happens. Pressure that all the parents in SPS could never bring to bear. Look at what the Board and the Superintendent tried to do - in the face of a vote of no-confidence that they have never publicly acknowledged - they tried to sneak a Teach for America item on their Board agenda. No discussion with parents, with the SEA, just hey, let's do this even though it could very well look like the district and the Board are thumbing their nose at teachers. ("Vote no confidence? Fine, we'll bring in new teachers and show you.)

It is getting more and more crucial to send a strong message to the district now.

54 comments:

wseadawg said...

You're dead on, MW. There's only so long that parents and community members can be dismissed, ignored, maligned as cranks and haters, etc. When we turn out to be 100% correct about budgeting shell games, ill-conceived closures, splits & mergers, horrible curricula, broken promises, etc., and state auditors repeatedly confirm our complaints, even LEV folks have to listen.

Again, like I've said a hundred times, following the money, which includes tracking spending and waste, will ultimately expose the players, the agendas, and the truth.

And the truth is that this district wastes money like drunken sailors, and really doesn't worry, because they always have a private benefactor lurking in the wings to fund their special projects. So we have to fund raise, cut budgets, and scrounge for pennies, while the district receives "private grants" for their pet projects.

Yeah, sure, line their pockets with yet more levy funds. That will teach them how to prioritize and spend wisely.

Sorry. Cold-Turkey time. Rub their nose in the first levy defeat in years, like the bad fiscal doggies they are.

Nothing hurts kids worse than spending 25 million on everyday math, btw. Why isn't LEV barking about that?

Anonymous said...

It appears that the Board is concerned about the number of teachers speaking out against the levy. Olga forwarded this message from Michael DeBell today.


The SEA Vice President Jonathan Knapp and I are pleased to forward on to you the following message from Seattle School Board President Michael DeBell on behalf of the board. Jonathan and I consider the statement to be a significant, positive development in the board members’ understanding of their responsibilities. We are also encouraged that the board has seen fit to reach out to you first with this explanation of how it intends to change its approach on the crucial areas of the state audit, governance and oversight, budgeting, and strategic plan evaluation. We appreciate this effort by the school board to address issues raised in the vote of no-confidence and to establish better lines of communication with educators. Please take the time to read School Board President DeBell’s comments below that are addressed to you as SEA members.

The SEA Representative Assembly has voted to support the levy.

In unity,

Olga Addae, SEA President

To SEA Members:

On November 2nd our citizens will decide whether to approve a Supplemental Levy for Seattle Public Schools. This provides a critical opportunity to weather the current economic challenges in our state school funding with temporary local property tax revenue. This levy has proven considerably more controversial than past levies and needs the full support of our education community to succeed. The Seattle School Board has taken significant steps to address many of the issues that have been raised as reasons to oppose the levy. This work is not widely known and may help address doubts about the levy dollars supporting classroom instruction.


• State Auditor’s Financial and Accountability Audit Findings- Five meetings of the Audit and Finance Committee have examined each finding in detail. The Board will vote on a Resolution addressing the State Audit on October 20th and has directed staff to create a web page on our audit response (link on SPS homepage). A project team is developing new internal controls and procedures to improve compliance and accountability in our use of taxpayer dollars. This will include an outside audit of areas of concern, a strengthening of our internal audit function and a tightening of our ethical standards.

• Governance and Oversight- The Board will be rewriting our policies to improve our oversight of the Superintendent and our major business functions. This work has already been outlined and will be completed with the support of an outside consultant chosen by the Board. We have consulted with the Port of Seattle, which recently reorganized their governance structure, as well as peer school districts. We have also restructured the Superintendent evaluation instrument to reflect the emphasis on student academic achievement and accountability we seek throughout the District.

• Budgeting- The Board has directed staff to reverse our typical budget development process and build the school budgets first. The Board’s guiding principals for use of our scarce resources begin with classroom instruction.

• Strategic Plan Evaluation- The Board and staff will review our progress at the half way point of our Five Year Strategic Plan. This will include the cost and effectiveness of all of the various strands of the plan. Our current budget situation and the capacity of the system to successfully implement new initiatives will be a key part of the discussion.

We should all be proud of the accomplishments of this school district and know where we need to improve as we go before the voters. We may never all agree on the best way forward in public education but should agree that success for all children will require resources. Please join me in doing all you can to promote and support Seattle Proposition 1, our Supplemental Levy.

Sincerely,

Michael DeBell President Seattle School Board

Dismayed Teacher

StepJ said...

I am confident that even if the levy fails that CA projects will *find* the money to move forward and *sigh* teacher raises will need to be shelved.

StepJ said...

It is flat out wrong to vote yes for something that you know will do damage to your school, the District, and your kids.

It is flat out wrong to vote yes just because that is the way it has always been done.

Back to definition of insanity.

Dorothy Neville said...

Please, it is guiding principles. Olga may be quoting some paperwork from the budget meeting that said guiding principals but that was WRONG, too.

Speaking of guiding principals, I asked one tonight and he said that they are working under the old contract and are still negotiating the new one. Given that the new teachers contract requires a hell of a lot of work from the principals, what does this say? Any principals reading this who would like to explain the principles of their contract negotiations?

Dorothy Neville said...

Oops. Sorry Olga, that was Michael that was quoted there. I apologize.

Michael should know better as well.

And sure, the board said they want schools budgeted before HQ, but Don Kennedy balked big time at that notion. I will believe it when I see it.

Eric M said...

Interesting alliances formed in the last week. SEA leadership urging teachers to work with Stand for Children and the School Board? Really? These people backed SERVE in August. Who is SEA working for?

The TFA push and the science alignment are 2 new signs that the tricks just don't stop.

99.8% of teachers voted NO-CONFIDENCE in the Superintendent. This levy doesn't pass, it's as good as punching her ticket and waving goodbye.

A lot of teachers will be voting NO. A lot.

As will I.

PurpleWhite said...

I think LOTS of teachers are voting no on the levy. I discovered though that the LEV/ Schools First / Stand for Children people are trying hard. Those of you who read this blog - please check neighborhood blogs. I found a post by someone on the Central District News, which I read regularly to get information on the neighborhood encouraging people to support the levy. We need to get the message out to all of those places.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"We appreciate this effort by the school board to address issues raised in the vote of no-confidence and to establish better lines of communication with educators."

Neither the SEA or the Board mention the Superintendent by name, just the no-confidence vote. Where is the effort by the Superintendent to reach out to teachers? Why just the Board?

Sahila said...

Now might be a good time for people here to read an entry on the Seattle Ed 2010 blog about Charleston's experience vis a vis financial mismanagement in the District under MGJ and Don Kennedy:

go here:
Mercs and $90 Million Central Admin Budget Blow Outs

Chris said...

BTW I had asked the entire school board which committee the TFA work was coming thru (partly to make sure it was coming thru a committee) and I finally heard back from DeBell, who said it had been touched on in the Executive Committee. Something like since it involved negotiation with SEA it was executive business. Unfortunately those meetings are Wednesday mornings, not really accessible to me with my work schedule, but if anyone wants to keep an eye on that, well, go for it. One would think SEA leadership would keep their reps apprised but ???

Anonymous said...

I a new SPS parent, and very confused on this issue. I wish that there was one good document that argued the pros/cons of this levy.

From my perspective, I'm unsure if the arguments made by the opposition are based in logic or emotions. How do you know that voting against the levy will send an intentional "message" to Goodloe-Johnson and the SPS School Board? And will our kids be deprived of textbooks and happy teachers if we vote against it? Ultimately, will voting for the levy help our kids, while voting against it cause harm? That's the decision-making point for me, so I really need to understand this issue.

Like the levy opposition, I am concerned about the audit & dislike the way G-J interacts with parents. I'm concerned about MAP, and dislike Everyday Math. But will a vote against the levy really impact G-J or the Board in any way, or will the results simply impact the kids and teachers?

So could you please respond DIRECTLY to some of the statements made on the SPS website regarding this levy (ie. please address the FAQ links, updated 10/11)? Please tell me which part of it is not factual, so that I can make an informed decision here:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/levy-info/index.html

Specifically:
1) The FAQ document states that the Board is implementing "guiding principals" for fund allocation. Will the Board take responsibility for ensuring funds are spent on the classrooms rather than central administration? Michael Debell seemed to be stating this in the clip provided on your blog.
2) Item number 6 states that central administration is "at 6.25%", and this staff supposedly reflects staff AND dollars. Is this a true reflection of dollars spent on maintaining central administration, ie. is it 6.25% of the overall budget? Is there a way for me to look at these numbers to determine if there really is bloat, or if it's reasonable?

I've seen the Stranger and Seattle Times articles, but neither provides enough info for a voting parent to make an informed decision.

Thanks!
Jane Addams K-8 Mom

Anonymous said...

(DeBell clip posted above in comment dated 10/20 @ 1034 pm)

Jane Addams K-8 Mom

Maureen said...

JA K-8 Mom, have you looked at the Anti Levy Blog? It's called "Accountability Begins at the Top" and it compiles most of the info you need to make an informed decision including rebuttals to the District FAQs (you have to go to the posts archived from earlier in October.) And it looks like Meg Diaz is posting about it as well at Dolce & Nutella. I haven't read her posts yet, but she and Dorothy Neville (of the Accountability blog) are both long time District watchers (and supporters) and number geeks!

Dorothy Neville said...

"1) The FAQ document states that the Board is implementing "guiding principals" for fund allocation. Will the Board take responsibility for ensuring funds are spent on the classrooms rather than central administration?"

Here's the deal here. The board all along should have been overseeing budget, because the budget is their policy in action. Truth is, Seattle School Boards have been weak in this aspect.

Remember how the Olchefske mess was perpetuated? His staff brought to the board a vague statement, said they hadn't really prepared a detailed budget yet, but trust us, it is fine. So please vote for it anyway, and 6 out of 7 board members said "sure thing." Mary Bass said no, how can elected officials vote on a budget they haven't seen? Shortly thereafter, Olchefske had to admit that they had misplaced $32 million dollars. Oops. Read the Moss Adams report linked in the side bar. You don't have to read the whole thing if you don't want, the introduction and overview tell enough.

The problem is, nothing significant has changed since then. So the Board under Michael DeBell is promising significant change, change that will require significant courage and political will from the board to carry through.

Unfortunately for many of us who have been active a long time, there have been many many promises made and virtually all have been broken. So we have no faith that without significant pressure from citizens, teachers and parents, the board will not maintain their political will and courage to implement these needed reforms, these new "guiding principals." [sic]

Dorothy Neville said...

JA Parent.

It is always hard to know if *any* position is based on logic or emotion. I suppose it is never all of one or the other. Consider as well that the PRO argument is a mixture of logic and emotion. "Appalled!" Is that emotion coming from those who support or oppose the levy?

Like any ballot measure or candidate, nothing is clear cut. No one has all the facts. No one can predict with certainty the future. No one votes based strictly on facts, but on their own conclusions based on the facts and opinions and analysis they hear and read.

Do teachers prefer the levy to pass? Do teachers put their faith in the levy to restore cuts to classrooms and does it support policies that will make them more effective in the classroom? I know many who say no. Perhaps, probably, many say yes. I do not know.

What I do know is that the teachers union voted to endorse the levy with at most 70% yes votes. And that was before the staff/board tried to put a last minute TFA proposal on the agenda, against clearly stated policies for having all agenda items available for inspection 3 days before the meeting. (It was listed as a place holder and the contract was not going to be available until the evening before. Last time that happened was the NTN contract which turned out to have significant differences from what the staff claimed.)

Teachers are not pleased at that! Would the SEA still vote to endorse the levy with 70% agreeing?

Many of us are angry at the audits, the weak response to the audits, to past broken promises, to a whole slew of behaviors and policies. The PRO side however wants you to believe that we are simply angry at the Super because we don't like her. Please weigh for yourself from all the anti-levy writing, does it appear that the anti-levy side is primarily based on not liking the superintendent? As a person?

Dorothy Neville said...

Melissa mentioned but did not link to the LEV argument in favor of the levy. Read it for yourself here.

Chris Korsmo likes the ed-reform elements of the teachers contract (which includes expanding MAP testing and using that to evaluate teachers) and she has faith that the district is moving toward better accountability and transparency. Like and faith. Not facts, but conclusions based on her knowledge of the facts and her experience.

Anonymous said...

frankly, the "appalled" language tipped my vote to no

-astounded and offended

Anonymous said...

Ok, I've skimmed the links just provided. There certainly is a lot of information that leads us to question the character and leadership ability of our superintendent, wow. Though the blog writing is entertaining & well-crafted, it is still difficult to find a link with actual budget/levy dollar numbers presented in a concise way (either for or against levy). But maybe b/c each side is looking at theoretical outcomes, there are no such numbers. Or maybe it's just too dense to present in a user-friendly way for the average parent like myself.

However, it seems the main reason there is opposition is b/c the district has a recent (and remote) history of mismanaging funds and presenting half-truths, and thus cannot be trusted to utilize the levy dollars for the benefit of the students. Additionally, the School Board has only demonstrated weak oversight & cannot be trusted to ensure the dollars are spent appropriately. Finally, since it is believed the levy will not make a real impact on the quality of education for our kids (since most of it will be redirected to central administration anyway in order to provide "coaching" for newly implemented books, or fill other supplemental roles), it makes more sense to vote NO in order to "send a message" at the cost of very few lost dollars.

Simplified, the opposition argues out of mistrust of leadership & fiscal concerns while the pro side argues from bureaucratic greed. Is this the gist?

Just one more question: Why is the teachers' union pro-levy if the dollars do not actually support teachers w/ higher salaries & in their classroom work?

(Finally, just wanted to say that I'm likely to vote NO to the levy b/c it will not impact classroom sizes. Inadequate funding for classroom ratios is also evidence of district mismanagement. I do not believe that teacher quality is the problem w/ education today, for the vast majority of teachers are highly skilled professionals who chose to work with children; they devote much of their unpaid after-school time to their work. After volunteering in my child's classroom several times, my opinion is that large student/teacher ratios are THE PROBLEM w/ classrooms, since teachers cannot effectively reach every student. It becomes especially problematic when there are a few ESL students in class w/out enough supplementary language instruction. I'm disappointed that this is not a priority for the district.... but since our entire PTA is discussing the levy issue at the moment, I want to ensure that voting it down does not hurt kids in other ways.)

JA K-8 Mom

Charlie Mas said...

Amazingly, there was a $1.5 million technology project on the Board agenda last night.

Remind me again about how there isn't enough money for schools and classrooms, but there's plenty of money for this sort of stuff.

The First Arnold said...

Here is my take:

1. I like that the budget process has changed to first address classroom needs..what ever that means? To be determined, I believe.

2. I think various directors have varying feelings regarding allocation of funds. I believe a few Directors want to secure classroom needs, while a couple (?few) want to secure funding for controversial Strategic Initiatives.

3. I think it is worthwile writing to each Board of Director stating desire to vote for Levy ONLY if WSS funding is restored and gives principals ability to FULLY fund core positions. Otherwise, voting NO on the Levy

Chris said...

You know Charlie, I was thinking about this while I was watching last night. I am thinking that technology is what the grownups downtown are comfortable with, and especially board members feel this is one place where they have the expertise to do some good. Children falling behind...hmmmm. Disaster recovery plan - hey, that's something I can relate to! I'm thinking especially of Dir. Martin-Morris, who visibly gains confidence when the topic turns to tech infrastructure, but I bet it's true of all of the board except Patu. After all, they have no kid experience beyond their own children.

Dorothy Neville said...

If that $1.5 M was for the disaster recovery plan then that is crucial to continue! It should have been in place a decade ago! Has any responsible organization allowed themselves to get to 2010 without any data recovery plans? On a fault line?

This does point to continued mismanagement and failure of multiple superintendents and boards to recognize a HUGELY important priority. It's equivalent to the half a billion dollar backlog in maintenance because that hasn't been budgeted properly for years.

Can you imagine the chaos for students, teachers and recent grads if something happened to the data storage room at HQ?

I believe that this is capital funds, from the levy passed Feb 2010. I did not watch the meeting though so do not know for sure.

Unlike the $700K website redesign...

Lori said...

The thing that puts me over the top and makes me ready to vote NO is the dis-ingenuousness. They want the average voter who isn't paying attention to believe that things are so dire that without this levy, the children will not have books. Most people will assume that buying books is at the top of the list of things that a school district does, so they want us to believe that they've cut to the bones and even basics like books are at risk without these new monies.

But that is not true, far from it. Hundreds of thousands to consultants to choose novels for high schoolers to read, hundreds of thousands going to one school for STEM, hundreds of thousands going to a web site re-design... In the scheme of things, the web site may not be great, but it's usable and we can make do in this current economic crisis without redesigning it.

They are manipulating the public into thinking that things are much worse than they are. We can afford books, really we can. It's just that they choose to fund pet projects instead because they know voters won't approve a levy that says it's to fund consultants and other "nice-but-nonessential" projects.

When things get tough for families, you don't go spending your money on fancy gadgets and nice vacations then wonder where you are going to get food from. You buy the food and do without the other stuff. We can afford books in this district and that that is at the bottom of their funding priorities makes me mad. I don't like to be lied to or manipulated.

Dorothy Neville said...

"However, it seems the main reason there is opposition is b/c the district has a recent (and remote) history of mismanaging funds and presenting half-truths, and thus cannot be trusted to utilize the levy dollars for the benefit of the students. Additionally, the School Board has only demonstrated weak oversight & cannot be trusted to ensure the dollars are spent appropriately. Finally, since it is believed the levy will not make a real impact on the quality of education for our kids (since most of it will be redirected to central administration anyway in order to provide "coaching" for newly implemented books, or fill other supplemental roles), it makes more sense to vote NO in order to "send a message" at the cost of very few lost dollars."

Yes, well put. To embellish on your final point, the Superintendent's highly touted Strategic Plan relies on systematically cutting school budgets to the minimum they possibly can, and using the funds instead for their ideas of what is good for education. Initiatives that tend not to have direct benefit to kids in classrooms, but might possibly have indirect benefit -- all those coaches, all the new textbook adoptions and alignments, the MAP testing.

We disagree with these measures, we disagree with the priorities in what makes for more effective teachers and classrooms. While past performance is no guarantee for future results, it is clear to me from reading the resolution to ask for the levy that the intent for the funds was more of the same with the strategic plan.

At least some of the board members agree with using the levy money for Strategic Plan and ed-reform. Peter Maier summarized the levy in a letter to his constituents: "$6 million of the Supplemental Levy would be used in 2011 to replace worn out and outdated textbooks in high school science and social studies, middle school language arts, and elementary music materials. The remainder would be used to support reform efforts and to support student achievement."

Melissa Westbrook said...

JA Mom, good for you trying to suss this out.

"Though the blog writing is entertaining & well-crafted, it is still difficult to find a link with actual budget/levy dollar numbers presented in a concise way (either for or against levy). But maybe b/c each side is looking at theoretical outcomes, there are no such numbers."

The most important thing to know is that levy dollars do not have to be used for what is in the voters guide. Once you vote it in, the Board/Superintendent can use if for anything (on the Operating side but if they wanted to, it could go to some maintenance in the schools). So, no there is no way for ANYONE to tell you how the dollars will truly be spent. (And it is difficult, even after levies get voted in, to get a precise log of money. I've tried.)

"Simplified, the opposition argues out of mistrust of leadership & fiscal concerns while the pro side argues from bureaucratic greed. Is this the gist?"

Much as I want to defeat the levy, I will not say the district is being greedy. I think selfish is a better term. Does this district need money? Yes. Do they spend it well, with accountability and transparency? No. Are we talking a lot of money? Yes, we are. So a very little might trickle down to kids but most goes for projects the administration wants to keep going.

My stance is in a perfect world you balance long-term initiatives with day-to-day needs. But in bad economic times, money goes to classrooms and you protect them from cuts. That the money in the levy that is to go to "reduce the number of cuts" is vague tells you one (1) they believe there is nothing left to cut at administration (which is untrue) and (2) well, they could use it for just about anything and say it helped protect an educational program.

You could ask a teacher about their vote but here is what Eric Muhs, award-winning science teacher at Ballard and a member of our Committee, has said. Just as it is a knee-jerk reaction for most people to vote in school levies, the same holds for teachers. But I would also say that just as most parents love/like their school, so do teachers. And just as many parents are frustrated, confused, unhappy and mistrustful of the administration. So goes it for teachers.

We all want to believe this is for the kids. But, in the end, you hurt them far more by handing more money to people who have been publicly called out by the State Auditor for their mismanagement and lack of oversight. Call his office and ask them why they did that. They are deeply, deeply concerned about the financial state of our district.

And great that the staff and Board have an action plan to address the myriad of issues that the Auditor brought up. However, the Auditor also mentions, in several places, having told the district in 2007 or 2008 about issues and they were still there again. The district does not have a good record of following thru. The failure of the levy would probably be the push the Board needs to make sure it all gets done.

Chris, I will say in fairness that Director Martin-Morris was a teacher at one time.

I will update this elsewhere but I was corrected about the district not storing data. They DO have it backed up in another building but not in an organized manner and with a plan of how they would tackle rebuilding if the main data area was wiped out.

Anonymous said...

JA Mom: Please be aware that the current superintendent has said many times publicly, and firmly believes, that Class Size - to - Teacher - Ratios - Do - Not - Matter.

The bottom line is that a failed levy, for whatever reason, is a blot on the leadership of the district. A No Vote on the levy will seriously undermine the superintendent's authority in this town and perhaps hasten her departure to other green fields.

Do I think that it's worth working to fail this levy. YES. And it is specifically FOR OUR KIDS. For pushing for more resources in the classroom, lower class sizes, more creative teaching and less autotron tests.

Fail away this year. Pass next years. Vote for new board members and pass the superintendent's resume around to your favorite headhunter.

Disgusted Parent

Eric M said...

Never mind data recovery, as important as that is. We had a fire drill at Ballard yesterday. I was reminded, yet again, of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 (I think) I worked in Santa Cruz County, California, at the time, the epicenter of the quake. Houses were off foundations, natural gas leaks were EVERYWHERE, and powerlines were down, and entire neighborhoods were extremely unsafe. And what people don't realize who haven't been through a big earthquake is that the aftershocks keep coming. People actually experience physical shock symptoms, like after an accident - it takes a while to get it together mentally. In Watsonville, hardest hit, people were living in tents in the parks for a month.

My point? There's plenty of room in the corner of an athletic area or playfield at most schools. Each school should have a CX container loaded with toilet paper, buckets, tarps, MREs, lights, fuel, batteries. It's no good to have stuff inside a building. We're talking about at least overnight supplies for 1800 kids and adults, out on a field, neighborhoods too dangerous to return to, houses on fire, raining, shocked, possibly injured, first responders impossibly overtaxed in the short-term. Remember Katrina refugees in the Superdome?

Believe that it will happen here, sometime. We live on a nasty fault.

Dorothy Neville said...

Eric, doesn't Ballard have such a container? I thought all schools had them. Obviously I am inferring from very few data points, so I really do not know.

Lisa said...

Our elementary school PTA has voted to support the levy -- this was by quorum of folks attending the last meeting, not by vote of all the members. Are other PTAs coming out in favor? Or against?

I was a little bummed that this resulted in a large pro-levy article in the newsletter that was only slightly tempered by the PTA president explaining as part of her monthly wrap-up about the vote that took place at the PTA meeting. She did mention that there are valid, thoughtful reasons to vote for OR against. I wish that part had been in the main article!

ParentofThree said...

Debell states:

"This work is not widely known and may help address doubts about the levy dollars supporting classroom instruction."

Maybe because they havent really done anything...look at how many times "will" is used here, meaning in the future versus "has" or "have" meaning in the past: done, complete!

"The Board will vote on a Resolution addressing the State Audit on October 20th and has directed staff to create a web page on our audit response (link on SPS homepage)."

"This will include an outside audit of areas of concern, a strengthening of our internal audit function and a tightening of our ethical standards."

"The Board will be rewriting our policies to improve our oversight of the Superintendent and our major business functions."

"The Board and staff will review our progress at the half way point of our Five Year Strategic Plan."

Here's a short list of things the board has done:

THey have voted to extend the super's contract.

They have closed schools only to reopen them.

They have voted to spend nearly a million dollars on consultant w/o fully understanding what work will be performed.

They have voted on a NTN contract that they did not read, so they voted on it again.

They have many law suits brought against them directly associated with the many things they have done.

Oh, and they have had that audit in hand for months now!

Dorothy Neville said...

Yes, PTAs are generally endorsing, but not all. Typically they give money to the campaign, but for the supplemental levy, only a small number of schools, maybe 6 have donated to the cause.

I do not think any PTAs have endorsed the NO position, have there been PTAs that decided not to take a position? I think so, but I can't recall for sure. One that was going to have us come cancelled the discussion because they have other pressing issues. Some are endorsing without having the opposition available, some have asked us to come.

Remember, the NO campaign relies on thoughtful careful weighing of the issues and seeing beyond the "it's for the kids!" message of the YES campaign. So active PTA members who are not up to speed could have a hard time sorting through the nuances at a meeting.

I hear Robocalling has begun.

Word of mouth is an effective tool in a school levy. Speak to your friends and neighbors and family. Do not assume that everyone in your school or the PTA supports the levy. Ask your kid's teachers. Decide for yourself.

lendlees said...

Lisa-

Our PTSA voted a neutral position on the levy. But, we were lucky enough to have both sides of the levy come speak. (thanks Melissa and Meg!) It sparked a very thoughtful discussion resulting in the 'non vote'. We even had a teacher there who openly stated he was voting against the levy.

Many parents were happy that we had an opposing viewpoint giving them more information to think about. Even if they decide to vote yes, at least they heard both sides of the story.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lisa, from my going out and speaking to PTAs, twice now a parent raises his hand and says, "Why are we doing this endorsement?" It's a personal thing whether to vote for it or not." Both PTA presidents said they didn't have to take a vote at all or could vote yes or no to endorsing. Both times people said they felt uncomfortable voting on something this big as a school when there were maybe 20 people in the room. So both PTAs didn't take a vote.

What I will say that bothers me, as a former PTSA co-president, is that before school started, our Committee sent out info to every single PTA. Only one came back. As well, we have been out there talking and have tried to be visible. We have a website.

My point is that if you are a PTA taking a vote, it is absolutely the duty of the PTA Board to make sure both sides are represented BEFORE you vote. Some PTAs took a vote without trying to find out if there was opposition (or they just chose to ignore our mailing).

PTSA is a non-profit and there are certain things you do for appearances sake so that you are not pushing your own feelings onto a group. One way is to make sure both sides are represented. That some PTAs chose not to do this is troubling.

Lisa said...

Melissa -- "troubling." Exactly. I don't mind so much that our PTA voted to endorse, but the newsletter article put me over the edge. It reaches the whole school, whereas only a subset attends the PTA meetings. I wish the article had explained the process of the endorsement and at least mentioned that thoughtful people MIGHT oppose the measure.

seattle citizen said...

The Seattle Times just published a pro-levy op-ed by Olga Addae and Ramona Hattendorf.

They say, among other things, that "The Seattle School Board's audit and finance committee specified corrective action for each issue; board and staff benchmarked best practices; and staff changed the way it organized and reported items to improve internal controls and enhance accountability. The board is revising policies to ensure effective governance and the board and staff jointly are exploring ways to increase transparency and public oversight over the district's work."

So we needn't worry about the pesky audit: It's all fixed: "specified...benchmarked....changed."

So trust that it's all better now?

ParentofThree said...

I hear Robocalling has begun.

I got my robo call from a teacher from my assigned neighborhood school.

How did they get my phone number? And do they have my address? And is that how I got a call from my assigned elementary school?

And who is they anyway? On my caller ID the call came in from "Telemarketer 1-866-496-6261"?

I am on the national do not call registery.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

You, Eric M, and myself were at Hamilton not so long ago. The Hamilton PTSA decided not have a vote either way. That says something about CRES persuasive argument (you and Eric M that night in particular) that this supplemental levy doesn't have the "legs" that past levies have had.

ken berry

seattle citizen said...

Melissa, pick up a Stranger. The "No, YOU Shut Up!" section (excerpts from comments on the Slog) includes a short paragraph from you, commenting on their incorrect endorsement of the levy.

Yea!

peonypower said...

Wow- those letters from SC on what happened there are chilling. MGJ needs to go- NOW! before any more damage is done.

Teachermom said...

If there were union votes about whether or not to endorse the levy, I was not invited to vote.

I am not supporting the levy, even if it means I won't get a raise. I am not selling the future of SPS for an extra few hundred dollars a year.

The millions spent on EDM, then more spent to change the pacing guides and align them with the standards, then more spent to re-write the EDM math tests?

Nope. Very little of what the central offices does is "for the kids". 9-10 hours of my day is spent directly "for the kids". And I am not seeing the kids getting what they should from the district at large. Just from the teachers who "don't care about kids". Most of the teachers I know will not be voting for the levy.

Anonymous said...

I am with you Teachermom. I am not voting for it either. The benefits to me are tiny compared to the costs.

As far as the SEA vote, I am not sure when it happened, but clearly the building representatives didn't do their job and ask the members at their buildings for their input. This is not surprising. Many of the reps are there to promote personal political agendas. Many others are swayed by SEA leadership's constant reiterations that we must work with the District in order to not get screwed over worse than we already are.

In my opinion, SEA could use something like a Backbone Campaign.

Dismayed Teacher who voted against the levy.

Sahila said...

SEA has removed my posting, comment and "like" privileges on its facebook page because I twice wrote comments urging teachers to vote against the levy and pointing them in the direction of this blog and Dorothy Neville's webpage with all the anti-levy information.

The SEA has adopted a formal resolution/official policy to support the levy, despite the protests of many teacher members...

Patrick said...

ParentOfThree, the "do not call" list only applies to commercial calls. Congress, in its wisdom, exempted political calls.

Seattle-Ed2010 said...

Blogger ParentofThree said...
I hear Robocalling has begun.
I got my robo call from a teacher from my assigned neighborhood school.
How did they get my phone number? And do they have my address? And is that how I got a call from my assigned elementary school?
And who is they anyway? On my caller ID the call came in from "Telemarketer 1-866-496-6261"?
I am on the national do not call registery.


These calls are paid for by Schools First -- as the message says at the end -- who apparently got our home phone numbers from the King County voting records, which I believe is legally permissable. (I called SPS and checked -- since Schools First now has a questionable reputation for the misuse of private student info., ever since the "Our Schools Coalition" survey fiasco.)

And Patrick is correct, political calls are allowed to get past the Do Not Call designation. (Don't know whether they are considered nonprofits or charities.)

But I'm curious -- which school did your teacher call from? I wonder if the calls were tailored by cluster -- that would probably be unnecessarily complicated -- or whether "Elizabeth from Lawton" called everyone.

I also wonder if "Elizabeth from Lawton" actually knows what she's lending her name and voice to support here. Does she actually want her pay tied to her students' performance on the erratic MAP test (which is not designed for that purpose)? Does she truly want more money disappearing into the abyss of the John Stanford central office?

Odd.

(Meanwhile, I still can't get past Chris Korsmo's "big girl pants" comment...! What the heck is she on about?!)

--sue p.

Maureen said...

Chris Korsmo's "big girl pants" comment...

I expect it was some attempt at updating and feminizing "girding my loins." Though I doubt she thought of it that way explicitly. It definitely set an odd tone for the post.

Anonymous said...

The robocall spurred me to grab my ballot and be sure I voted no. Just dropped it in the mail.

Avid Voter

Sahila said...

Put on your big girl panties - "grow up, get on with it..."

big girl panties

Maureen said...

Deep breath. Pull out my thick skin. Put on my big girl pants. Here it comes, haters and doubters...

Sahila, I don't think that is the way she is using it. (She's getting ready for it, not getting over it.) Maybe she has coined a new phrase and we'll see her referenced in the Urban Dictionary next year!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Very funny Maureen.

SC Parent said...

Geov Parrish (co-founder of Eat the State and with a show on 90.3FM) has some advice for everyone who is against the levy for the excellent reasons articulated on this blog. According to him, we need to stop our whining and go to some board meetings. As he wrote in his column for the Queen Anne & Magnolia News:

"Seattle School District Prop. 1 - Yes. A protest vote against this operating levy is nearly useless; you're better off approving it now (otherwise, they'll just resubmit it until it passes) and going to the school-board meetings to influence how the money is actually spent."

Go to board meetings.... Now, why didn't we think of that? (sarcasm)

Sahila said...

@ maureen... I looked it up cos I didnt know what it meant - still dont, really!!!!

you americans have such a quaint way with words...

like, you say "could care less" when you mean you couldn't care less - which means you dont care at all... "could care less" means there is some level of caring still happening, but when you say it, you mean the opposite...

very confusing!

hschinske said...

I think she mixed up "big girl panties" and "asbestos underwear." And "I could care less" is just an error, not specifically an American one. May be more common here, but I've heard people from several different English-speaking countries use it.

Helen Schinske

Sahila said...

robots against the levy