Disqus

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Legislative Updates

At this morning's Executive Committee meeting, the district's lobbyist, Cliff Traisman, was on hand to give updates.  Here's how he put the atmosphere in Olympia - "They are sharpening their elbows."  Meaning, of course, instead of sharpening their pencils to get to work, they are ready to elbow their way to get ahead to getting bills passed.

He said that all bills had reached the committee cut-off date last week and are technically dead but nothing is really dead until the end of the session (March 8th).  He said bills with a fiscal note (and that includes the charter bill) have until Feb. 14th to be out of their house of origin.  He said the next budget forecast is scheduled for Feb. 16th.  He said the sales tax polling was going badly and that there is the feeling they may end up with across-the-board cuts everywhere.

He said that charters and teacher evaluations are being seen by the "road-kill caucus" (moderate/ conservative Dems) as items they want to see passed, even if only partially.  They have threatened to hold up budget talks if their priorities aren't met.

Any other time this might be a good threat but with so much hanging in the balance for so many programs (and the people they serve), it seems a bit draconian.

Mr. Traisman believes that it is very unlikely a charter bill will pass and that it is more likely a teacher evaluation bill will pass.  The issue with teacher evaluations is over putting in more requirements without explaining how to pay for them.   For example, it sounds good to want to see growth for every student but then how do you track every student in every grade in every subject?

He said there was interest in hearing from SPS on their teacher contract as well as the Creative Approach MOU.  Michael DeBell said that it could help with the charter discussion if the Legislature could see what could be done already between districts and labor partners. 

Other important bills you might want to let your your feelings be known to your legislature:

HB2538 and S6323 - Authorizing the state auditor to conduct fiscal and performance audits for school districts once every three years except under specified situations. 

Additionally, after July 1, 2012, the state auditor shall conduct fiscal and performance audits no more often than once every three years for school districts when no findings of impropriety were found for the school districts for the three-year period immediately preceding the audit period.  This subsection does not prohibit the state auditor from conducting audits:  (a) To address suspected fraud or irregular conduct; (b) at the request of the local school board of directors; (c) if there has been a change in the superintendent or the chief financial officer in the year immediately preceding the audit; or (d) as required by federal laws or regulations.

On the one hand, I could see how this could save money.  (And, SPS would not qualify to go to every three years for quite awhile given its history.)  BUT, it's more than a little vague about addressing suspected fraud or irregular conduct.  The rest of the bill doesn't address how this gets enacted.

Cutting oversight of the transparency of how tax dollars are being used seems a poor way to save money.  Given the good work that the Auditor's office does (and how they are able to daylight issues with more force and more clarity than anyone else), I have to wonder about the real intent of this bill.

S6442 -My understanding of the creation of this bill is to consolidate the many health plans available to unionized workers in school districts.  Under this proposal, agreements on health benefits would be prohibited from local collective bargaining and a new commission would be created to negotiate for health benefits.   (And just like so many other bills, this one creates a new commission of 16 people.  The Legislature never met a commission it didn't like.)

The unions agree that having hundreds of separate benefit pools is not efficient but that creating just one is not the way to go.  There are different needs in different districts.  For example, UW doesn't limit employees to just one health care plan so I have to wonder why it would be a good thing for K-12 employees. 

There are significant costs to this proposal, including an additional $20 million  to “start up” the system and it may cause higher premiums.   The proponents say it will save money and point to an overhaul in Oregon as proof.




I'm all for saving money but this bill seems like a sledgehammer when a hammer would do. 

And boy, do they have some smart and thoughtful people on the Ingraham High School PTSA (bold mine):

Dear Legislators,

Attached is a resolution passed last night by the Ingraham High School PTSA Board.  Although we are located in the northwest corner of Seattle, we draw families from all around the City.  We are a racially, ethnically and economically diverse community with over 50% free and reduced lunch and, like most schools throughout the state, we are struggling.

We have not had a career or college counselor for at least 2 years.  Students are often on their own to figure out their path post-graduation (assuming they graduate, as we have lost our intervention specialist who used to help those students needing help to stay in school).  Our one main office secretary now does the work that used to be done by 2 secretaries.  Our counselors work far beyond the expectations of their jobs dealing not only with student’s education needs, but in many cases dealing with their health and welfare needs as well.

Ingraham is fortunate.  Despite all these challenges our staff and teaches don’t walk away at the end of the day.  They care about their students and the school and spend countless hours of their time (uncompensated) and their personal money to do what they can.  But, it is fingers in a dike.  Eventually, that dike is going to break.  Our entire school system is in a crisis and yet in Olympia we see discussion of everything except creation of a plan to solve this crisis.

We respectfully request that you ask yourself, today and every day until the end of this session, “What am I going to do today to fully fund education?”
Cynthia A. Nevins
President

If you don't send any other e-mail to your legislator, please send one with the wording in bold - they need to know that for K-12 this is job one.  (Senator Tom not withstanding.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

We received a robo-call asking to support the teacher evaluation bill.

in Seattle

Melissa Westbrook said...

Who was the call from?

Anonymous said...

That is what is troubling about these educational bills. They look for shortcuts rather than focus on doing things right and doing things that work. I think this is where our reps need to think about where they are going with this teacher eval bill. Once pass, how will a district implement such a bill unfunded? Will it require a statewide standard to evaluate all teachers? What will that look like? And after any evaluation, what remedies to apply and how do you pay for cost of such remedies (time, personnel, training, etc.)?

Standardized testing will be a key ingredient to teacher eval. It is efficient and easy to understand. But is it a fair assessment of a teacher's worth? School districts will adopt all kinds of rubrics and models to provide the more subjective observational part of the eval. All of this is costly to do not to mention the training needed it to do it right. Will the money be there for it?

If teacher eval bill is pass, it will be a green light to keep MAP. NWEA needs Seattle with its large NW demographics to build its national database to do all the things they want to do. NWEA is promoting MAP's efficency as the answer to educational accountability. But where does all this testing lead to? In the end of the day, how does it help the individual child learn?

Perhaps, we need to look at other states for some wisdom and experience as they try to implement such bills. Look at New York, Texas, Tennessee for example. In the words of Robert Scott (R), Texas Educational Commisoner, some of the pitfalls we face:

“The assessment and accountability regime has become not only a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex. And the reason that you’re seeing this move toward the “common core” is there’s a big business sentiment out there that if you’re going to spend $600-$700 billion a year in public education, why shouldn’t be one big Boeing, or Lockheed-Grumman contract where one company can get it all and provide all these services to schools across the country.”

“What we’re trying to do is set a benchmark for standards and for human behavior, and human behavior can’t always be dictated from Austin, Texas, as much as we try. But what you see at the local level is an attempt to enforce that through a regime of mini testing that won’t work.

“If you look at it, this is where the frustration comes from -- you know, “drill and kill,” and teachers getting burnout. I don’t know how to stop that behavior, other than to say that’s not the intent, and to tell them, “It’s not going to work.”

“When you fundamentally get back to it, it’s the quality of the teacher in the classroom, it’s the quality of professional materials, the alignment of professional development, all of those things that go into the development of a quality classroom.

What we’ve done in the past decade, is we’ve doubled down on the test every couple of years, and used it for more and more things, to make it the end-all, be-all. ... You’ve reached a point now of having this one thing that the entire system is dependent upon. It is the heart of the vampire, so to speak."

Words of wisdom from Texas