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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seattle Times article on Levy

The Seattle Times ran a story today on the supplemental levy campaign.

Despite a headline about the opposition, the bulk of the article was about the YES campaign. There was no effort to provide objective facts about the levy, just statements from each side.

25 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

I actually thought it was better than Charlie thinks it is. They always give the yes side more coverage but I thought the quote from the League of Women Voters was great.

The LWV are a solid citizen group. They explained, in their non-endorsement statement, that they had endorsed the levies in Feb. with the caveat that the district had to do better by BOTH students and voters. The audit came out and I think they were disgusted and so have withdrawn their support. Also key to note about them is that they say :

" 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."

Textbooks are a basic in the classroom and yet they are in the levies. How can this not be a line item in our budget(as Director Martin-Morris says)?

Maintenance is a basic and yet there is nothing in this levy to address the backlog of maintenance.

The Work Session on the budget featured placement of PTA money in the budget. When I asked the Superintendent about this, she said that is how principals, not the district think of it. I'm sorry but this was the WSS Committee, not principals, who put that in there. The district has no business including PTA funds in any budget ever. That the district is so dependent on these funds is troubling.

Anonymous said...

The district is hearing the community pushback. It has posted a new set of FAQs with lots o numbers and claims in it. (Where's Meg for analysis.)

At least it's trying to engage us. I think.

My first take on the district's spin: they've removed all references to the new costs of MAP (coaches, analysts) in the FAQs. Hidden it in "teacher support." But make no mistake, that's the super's pet project.

Skeptical

Anonymous said...

And about that promise of budget transparency? Where's the analysis of transportation savings from last year and info on where dollars saved are going? Wasn't that promised to us multiple times by the super, Harium Martin-Morris and Mr. Fiscal Responsibility Peter Maier?

Ain't seen it. Ain't believing in the promises of a new audit website and transparent budgeting process when we're still waiting for last year's deliverables.

Meh.

Skeptical

Anonymous said...

And while we're at it, could anyone downtown please produce a one-page report showing us specifically the job titles of central employees now being quietly funded by any of our generous foundations?

I want to know which positions the district considers so important that it is willing to advocate for private funds to keep them.

Skeptical

Dorothy Neville said...

Skeptical, thanks for the link!

This explains some of Lynn Varner's comments yesterday when Mel and I met with the editorial board. She said that the district claims this new spending is sustainable because they are building it into the budget. (if you understand the logic, please share with me.)

For next year, the board is going to try to protect school budgets, but we have no proof anything will happen. That hasn't happened before and the wording on the FAQ makes it look like it already happened for this year.

This is exactly the sort of "please fulfill your end and (vote, take the wasl, accept the new start times, accept the new math books) and we promise to fulfill our end later" that we have seen repeated over and over and over.

NEXT year, after the board has actually had some traction and some action and shows us that they are serious about budgeting priorities and principles, then ask for money.

cascade said...

I don't think the district understands how bitterly funny these 2 FAQ lines are...

For this year, the
primary guiding principle was to protect funds to classrooms. In addition to guiding
principles, the board will consider input from stakeholders.


Whoopee. Let's all dance around. THIS year they're going to protect $$ to schools. Hey, they might even CONSIDER input from parents.

Not voting for it. Nope. Uh-uh. Not.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday at our PTA general meeting, we had a lady from Schools First (although she said that she wore many hats and also held positions in state and regional PTSA, so I'm not sure if she was representing Schools First's position or the state PTSA), who gave us a talk about supporting the levy. She spent most of the time talking about our state's shameful ranking in funding of basic education (46th out of 50), and the need for more funding for SPS. All of which I agree with. However, she only put on one overhead regarding what the levy will be funding, with the last item, 25.5 M (more than half of the levy amount), as money to be used to restore services that might get cut in the 2011 and 2012 budgets. I found this very vague and tried to get more information about it, but she did not really answer. Does anyone know? Also, she claims that 80% of the funding for SPS go to teachers. Is this true? This seems impossibly high to me, I would think that most of the costs in SPS is in operating and maintaining the buildings and administration costs (since the administrators definitely have higher salaries than the teachers). I'd appreciate any info. And if this claim is false, could someone question Schools First on this so they do not go around stating it as a fact to all and sundry. Thanks

Very Confused SPS Parent

The First Arnold said...

Very Confused Parent- Basically, about 1/2 of the Levy dollars will be used on Ed. Reform Initiatives i.e setting up computer infrastructure to link MAP testing to teacher evaluations (highly controversial), teacher merit pay (also very controversial), hiring coaches at HQ etc. Regarding books..you need to know not all of this money will go towards books. Some of the dollars allocated for books will be used for staff. These expenditures are new and not sustainable unless another Levy is passed. Next year, the District will make classroom cuts due to budget short falls. Here is my take- don't make cuts to classrooms and use Levy dollars to keep our classrooms intact next year. However, the majority of the SPS Board of Directors support this type of governance. So, in short, HQ will get about 1/2 of the funds, 1/2 of the funds will go into the schools and next year we will have classroom cuts. I hope you read up on merit pay, linking MAP testing to teacher eval/ student achievement, Bill Gates, ed. reform etc. You will find results are not promising. Voting NO on the Levy will give a clear signal we do not endorse Ed Reform and taking those dollars out of our children's classrooms is not ok. I have children in SPS and will be voting No. I suspect we will see some Fed. dollars, grant dollars, and who knows a Levy next year. The State is also failing in its duty to fund ed. However, I also believe in fiscal responsibility, which I don't see in this District. Vote No. It will be ok.

Charlie Mas said...

@Very Confused SPS Parent,

It is difficult to say what portion of the District budget goes to anything, but particularly to teachers.

First is the question of what to include in the "District budget". Is that the operations fund or the total spending which includes the capital spending? Within the operations fund does it include all of that money or are grant dollars designated for specific purposes excluded? There are other elements of the operations fund that could either be included or excluded from the calculation.

Second comes the definition of "teachers". Does that include other certificated non-supervisory staff such as counselors, librarians, nurses, and IAs? Does it include teacher coaches? Does it include just their salary or their benefits as well? Does it include money spent on "teacher support" which includes professional development and teacher coaches? Are the coaches counted as teachers?

The difficulty in answering your simple question reveals the lack of transparency in the District's budget.

Maureen said...

Very Confused, Meg Diaz did a "Crappy Chart" on this very subject:

How much of the budget is spent directly on schools?
in March of 2010. It says, in part, According to a school budget planning document, only 54% of the budget, $304m, is spent directly on fully staffing schools (principals, teachers, librarians, supplies).

You can read her commentary at her blog Dolce & Nutella, the date of the post is March 4, 2010.

Dorothy Neville said...

To Very Confused,

SchoolsFirst has to be vague because they cannot promise anything. Yes, the district claims that about half the money will be used for offsetting cuts. However, consider this:

The Strategic Plan relies on keeping more money at Central for their discretion. Sure, they plan to use it for schools, but using *their* idea of what schools and kids need. That's why the WSS (which was implemented before the economic downturn) cut funding to schools. That's why the FRL threshold for Title I money was raised from 40% to 55%, so that Central could keep more Title I money for their discretion. That's why this administration kept half of the I728 money instead of allocating it to schools to cut class sizes.

If we had seen positive outcomes from this "strategic" spending, then we'd say sure, that money will help kids. But we haven't. We don't know where the money is going and we don't have benchmarks or goals or anything transparent.

Read the official language of the Resolution to see what the intent was when they decided to ask for the money. Read the new teachers contract to see how basic support for classrooms is being diminished (staffing ratios for IAs in both Special Ed and ELL took a big hit) while fully implementing the MAP as teacher evaluation tool.

If they were serious about mitigating cuts, then the teachers contract would have a MOU talking about the basic classroom services that would be brought back if the levy passes.

Maureen said...

Very, if you are in a hurry, you can probably skim the first six paragraphs of Meg's post since they are summarized in the seventh:

So to sum up this piece of advice? Leggings are not pants. Please don’t wear them like they are. Thank you.


But if you do, you'll be missing out!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Very Confused,

"...as money to be used to restore services that might get cut in the 2011 and 2012 budgets. I found this very vague and tried to get more information about it, but she did not really answer."


First, understand this about levies. Once the district (or any entity) gets the money, they can do with it whatever they want. They are not held to anything they say (although it behooves them to follow-thru some of the time). Naturally, all the funds in this levy have to go to capital issues.

The money could be used to reduce SOME cuts. Money will be cut no matter what because the state has to continue to cut back. However, where is the money in the levy for cuts we already have? Not there.

You mentioned maintenance. Basic maintenance IS part of the operating budget. We have a HUGE backlog of maintenance. No money in the levy for that. We have NOT been properly maintaining our buildings for decades and its a disgrace.

I don't have the budget numbers in front of me but 80% seems high to be (just for teachers). I'll check unless someone has it in front of them.

Schools First has this problem with using PTSA people to go out and speak for them and it does confuse people. As well, not all PTAs are making the effort to give equal time to both sides (even though our Committee sent out snail mail to every single PTA). I was told by one PTSA Board that while yes there are two sides, their Board didn't think it an appropriate use of their time. As a former PTSA co-president I find that very offensive as it is the duty of Board members to try to present both sides to any issue their Board or membership may endorse.

I'm with Meg; leggings aren't pants.

The First Arnold said...

Very Confused SPS Parent- Let me give you a specific example of Ed. Reform with top heavy management, as it pertains to District expenditures, classroom cuts & Ed Reform. Last year, the District was expecting a $6.1M cut from the State. The District recommended eliminating elementary school counselors (?) to save $2.1M. At the same time, the District was installing $4M dollars worth of computers for MAP testing and purchased MAP with a price tag of $400,000K/ yr. The Superintendent was ok with eliminating elementary school counselors to obtain a test which is suppossed to evaluate teacher effectiveness. BTW- MGJ sold the MAP to the Board of Directors without disclosing her NWEA (company that produces MAP) Board of Director position. The State Auditor charged MGJ with unethical conduct for non-disclosure. I suspect, if the Levy passes, we will see more of the same.

Charlie Mas said...

Want to know what how the levy is spent? Pick any $16 million worth of spending out of the general fund and you can say that was how the levy money was spent. You could claim that it all went to teacher salaries or you could say that it was all spent on the goofiest things you can find. It will all be equally true.

The most reasonable spending to identify as the levy spending, however, would be the lowest priority spending since the levy is the last money to come into the system. Without the levy, those are the things that the district would have cut.

If the District says that the levy money will be spent on textbooks, then they are saying that ALL of their other spending is more important than textbooks because, without the levy, they would have cut the textbooks.

The First Arnold said...

Dorothy- AM 880 did a small piece regarding Seattle's community against the Levy!

Dorothy Neville said...

Thanks, Arnold, for the KIXI information. Hope more people can get informed.

Seriously folks. I am finding that simply talking to my neighbors is a big win. Many are not aware of the levy at all. When I talk to school parents, they are uniformly appalled at MAP. Explaining the connection to the levy and several have said that while they have never voted against a school levy before, I have sold them on this one!

Talk to your neighbors who are older, whose kids have grown. When they know that you -- active school parents -- are against this levy and think saying no is the right thing to do, you can convince them as well. Many people who always vote yes for Seattle Schools do it reluctantly because they know central administration is so mismanaged. Make it clear to them that this is the only levy that can make a difference by voting no! This levy furthers central administration overhead with limited positive effect on kids (and some damaging effects).

Anonymous said...

Thank you everyone for the information. I'm going to really have to think about this. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of voting against a school levy; especially since things are already so bare bones at our schools, I'm just afraid that the district will take away our music and art teachers next. This year we only have the librarian for 1/2 time, and the art teacher has always been 1/2 (for a school of more than 400 students!). Even the music teacher might be 1/2, I'm not sure. I wish they would cut down on HQ staff instead, but I don't think that's likely; those people make the decisions and they have vested interests in preserving their jobs. I am annoyed though, it is very disingenuous to claim that 80% of cost go to teachers; and no one questioned this at all at the meeting, no wonder it's so easy for these people to blame teachers for all the problems with the schools. The Schools First lady even put in a plug for charters and teachers evaluation and merit pay at the meeting. I just do not see how even the best teacher can make a student who does not want to/or cannot study because of home/neighborhood problems, do well in school, especially with the huge class sizes we have now.

Very Confused SPS Parent

Dorothy Neville said...

Dear Very Confused, thank you for doing your best to be an educated voter. You will know that no matter how you vote, you did your best to get information and weigh both sides.

Interesting how the conversation has shifted. At first, we on the anti-levy side, were bringing up how the levy is written to clearly fund the reform agenda (merit pay, evaluation via test scores) which is not something we support. But the bottom line is that it is not a lot of money and by tying it to these new items, it actually makes MORE cuts in the classroom inevitable, because these new programs need to be sustained.

SchoolsFirst! thinks it is appalling that anyone would vote against a levy and withhold funds based on a philosophical difference in how it is being spent. If you don't like what they want to spend the money on, work with the board to change it. Or vote in a new board. As if either of those things are easy.

But we countered with fundamentally, the argument of what it will be spent on is a red herring. The point is that it is new initiatives that require growth in HQ and will require funding put in the general budget moving forward which means less resilience to deal with future budget shortfalls.

Now, as you are saying, both SchoolsFirst! And the SCPTSA are saying that they like charters, merit pay and evaluating teachers via MAP. Remember, this whole movement is the movement of ed-reform that blames teachers for everything. The movement that says "national research is clear: a quality teacher is the KEY factor in student academic achievement;" when actually this is not accurate. Teachers are the most important SCHOOL BASED factor.

So why is this district making it harder for teachers to teach? Why try to eliminate elementary counselors, increase class sizes, move Special Ed and ELL to a fully inclusion model but decrease funding for IAs at the same time. How is that supporting teachers? Why not ask for money to directly support teachers? Why ask for money instead to push the reform agenda that vilifies teachers?

I suppose the message from SchoolsFirst! and the SCPTSA now is that a vote for the levy is a vote to support the reform agenda. Why are SchoolsFirst! and SCPTSA scapegoating teachers?

zb said...

"If the District says that the levy money will be spent on textbooks, then they are saying that ALL of their other spending is more important than textbooks because, without the levy, they would have cut the textbooks."

Well, that would be true if they were being honest. But, even though I'm a district supporter a lot of the time, I don't think any district is honest when they say "what the levy money will be spent on." They say it will be spent on whatever they think will get them the most votes, and, I think they skew that message to different audiences. Business leaders and reform agenda folks get told it'll be spent on merit pay and performance measurements. Parents get told it'll be spent in the classroom. Textbook promoters probably get told that it'll be spent on books. Teachers get told it'll be spent on their compensation/benefits/class sizes.

Melissa Westbrook said...

About the textbooks. I'm sure we do need them BUT

- textbooks are a classroom basic. So how come the district hasn't had a line item for at least a decade? Of course you'll get rundown, out of date books if you do that. (Also textbook adoption isn't the same thing as buying textbooks.)

- at least some of that money is going for a consultant if what they do for science and social studies is the same as LA. They spend about $740k on a consultant for that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Forgot one other thing. Just FYI, the funding for elementary music is for choral music and doesn't include instrumental.

Chris S. said...

Vote against the levy. Give your money directly to your school, or any school you think needs it. (Directly, as in, not thru the Alliance.)

The First Arnold said...

Chris, I am with you.

The State Auditor charged MGJ with unethical conduct for non-disclosure of her NWEA Board of Directors position. MGJ also had the worst State Audit imaginable. Then, the Board of Directors extended MGJ's contract. It appears the Board of Directors doesn't have a problem with a superintendent charged with unethical conduct& an audit that states public assets are at risk.

Why should we trust these people with our dollars/ children's classrooms? Get out the Vote NO vote with confidence.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to clarify: SCPTSA hasn't taken a position on charters, or discussed.

We haven't taken a position on merit pay, though we did call for evaluations that considered whether or not kids were actually learning. (In Comm Value Statement)

Wash State PTA did put 2 teacher-reform issues on the platform. They're posted on the SCPTSA web site as well as Wash State PTA website.
- R. Hattendorf, SCPTSA