Monday, December 13, 2010

Legislative Talk

(Update: one important part of the issue that I failed to note in my first post is that the Legislature rarely cuts funding in mid-year. This will happen in Feb. for districts and it leaves them struggling mightily. They will have to dip into reserves - and in SPS's case, possibly the just-passed supplemental levy - to get through the year. Next school year, that's going to be where we see the axe fall.)

I am sorry, truly, for the parents who have students in SPS. Not because we don't have some good things happening, we do, but because between the continuing district mismanagement AND the poor economy AND more budget cuts from the Legislature, it is going to likely be a terrible couple of years.

I have some links here to recapping what did and didn't happen in the Legislature. One thing that didn't happen is that the state did not take levy equalization away from poorer districts. From the Horsesass blog (a very profane and funny take from a liberal who also does his homework, David Goldstein), an explanation of what that is. Basically, districts who have a better (higher) property base generally do better in asking voters for more money from levies. Districts that are small tend to be rural (and more conservative) with lower property values and cannot ask voters for more. The state equalizes that by giving smaller districts levy equalization money.

It is more nuanced than that but that's it in a nutshell. What seems like a fair thing for smaller, poor districts has to also be pointed out as supporting voters who refuse, in good times and bad, to raise their taxes to support their schools. So money flows to them even as larger districts have to go to voters time and time again to supplement the lack of money from the state.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle also wrote about the terrible dilemma on Saturday in a heartfelt blog thread. Like him or not, he cares about public education and is willing to have a civil dialog. He also makes the attempt to know what the hell he is talking about which is a lot more than other legislators.

From his thread:

We cut spending in relative proportion to the breakdown of categories of state government spending. K-12 education, higher education, health care, human services, natural resource were all included.

And yet when we look deeper, it is clear that some programs are more equal than others, with apologies to George Orwell. It is, by nature, the essence of democratic institutions.

He states that because of budget cuts we can expect the following:

In Seattle it will result in about 58 teachers in K-3 being laid off next year if the school district’s reserves and local dollars aren’t used to backfill the state reduction. (Teachers are under contract for the year so the district has no choice but to spend reserves for the current school year–otherwise the layoffs would have been immediate). And what of those districts statewide with no reserve?

He argues:

Yes ‘we all need to sacrifice’ and yes ‘everything must be on the table.’ But this program is figuratively and symbolically the moral equivalent of the politically untouchable levy equalization for property poor (primarily rural) school districts.

Translation: We automatically, instantly and without hesitation cut the one program that is a subsidy of Seattle and other property rich districts but left untouched, unspoken and totally off the table the sacrosanct levy equalization–the subsidy program for rural, property poor districts.

My point here is not to argue for reductions in levy equalization as I’m not trying to punish students in property poor districts. My point is deeper, more philosophical and political as to argue for a courageously honest dialogue about the moral inconsistency of taking levy equalization off the table without even so much as a discussion.

Yes, it's something akin to getting blasted for even questioning a school levy.

KUOW had a discussion today on The Conversation on the cuts. They spoke with Mary Fertakis, the newly elected head of the Washington State School directors' Association and a member of the Tukwila School Board. It was sobering listening.

Seattle will be losing $9.1M. Losing the class size money (I assume they were speaking of I-728 money) won't have a direct impact until Feb. and the class size increase, should they come, will be more visible next school year. Money for diagnostic assessments is going to be cut.

Next month, the Legislature will still have to cut more. Districts would like to be part of those discussions.

Is there an upside? Well, I would say yes, if you share the viewpoint that we are not getting much from the assessments we use like MAP. Frankly, what I would like to see is more direct intervention services for struggling students. I believe that would help both student and teacher.

State Slashes Budget, Landslide Advice, And Redeveloping Yesler Terrace is the link to The Conversation discussion. It is about the first 7 minutes of the discussion before they move onto other topics.

25 comments:

ParentofThree said...

Get rid of all the coaches and there would be a net gain!

Melissa Westbrook said...

If half the coaches became intervention specialists at the middle and high schools, it would be a step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

And, after the coaches are gone, get rid of special education "consulting teachers", special education "managing consulting teachers" (the managers managing nobody, or managing 1 or 2 people, would be a good start), and doubled up special education directors.

There. 3 posts. Millions of dollars saved. District? What are you waiting for?

sped parent

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It's hard to say we're in financial difficulty when there's waste as far as the eye can see... from ridiculous tests, to consulting teachers who neither consult nor teach, to new administrators showing up daily at 6 figure salaries, to palaces for high school students. Not to mention, there's always the tried and true salary reductions that everyone else has put up with, but no word of that for public sector employees. 9.1 million is a drop in the bucket.

sped parent

Kathy said...

See highlighted yellow:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/44857524/MAP-Project-Questions-Around-Negative-Growth#source:facebook

How much is this costing? SPS put out School Report Cards, only to learn Ballard High School's 39% college readiness score was INCORRECT.

Wouldn't mind slashing Research, Evaluation and Assesment's budget. Keep an eye out for research's budget- I suspect it is a big one.

And for crying out loud- collect the money from K parents!

StepJ said...

The recently passed special levy was advertised to backfill just such cuts as these.

Will the advertising hold true and special levy funds be used to make up for these cuts -- or...?

Kathy said...

One more:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/44810270/MAP-Use-by-Talented-and-Gifted-Programs-Maybe-Not

I don't think we should have classroom cuts, while funding such research.

Again, keep an eye on Researc, Evaluation and Assesment's budget.

Steve said...

To Anonymous, who is moving to Seattle with a three-year old:

Don't be too frightened by what you read on this blog. As with many districts, there are lots of things going on here with the District that need fixing. The blog shows that there are many people here who are passionate about public education and are willing to fight for quality (or at least competence). I see this all over the district, and especially in the schools themselves. I think what is happening in the schools is pretty good, and rises above the mismanagement of the district.

I hope you find yourself welcome here, and that you have a good experience with the school you choose. (And, I hope you'll stay engaged by reading this blog!).

wsnorth said...

Moving to Seattle, I agree with Steve, but when your realator says "location is everything" believe them!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous, I'm going to answer your question and delete it. (We don't allow Anonymous posts - welcome but give yourself a moniker).

Look, the funny thing is we have many fine schools (especially at the elementary level). What we don't have is a well-managed district. Many of us are working to correct that in various ways at various levels.


I believe in public education. Please, bring your child and your energy to our district and help us make it better. We have programs here you won't find in private schools. We have some of the most passionate teachers around.

And we have parents who care.

StepJ said...
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StepJ said...
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dan dempsey said...

Hummm .... Coaches becoming teachers

From this post:

Pam in New Zealand wrote:

I am always fearful that one day we will run out of the people prepared to keep doing school and be left with those who want to tell us all how to do it.

zb said...

"So money flows to them even as larger districts have to go to voters time and time again to supplement the lack of money from the state. "

Yes, this is the moral hazard that conservatives put at the top of their agenda in setting policy.

But, the money flows to their children, not to the voters. Unfortunately we're hemmed by a series of unfortunate hazards when we think about public education because the people who need the service (the children) can't make the decisions.

Bird said...
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Charlie Mas said...

The number one determinant of your child's academic achievement - the single factor that dominates the outcome - is your level of involvement and support. That will probably be a constant regardless of school unless the school has a particularly unwelcoming culture that inhibits you.

The second determinant is the level of involvement and support by the family of the kid sitting next to yours.

If you are shopping for a school, I suggest that you shop for a culture and community more than for test scores, teachers, or principals. Teachers and principals can change quickly. Culture is stickier.

Lori said...

I agree with Steve and Bird that many parents are perfectly happy with what happens at the local level; they just don't like the direction the district is going or have confidence in the current district leadership.

I'm sorry StepJ is having such a bad experience this year, and I think her sharing her story supports the notion that people can be dissatisfied even at *good* schools. Perhaps not all schools are the right fit for all kids.

Like Bird, we were at a *good* neighborhood school last year, and most of the parents I spoke to were pleased with day-to-day life in 1st grade. The folks who weren't pleased were the outliers: our family, whose child moved to APP this year and is thriving, and another family whose child had an IEP that the mom didn't believe was being well-served in the new inclusive model and minimal time in the Resource Room each week. With 28 kids in the class, several with IEPs, at least 2 ELL students, and 2 kids now in APP (plus whatever Spectrum-eligible kids there were), our teacher had her hands full trying to meet all those different needs. yet, most people seemed happy; like I said, it seemed to be the outliers who weren't.

But, in the right environment, a child can thrive in SPS. It may just take a year or two to figure out what that right environment is (and hopefully be able to access it).

GW said...

Kathy, would you mind sharing how you got the emails you shared via the scribd site? Public records request?

StepJ, I am sorry you are having a rough year!! I did not see your post (was it deleted?) but have always appreciated your thoughtful insights. I am thinking your school must have a pretty close-knit community-- I hope there are people you feel like you can turn to.

Jan said...

StepJ: I concur with the comments by others. It sounds as though you are in a grim situation. The possibility of damage to children (who develop at their OWN pace rather than the assumed pace of a standardized curriculum) is one of the perils of standardized, high stakes test systems, and has always worried me, though yours is one of the first recountings I have heard. I would love to hear how you solve it (actually, this one goes way higher than MGJ -- to NCLB, the WASL, and all other measurement systems that assume all young children (5 to about 9) should move from oral language to phonemic symbol/sound recognition and use) and through math manipulatives to abstract symbols at exactly the same time.

StepJ said...

I put my post up last night when I was very tired and way too emotional. Really more than I wanted to put out there so I took it down.

Along the lines of what GW was nudging -- it is a good school and a great community of parents.

A tremendous thank you to those expressing support.

Apologies for my big emotion burst.

Bird said...

To Anon, I think, as is the case everywhere, your experience in Seattle will depend on where your kid goes to school. The schools vary a lot. It also depends on who your kid's teacher is. We went to a popular school, but got a bum teacher in the first year. That teacher is no longer there. She didn't even make it though the year.

A lot of people are reasonably satisfied with the education their kids are getting. Reasonably satisfied parents don't post on this blog.

The district management will drive you to distraction though if you are paying attention. I know plenty of people happy with their kid's education, but who hate the district administration. Actually, I can't think of anyone who likes the district administration.

(post redacted in deference to StepJ)

dj said...

I will be honest and say that what I have found most bewildering and upsetting about being in SPS is the constant flux. The first elementary school my child attended was closed. We were told when she was enrolled in first grade in APP that she would be in the same group of kids through the end of high school. She was in the half of elementary APP that moved, the middle school was split, and now the high school is on the chopping block. She is eight! It is a lot of sturm and drang in a few short years. Now we have a rising kindergarten student who will be enrolling at a time when the whole assignment plan has changed and of course the VAX is supposedly gone this year so it is changing this year in a different way than it changed last year. The district put the assignment plan into place without figuring out how to make neighborhood schools better first, and you can see how the enrollment numbers over in my Madrona neighborhood and down in Ranier Beach reflect the efficacy of the "force them into the schools" strategy.

It is really a lot to take in a short career in SPS, and I don't get the sense things are going to become any more settled or predictable any time soon.

SPSLeaks said...

GW,
The scribd site "SPSLeaks" will be the source for many eye opening documents so be sure to check it regularly.

SPSLeaks

Jan said...

dj: one thing that may help (though in a most deplorable way) is the money hit that SPS is taking -- starting in February. If the Board has a brain (and a heart -- AND some courage too, I guess), they will carefully scrape up the remaining dollars and put them to work IN THE CLASSROOMS -- not for strategic planning, implementing new teacher evaluation ideas, rearranging more chairs on the Titanic, etc.