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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Levy Info and FAQs

Okay, here in one place (but if I missed something please let us know): information about both sides of the Seattle Schools Supplemental Levy.
  • Schools First - the levy support group
  • Committee for Responsible Education Spending - the group challenging the levy
  • Facebook page for Teachers Against the Levy
  • Facebook page for No on the Supplemental Levy
  • CRES page with links to: official resolution, explanatory statement for Voter's Guide, teachers contract and levy, and endorsements
There are 11 days until the election. You have your ballot. Sadly (and I think this hurts everyone) the levy is the last item on the back side of the ballot after judgeships. I have no idea how this bodes for either side as my experience is that many people don't vote for judges because they have no idea who to vote for. So look for a huge drop-off of votes for the levy which means every vote counts. Seriously.

What can you do? Well, vote of course.

Also, follow the directions. I can't find it now but I saw an article where ballots were rejected not just for being late but for not signing the ballot. They must be postmarked by Election Day and have a first class stamp. You have to SIGN the returned ballot envelopes.

From the King County election site:

"You can also return your ballot at a ballot drop box or an accessible voting center by Election Day."

There were 1,072,442 ballots sent out. As of yesterday, the Elections Board had received 125,804 (which is 11.73%). The February levies received roughly 130,498 votes (from 368,494 registered voters). which is about 36% voting. That's for a levy ballot in which the levies were the only item. On a crowded ballot with all mail in voting? That's a hard call to make. (This has made national news because only Washington State and Oregon have all mail-in ballots.)

What else?

Q: Won't defeating the levy start us on a bad cycle and send a message of mistrust into the greater community?
A: First, in Seattle, we pass levies. We have only had a couple of short cycles of difficulty in passing levies. Defeating one levy does not a cycle make. As for mistrust, well, between the vote of no confidence in the Superintendent, the horrible audit report and solid citizen entities like the Seattle Times and the League of Women Voters expressing deep concern, the issue of mistrust and concern already seems to be out there.

Q: Can the district run this levy again if it doesn't pass?
A: Absolutely. If it does lose, it might encourage the Board to press the district for a levy that is more plausible and less vague. Meaning, show us the money going directly into the classroom.

Q: Does the district have to use the money for what they are stating they will?
A: No. Once the money is voted in, the only restriction is that it must go to Operations (not capital uses).

Q: Won't this hurt the teachers because they won't get their raises?
A: Ask your child's teacher. What is obvious is that the teachers don't care a whole lot because they signed their contract KNOWING they would not get their raises if the levy fails. Now, they could just have been hedging their bets because levies rarely fail and/or they realized that if they pressed the district into giving them the raises even if the levy failed, it would just come out of the classroom. Either way, I give the teachers credit for not making this a solid guarantee for themselves.

Q: What about the other parts of the teachers contract; career ladder, stipends for struggling teachers, merit pay?
A: The district did win a federal grant which will enable them to do all those things at 34 low performing schools. In a way, it's almost a pilot program for this new contract to see how it works. So yes, all of the teacher contract items will get addressed at some schools (except the raises). Also, note that even since the district got awarded this contract, they haven't changed the amounts they will spend on the teacher contract implementation. Why would that be if they have the money for teachers at 34 schools? That would mean there is no extra money for classrooms and yet the district isn't saying that at all.

Q: Don't we need to get the work on the teachers contract started?
A: We do (and the federal grant WILL start it). But keep in mind, there is no sustainable revenue stream for this work after the levy is gone. In three years, where will this money come from? The district says the work "IS" sustainable and yet doesn't give any indication where the money will come from EXCEPT to say that the legislature authorized districts to lift the lid for SIX years so in THREE year, they will come back with another supplemental levy. Where does this end?

Q: What's the real story on Central Administration cuts?
A: The story is what Meg Diaz' analysis showed it is - a lot of smoke and mirrors. There was this confusion over the district using the term "central office" versus the term "central administration" (which are two different things to OSPI) and so it looked like many more jobs were cut than were. Additionally, as we all saw the Education Directors jobs were cut and then promptly renamed and recreated as something else. Also, if you look at the district's FAQ page on the levy, they list Central Office costs for 2009-2010 that were cut but, for example, leave off freezing the travel budget. Why? Because even though Mr. Kennedy, our COO, told the Board they were freezing the travel budget, it didn't happen. Why not?

Q: It's not that much money for the average taxpayer. Why not just vote it in?
A: I want to gently remind everyone that this district doesn't just exist for parents. Our friends and our neighbors who don't have children in SPS help us vote in the levies. So one, we, as parents, have a special responsibility to make sure those tax-dollars are accounted for and used wisely. And two, we have a responsibility to consider ALL other taxpayers especially those on a fixed income. For us, maybe $48 a year isn't a lot. But if you are a senior, with multiple levies, initiatives and referendums coming at your income, it IS a lot.

Q: The district says the funds will "absolutely" be spent in the classroom. Isn't that a guarantee of sorts?
A: Not really because they can say that everything done at central relates to the classroom. That the district is just NOW saying the School Board is going to create the new budget based on "the primary guiding principle was to protect funds to classrooms" and the Board will "consider" input from stakeholders.

Q: Will this levy restore cuts made to school budgets?
A: No.

Q: Will this levy be used to reduce class size?
A: No.

Q: Will this levy be used for some of the nearly $500M in backlogged maintenance?
A: No.

Q: Textbooks are in this levy. Don't we need new textbooks?
A: Absolutely. But if textbooks are a classroom staple, how come textbooks aren't a line item in the budget (a question Director Martin-Morris has asked) and why wait for a supplemental emergency levy to replace aging textbooks?

Q: The district and the Board say they are addressing the audit. Isn't that good enough?
A: It would be except, as Charlie has pointed out, there are a lot of non-action items "we will, we shall, will direct" - where's the real action? As well, the Auditor points out in several places in this audit that they are reminding the district of items they had in PREVIOUS audits from 2007 and 2008. So if the district and Board didn't address items in previous audits, why are we to believe they will in this audit?

Q: How do you know a levy defeat will send the district and Board a message?
A: Simply, NO ONE can tell you why any single voter casts their ballot a certain way. What you can see, though, is that the district is working harder and harder to push the levy (the Superintendent sent out an e-mail to all staff about it, the principals handed out info to all staff at their schools, the district send a postcard - which oddly carried an non-profit stamp that was not ID'ed), so they are clearly worried. Ask a Board member that question and I'm sure they will tell you, "If the levy fails, I know it means we need to listen more."

It's about trust, accountability, oversight and transparency. Those items are sorely lacking in this district and this levy should be defeated.

30 comments:

The First Arnold said...

Here is my prediction:

If the Levy fails, Bill Gates will be making a check out to SPS.

Dorothy Neville said...

And Meg just posted a very clear analysis of the district's claim that they shrunk central administration.

Won't they ever learn? Why at this point repeat the same lies?

Anonymous said...

the cynic in me says: If the levy fails, it's defeat will get thrown in with the passage of the Eyman initiative, the repeal of the soda and candy tax, and the failure of the income tax initiative as evidence of Tea Party driven hostility to big government. No lessons will be learned and the gap between what our students have to work with and what their counterparts in more generous states have will only continue to grow.

Dorothy Neville said...

amsiegel, that certainly may be true. Thing is, none of us know for sure, do we? We do not know the future.

Voting YES or NO is a matter of faith and analysis, not fact. We use fact and experience to come to our conclusions about what will happen in each scenario.

Some will vote YES strictly on moral grounds, that one always vote for school levies. (Now some will vote no for the same reason, but that voter is not common in Seattle.)

Some will vote YES because they have researched and decided that they LIKE the priorities and direction of the district. They hope that the mismanagement issues will get fixed.

Some will vote YES because while they support some of our anti-levy arguments, they are not convinced that a NO vote will do any good. They worry, as amsiegel does, that a NO vote will make funding issues worse, but not cause any positive benefit.

Now, in Seattle, the Eyman supporters are not in the majority. There has never been such an organized opposition to a school levy. We have been very clear of our reasons to say no, and the district is trying to address those specific issues (with their FAQ that doesn't really tell the truth, as Meg keeps pointing out).

I have faith that DeBell and the others are white knuckling it right now NOT because of Eyman supporters, but because teachers and parents are speaking out about how much the district has failed, how wrong the current priorities are.

If you are not sure that they get the message, you can do something about that. If you agree with our concerns and conclusions about the state of the district, no matter how you end up casting your ballot regarding the levy, TELL the directors what you think. If you voted YES, but were on the fence, TELL them that! Make it clear that their problems with accountability and management and their need to change are not going to go away or get off our radar when the election is over.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Amsiegel, all politics is local. I would disagree that a levy failure would get the analysis you give (at least not by anyone who knows anything about SPS). But, again, people will say anything they want about the eventually outcome of the levy.

Dorothy's right; voting yes but follow-up (multiple times) to the Board about your feelings about the mismanagement of the district. That obviously hasn't happened (as has been promised by Schools First otherwise, why do we still have the same problems?).

Dorothy Neville said...

Or, amsiegel and others, a BETTER idea is to vote NO and write your school board and tell them WHY.

Tell them will be PROUD and HAPPY to vote YES next time, when they show progress in their goals of accountability and transparency and when their budget process truly puts kids and classrooms first.

Dorothy Neville said...

In thinking further about the conversation with amsiegel and others who have similar thoughts -- that the district would see levy failure as simply and Eyman style NO:

Well, this ties into one of my points. The district, with full unanimous approval of the board set itself up for tax revolt disapproval. Why? Well, at the same time that the rest of the public sector has been hit hard with layoffs and furloughs, the school district asked for money for expansion and new projects including raises, even though it had cut existing programs and direct services to students.

Sure, they dangled textbooks at voters, who could complain about replacing ratty old textbooks? Remember, that worked for the High School Math adoption. (Remember that testimony? No! We cannot wait any further and think about this any more! My students feel unloved because their math books are falling apart! So vote and approve NEW books! NOW!)

But everything else was tied to the Strategic Plan and the ed-reform aspects of SERVE. It is not a coincidence that after a year of negotiation with the union, right after the board voted to approve the levy, the district brought out SERVE. They needed the levy funds to back them up.

So the levy resolution shows incredible hubris and lack of understanding of the overall economic climate and any sense that putting it on the ballot when a lot more people will be voting, perhaps with an anti-tax agenda might be worrisome.

Note that while Chris Korsmo of LEV says if you like the ed-reform work of the teachers contract, then vote YES, the Washington Policy Center says that they love the ed reform in the teachers contract (but it's only baby steps, we have far to go) but they claim that the district could implement that with other funds and the levy is mostly for raises. They do not support the levy.

The First Arnold said...

From my perspective, most folks are uninformed about the actualy spending for new and controversial initiatives.

The District has effectively instilled fear into the minds of parents and administrators.

Will part of the Levy be used to link MAP to teacher performance. If so, how much will this cost? Also, are MAP results tied into Educational Research at the University of Washington? I think I've read about this, but can't locate information.

If MAP results are given for Educational Research, is this a violation of FERPA?

uxolo said...

I find it odd that Ballot Boxes are not available in the southeast or southwest side of the city.

Dorothy Neville said...

Remember, the simple majority act for school levies only passed in 2008. So the FEB 2010 levies were the first for Seattle under the new rules. And under the old more strict supermajority rules, Seattle hasn't turned down an operations levy since the 1970s.

Unless SchoolsFirst! is doing some polling with the $50K it has raised for the supplemental levy, NO one has any idea how well it will do in November.

On the positive side for passing is that Seattle is historically generous with school levies. The Feb Operating levy passed with about 75% of the vote.

However, it was the only thing on the ballot. So people passionate about funding schools would be more inclined to vote than non-passionate folks. Not voting used to pretty much count as a NO vote with the old rules, so if one hated school levies, you could stay home and still make an impact.

We have teachers speaking out against the levy, conflicted teachers and parents, but we are not really reaching the whole city. Sure the Seattle Times saying NO raised some eyebrows, but who knows what people will conclude about that.

We have a much wider audience who will be voting, we have the levy on the tail end of a long ballot with other complicated measures. Candidates and measures that are creating passion among folks who may or may not automatically support a school levy. Who knows what will happen.

I have run into a handful of people, childfree or whose children are long grown, who harbor deep and long term distrust of the district's management but still vote for levies. When I explain to them about this levy being supplemental and the audits daylighted their private conclusions, they seem VERY inclined to vote no. For them, the Seattle Times piece may resonate.

There are LOTS of folks who are aware of the controversy and are still voting yes and there are TONS more folks who are not aware of the controversy.

Charlie Mas said...

Is there a number of votes the levy needs to be certified?

What if very few people bother to vote on it - yea or nay?

Chris S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris S. said...

Well, 24 hours without a computer so I've been partaking of mainstream media. And it made me think: CESR has successfully disrupted the "control of the message" by SPS, Alliance, LEV, et. al. I don't think there's any way the Seattle Times would have endorsed a No position if it weren't for you guys. This is a BIG deal, so a BIG thanks to Dorothy and Melissa and all of CESR. Regardless of what happens, I am hoping the days of one-sided discussions of education are over.

WV: if you don't get enough resesses, you'll never learn to spell.

Meg said...

amsiegel - if this levy fails, we cannot control what the failure is ascribed to. A victory is likely to be seen as a mandate, a failure as a result of the recession. Can't do much about that.

I can tell you this: whether the levy fails or passes, in 2011-12, schools are likely to be cut to the bone (again). SPS has already committed 90% of the levy money for that year to new budget expenses (textbook adoption cycle and teacher's contract). $12.9m in expenses already has a claim on the $14.5m of 2011-12 levy revenue.

I understand the worry that voting no on this levy will hurt kids. But voting yes will hurt them, possibly more.

SPS management, knowing that an enormous budget gap loomed, that the 2011-12 shortfall would be the worst, but could be mitigated by supplemental levy funds, still, somehow, went ahead and committed the lion's share of levy revenue from 2011-12 to new expenses. After doing this, they turned around and asked voters to give them the money to "help reduce cuts to schools and programs."

It's a load of... hooey (hooey is the most polite word I can find to describe it).

Voting no won't hurt students in 2011-12 because there's virtually no money in the 2011-12 levy revenue left for kids, entirely due to SPS management decisions. Voting no might actually make the district go back to the drawing board and come up with a responsible plan that could protect the education of district students.

That's my take, anyway.

Dorothy Neville said...

What Meg just said very clearly and with real calculations (on her blog) is exactly what I have been saying, perhaps less clearly. It is exactly what I said to the League of Women Voters. It is what I said to the editors at the Seattle Times. So I guess I was clear enough sometimes.

The district is obligating to NEW spending which will make kids and classrooms more vulnerable to continued state deficits. At one event Sharon Rodgers practically called me a liar, said that was not true, they WERE offsetting cuts! Because it was illegal to use the levy for anything else. More recently, she changed her tune and said that these were programs that were going to HELP KIDS and that we needed change and that the status quo wasn't working! So YES, vote for the levy to support kids! (ie, to support the ed-reform of the teachers contract.)

Instead of taking the opportunity to mitigate as many program cuts as possible, they continued with business as usual and took the levy for an opportunity to further the ed-reform agenda vis a vis the Teachers Contract.

Yes, as Charlie points out, once they get the money they can do what they like (except for the contractual obligations regarding the CBA). But the Resolution for the levy shows their clear intent -- strategic plan and ed-reform, NOT restoring basic education funds.

So it's like your college kid sending you email, "Dear mom, please send me some cash so I can buy my textbooks and also my roommates are planning a ski trip to Vail."

Do you simply send him the money with a note saying "Buy your textbooks, but spend the rest on tuition and rent, you cannot afford to go skiing." Perhaps, if your child had an overall history of good financial management you could. But a kid like OUR district?!? You don't do your kid a favor by saying yes all the time. You don't do kids in the city good by saying yes to this levy.

Dorothy Neville said...

Charlie, the rule regarding the number of voters is gone as well. That was part of the supermajority rule that got repealed in 2008.

When's the last time they asked for a school levy on a crowded ballot in November? Given all the factors involved, I can't imagine anyone feeling confident in predicting the success or failure. It could go either way.

Thanks Chris for the kind words. I do like to think that we helped change the discussion. But I personally feel like I've been standing on the shoulders of LOTS of people without whose watchdogging, advocating and analysis we wouldn't have been able to suss out a complete story and compelling argument.


Without this levy opposition would we have Michael DeBell telling the Stranger that from now on they are committed to funding schools first and central administration afterwards! (I especially like comment number 6)

Dorothy Neville said...

First Arnold: The teachers contract elements that are tied to the levy include funding MAP expansion and the new positions at HQ that will be used to implement the standardized-tests-tied-to-teachers-performance measures. Hard to say how much, somewhere along the lines of two to three million dollars.

They did get that TIF grant to help, so they have some money for that initiative no matter what. But that TIF grant application was supposed to have a promise of strong support in the community AND sustainable funding. The TIF grant is for 5 years, 34 schools. By accepting the grant the district promises to -- Using its Own Money - expand to all 88 schools and continue after the five years are up. They do not have strong support (not with the no-confidence vote!) and they do not have future funds available to sustain it, so they clearly lied to the Feds, but why does that not surprise me.

Kathy said...

"SPS management, knowing that an enormous budget gap loomed, that the 2011-12 shortfall would be the worst, but could be mitigated by supplemental levy funds, still, somehow, went ahead and committed the lion's share of levy revenue from 2011-12 to new expenses"

The state will cut about $30M.

Do the math.. $48M Levy funds+$12.5M TIF grant + $9M from the Feds= $69.5M. That is profit $39M beyone state cuts.

And...the District is saying we'll probably see classroom cuts due to State losses???

Meg said...

the levy revenue will come in as follows:
year 1: $14.5m
year 2: $16m
year 3: $17.7m

the TIF money is across 5 years, and the district is saying that it will contribute, in the first 3 years of the teacher's contract, $2.2m.

the projected gap for 2011-12 - effectively year 1 of available levy money, is stated at $28m. Only $1.6m or so of levy money would be left to close that gap.

So... yes, it looks like there will be severe cuts, particularly since the district has committed most of year 1 funds to things other than closing the budget gap.

Did that make sense? I've got a sick kid at home, and my brain feels like it's been fried sunny side up.

Kathy said...

Dorothy, Feeling concerned about TIF. Any chance you have a copy of the agreement between SPS and TIF?

I've spoken to a few teachers that are ok linking student achievement to teacher evaluations.

Personally, I don't think such tests are necessary.

Obviously, linking student achievement through testing to teacher performance is educational research. If results don't prove successful, will the District have the ability to abort this contract? Thus, eliminate the financial burden of expanding into 88 schools.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm torn on the levy and won't be the least bit upset if it fails. All I'm saying is that the time and energy being used to fight the levy in the hope that it will be read as an opaque challenge to the superintendant and her policies might be better used in recruiting anti-MGJ school board candidates, raising the couple of hundred thousand dollars necessary to fund those challenges, and beginning the necessary media push.

Dorothy Neville said...

Amsiegel, I do not see those two goals at mutually exclusive. Fighting the levy has raised awareness and eyebrows at the district. Getting The Seattle Times to endorse NO is helpful in the longer term discussion of the priorities of the district.

We cannot wait for new board members, we must work with the existing members, pressuring them to honor their commitment to serve. Having Michael DeBell tell the Stranger that from now on they will budget schools first instead of central administration is a BIG DEAL. Had he even considered the ramifications of the budget process before? And if he did, would he have had the political will or the political capital to do anything about it? The district staff is going to FIGHT this priority shift big time. But they all know we will continue to pay attention and expect change.

Given all the unknowns, a school levy on a ballot with lots of passion, a strong GOTV campaign on other issues, one cannot know at all how the levy will do. We do not have past evidence to support a strong prediction either way.

If the levy fails, or gets significantly less than 75% of the vote, then the board and district could blame it on all the other unknown factors. Murray v Rossi, liquor, and income taxes. But not now. Sure, if the vote isn't 75% in favor of the levy, they can and will blame some of that on those factors. But they absolutely cannot blame ALL of it on those factors. That is a positive step.

Dorothy Neville said...

Kathy, my post about the TIF grant has a link to the award notification which may answer some of your questions. I do not have the actual documents. I believe Melissa asked the district for that, but I do not know if she got it. We will follow up.

I find it very interesting that the SEA has not commented at all about the TIF award. I follow their twitter feed and checked their Facebook page AND their website. Perhaps I missed it, but they have been very fast to tweet about other things, but complete silence on the TIF.

Anonymous said...

This levy is now at $40.2 million. It is clear that that the levy will be used to supplement the Central administration. Seattle Parents and citizens need to think about the message they will be sending by passing the levy. Saying yes to the Levy means that the Seattle Way will prevail and we will be saying that we accept business as usual. Do not worry whether Bill sends a check. His check will come with strings of oversight that MGJ does not seem to be fond of in the first place.

Kathy said...

amsiegel,

The majority of board is poised to pass Ed. Reform Initiatives that the District will be paying for a LONG time..

We're already poised to spend $4M year for teacher incentive, which is highly controversial.

What about paying for infra-structure for TIF, and then expanding to 88 schools etc.

This is where my problem lies.

Kathy said...

amsigel,

Some of our board are pushing Ed. Reform Initiatives.

Our middle school has 1000 students. Thirty percent of the students are not meeting standard. We do not have any math or reading specialists in the building. I asked our director (reformist) for a math specialist. He began blabbing about state cuts, and stated- "I can't make any promises."

So, when you add Levy funds, TIF and Fed. dollars, there will be
$69M dollars on the table. And...he can't promise any type of support for 300 failing students???

These are the students at risk of dropping out of school. They don't have time for computer infrastructure, school report cards etc., and other such non-sense.

Some of our board members hide behind the cloak of state cuts.

Maureen said...

I am becoming somewhat obsessed with the professional development coaches Meg Diaz posted about here: Central Administration is Soooooo Much Smaller.

It sounds like there are STILL about 100 of them working out of the central office. At a cost of $80,000each (that is what we would have had to pay the District for our Reading Specialist if we could have afforded to keep her), that is EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS being spent every year to do . . . what exactly?

I understand that skipping professional development altogether is a little like eating the seed corn, but Kathy has 300 Middle Schoolers who need help on Math. If these coaches have to stay on the payroll, couldn't they at least be used to mitigate some of the cutbacks our schools have faced in Reading and Math Specialists and in increased class size? $8,000,000 is, by itself, over half of what will be raised via the Levy. Why are these coaches higher in priority than textbooks? And by the way, who supervises them? The Ed Directors? Susan Enfield?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Maureen, Charlie has advocated, over and over, for early, rapid interventions for struggling students (a la in Everett). That we can have over 100 teacher coaches and yet schools struggle to get reading coaches and the high schools have no career counselors AND the district seems to want to do away with Family Support Workers, where does it end?

President DeBell said, at a Committee meeting where teacher coaches were discussed, that he expected to see results for all these coaches. Write him, call him and ask him, "Where's the beef?" and "We want direct aid in the schools and we want it NOW."

Dorothy Neville said...

Maureen, you are not alone in that obsession. Why do we have so many coaches?

Well, that's not the question that puzzle me. I know why we have them, they are part of the Strategic Plan. It is riddled with intervention via coaching. And the district pays for all these coaches by cutting other programs. Cuts have increased class size and reduced the number of ELL and SpecEd IAs available. Reduced librarian hours and eliminated career counseling offices.

But what completely flummoxes me is since the Strategic Plan relies on coaches so much and the district and board see funding coaches as a higher priority than fully funding their ICS or ELL inclusion policy, WHY do they HIDE them! Why are they so sneaky with the budget in order to hide this expense? It takes extra effort to create a second budget for the public, but Seattle School District DID go to that extra effort just to hide their central administration costs.

Kathy said...

Are Family Support workers still at risk?

The Family Support worker is the one begging for community volunteers for these kids!