One More Reason to Wonder about Tom

From The Stranger Slog (with the headline "Rodney Tom Hates Teachers"):

With zero notice Sunday, just one day before it was heard by the Ways & Means Committee, millionaire state Senate Majority "Leader" Rodney Tom (R-Medina) filed a bill that would eliminate defined pension benefits for most state and public school employees, replacing them with a risky 401-K-style savings plan that would subject future retirees to the whims of the market. SB 5856, of which Tom is the sole sponsor, would apply to all future public employees and all current public employees under the age of 45.

That means if you chose a career as a school teacher twenty years ago, trading the opportunity to strike it rich in the private sector for the promise of a secure retirement, you are totally fucked.
Of course, a lot of states have catastrophically underfunded their public employee pension plans. But not Washington. No, Washington has the second strongest funded pension system in the nation, with an enviable overall funding ratio of 98.1 percent. So I'm not exactly sure what the problem is that Tom is attempting to solve by denying teachers and other public employees the pension benefits they were promised.

But don't you dare start complaining about it, because under a second Tom-sponsored bill, SB 5242, public school teachers would lose all job protections, meaning they could be fired for any reason at any time, and with no legal recourse. And we're not just talking laid off—we're talking fired with cause:
(5) If a displaced nonprovisional certificated instructional staff member is not assigned to a nontemporary position with mutual agreement by May 15th of the school year following the displacement, the superintendent may initiate notice of nonrenewal of contract as provided under RCW 28A.405.210. Lack of assignment under this section of a displaced certificated instructional staff member to a nontemporary position after eight or more months, including cumulative time spent in successive assignments to temporary positions, constitutes grounds for a finding of probable cause under RCW 28A.405.210.
And how does a teacher become "displaced"...?
(2)(b) "Displaced" means a certificated instructional staff member assigned to a particular school no longer has an assignment to that school as a result of a request for reassignment by the certificated instructional staff member, a principal, or the district administration; change in program; change in enrollment; or implementation of a state or federal accountability intervention model.
So, you know, don't be a trouble maker. All your principal needs to do to get you fired is request your reassignment. Because the real problem in K-12 education today is that teachers are too empowered.
I had hoped Tom would have used his role as Senate Majority "Leader" to help push through the funding package necessary to pay for the billions of additional K-12 dollars needed to satisfy the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. But rather than giving our schools the funding they need, Tom is focused on taking away the pension benefits and job security that teachers already have. That's education reform, Rodney Tom style.

The new cry is "we need to give principals more power."  Well, giving them the power to reject a teacher placement and putting that teacher in limbo will then effectively fire them.  It will just be a longer process but at the end, no job.  There has to be some in-between to protect teachers from principals who have a grudge (and it happens). 

I agree with Goldy; this is not good legislation and that it was introduced in this manner makes it suspect. 


Dora said…
This is ALEC by the way.

This is what happens when politicians get into the act of developing education policy, something they know nothing about but when it comes to receiving financial and political backing they'll just ask "how high?"

It shouldn't happen like this.

One little known fact; in Finland,the country that everyone is so excited about because of their PISA scores, the politicians stay out of education. They really do respect and treat their educators as professionals.
n said…
Tom is Scott Walker. He's brazen and cavalier and totally ignorant and in the pockets of the monied. I wish with all my heart he would be voted out of his district and I can't believe the rest of the legislature will support this BTW, does he have a defined benefit plan? Whatever he has, it is too much.

And don't get me started on principals. I believe principals were failed teachers. If you love teaching, you stay at the lower pay and follow your bliss. Administration is way different than teaching and most parents wouldn't want an administrator in their child's classrooms.
CT said…
The fact that SB 5856 is retroactive, screwing not just those who are new to the profession, but also those who are under the age of 45 - who might already have 20 years vested in the state retirement system - makes this even more onerous. Rodney Tom is going to stick his knife deep into the backs of the working class and then twist it to cause the most damage.
Dan Dempsey said…
When will the public demand a constitutional amendment to limit campaign contributions?

Senator Tom and many others push similar crap to gain big bucks for reelection war chests.

None of Sen. Tom's proposals will improve educational opportunities for children.
Anonymous said…
This district already has a problem with principals/AP's with egos on steriods, who treat teachers AND parents like garbage. Many were promoted by MGJ and her twin Enfield, and told by them that it was okay to be little dictators. And MGJ's phalanx of Exec Dirs of Schools get paid big bucks to protect those little dictators.

Been trod on
Principal who disagrees...courteously said…
n said...
..."And don't get me started on principals. I believe principals were failed teachers. If you love teaching, you stay at the lower pay and follow your bliss. Administration is way different than teaching and most parents wouldn't want an administrator in their child's classrooms."

I'm sorry, n., but the thing about generalizations is that, generally speaking, they're wrong.

I can't speak for all principals, but I will tell you a little about myself: I spent over a decade in the classroom, honing my craft and immensely enjoying the challenges that came with every day. I won local-, state-, and national-level recognition for my teaching. When I reached the point that I felt I needed a new challenge to keep myself from getting stale, I made the decision to transition to Administration.

The two other members of my administrative team have similar tales to tell of longer-than-the-bare-minimum stays in the classroom, during which they were described by peers and supervisors as highly successful teachers. That's why I selected them.

Now I work hard on a daily basis to deal with as much as possible of the garbage that would drive my teachers crazy *before* it hits their classrooms. Our job is to make their jobs easier.

As I frequently tell students, please be careful before you paint an entire group with one brush. Your quote caused the same viceral reaction in me that all the ludicrous teacher bashing one hears from the ed "Reform" crowd causes in the vast majority of us.
Charlie Mas said…
Funny how the state doesn't think they need to honor their contracts.
Anonymous said…
Principal who disagrees...

You sound amazing. I bet you miss the classroom. Your teachers are probably grateful for the shield you provide. Currently I work for the type of principal n describes. It's difficult.

-considering administration
Eric B said…
I'm mostly OK with replacement of pensions with 401k's in general, but only for new workers. Current workers were promised pensions, and the state needs to abide by that. The "with cause" bit is somewhere between egregious and insulting. People are fired with cause for being screwups. Muddying those waters with people who just don't survive a RIF makes it harder to ID the people who were fired for a real cause and keep them out of future teaching jobs.
Anonymous said…
Re: Principals

As an itinerant related service provider with 25 years in the school system, I have worked with at least 20 different principals. At most, 5 have been good leaders: smart and fair. Far more often they have been examples of the Peter Principle. Giving them the power to destroy a career in such an underhanded way is unconscionable.

~ seen too many unprincipled principals

Anonymous said…
Getting state out of pension plan is a way for state to shed cost. What would you expect from a fiscally conservative guy like Tom?

As for the principal comment, I agree n's comment (whose voice I usually agree with) is way too generalized. I think the problem is finding steady, mature (as in character), and competent managers. And yes our school with its principal "in-training-program" has seen our fair share of types. The only good thing about our school's revolving door is at least the bad or clueless ones don't stay for long. The bad thing about that is they get shuffled onto other unfortunate schools and some eventually make their way up the career ladder to be director or Superintendent of .... where they get to promote like minded individuals up the food chain. And if that doesn't work out, they can jump over to academia/non-profits to and write/research educational policies.

Unknown said…
@principal who disagrees--

Of course, there are great principals, but the question is whether they are the rule or the exception and whether they ought to have the asymmetric power over teachers that they do.

It's hard to be the "head teacher" when the model for principals has been to be a more the middle manager in a business model of school management, and when the incentives for principals are to be less focussed in building a thriving educational community and more interested in making their numbers and in being a hatchet man or woman to implement downtown policy. It's pretty clear that Tom wants more hatchet people and fewer community builders.
Unknown said…
Another thing about Tom, Burgess, and other politicians who self-identify as moderate Democrats. Moderate has come to mean liberal on social issues and aggressively conservative on economic and fiscal issues. Party has become a marker of tribal affiliation on social issues, not on economic issues. At some point there needs to be a party realignment on economic issues.

Tom might be perceived as a traitor by a lot of Democrats statewide, but he's right when he says his views align with his Medina constituents. Neither Tom nor his constituents fit neatly into either party. So he'll probably wind up declaring himself as an independent and get re-elected by his district, which will admire him for being a grown up and for his "independent" thinking.

But his thinking isn't independent; it's neoliberal groupthink. He's as predictable as ALEC boilerplate. And all the signs are that Tim Burgess is in the same mold.

But all the mainstream candidates are influenced by that thinking. It's establishment thinking because it reflects how economic elites think in Seattle and statewide. And as long as we live in a Citizens United kind of world, it is the Tom and Burgess types who represent the thinking of these economic elites, who will continue to define economic priorities, regardless of their party affiliation.
dan dempsey said…
WOWZZERS.... Tom's position reminds me of the social security fiasco, not to mention Bernie Madoff style thinking.

No, Washington has the second strongest funded pension system in the nation, with an enviable overall funding ratio of 98.1 percent.

So Sen. Tom proposes that the teachers who contributed to this strong system, if under 45 get tossed out of a "contractually obligated retirement position" and tossed into Tom Land.

To recap.... baby boomers spent decades contributing to social security, while the Gov. largely spent most of the funds elsewhere (Bernie Madoff likely appreciated this ponzie scheme and modeled his actions in a similar way).

In the case of WA state =>
the money is there, unlike social security, but Tom wants to put it beyond the "contractual agreement". What a guy!!!!

This kind of thinking is a good reason NOT to enter teaching in WA State. --- So Rodney T what about McCleary v. State? What about incoherent leadership? What about the approval of Common Core State Standards? ... etc. etc.
Anonymous said…
Tom launches a nuclear bomb against solidly middle-class state employees by sneak attack.

Now watch him whine about "class-warfare" like the rest of his 1% whiners.


Jan said…
I have never had a pension, and don't really understand the legalities. But how can they just take one away (when it was promised) with respect to the years you have "earned" under it. I can see, maybe, stopping at some point and saying -- for future years, you get a 401k for the rest of your career, but the 20 years under the pension? I can't believe it is legal to take that away. Am I reading the comments right?

On principals -- the dichotomy in the comments is the exact lay of the land. There are a few really great principals (and they often do not survive bad Superintendents like MGJ who are clearly out trolling for minions to do their hatchet jobs). They either leave on principle, or are fired because they refuse to treat their staff so badly (or are correctly perceived as being way too independently minded for the top-down crowd). There are others who are not so great, and who get turned into hatchet men to save their jobs. And there are martinets and jerks who go into the field without the intellect or temperament to EVER be good leaders.

The key to a stellar district, in my opinion, is intelligence at the top in finding and selecting great principals -- and then keeping them. Principals of high caliber are a necessary (and almost sufficient) ingredient for keeping good teachers. They create and foster learning communities that empower staff, and work for kids and families, even in tight times. They (try to) protect their teachers from bad downtown administration, from bad parents (yes, there are some lulus out there -- truly aggressive nuts -- and since it isn't private school, you can't avoid them), and other bad teachers.

When you read all the anecdotal stories about great turnaround schools, they all have great principals. It all starts there. But between lack of supply (there aren't enough of them), cluelessness (not enough districts know how to find the ones who are out there) and neglect/malfeasance (too many districts hire superintendents, or executive directors, etc. who actively drive the best principals out of the field), it is no wonder that principals like "Principal who disagrees" are so hard to find (and then keep).
Anonymous said…
The WA pension fund can still be a pooled fund or a targeted benefit fund. Just take that 98% nest egg and keep it separated.

I'm pretty sure the WA taxpayers want to contribute exactly zero dollars to make up any underfunding of the pension fund.

98 cents on the dollar, things could be worse. I think Tom is right on this one.

KG said…
As a 23 year employee and the age of 43 it is BULL---- Tom and other a-- rich kisssing Republicans are trying to pull. Make Boeing and Microsoft pay taxes to this state and begin to fund education properly. I do not want to be paying for any more fine wine for Gates and the rich blanks!!!!
Anonymous said…
I would have somewhat agreed with this position when entering teaching about a decade ago from industry, but now that I have that decade in teaching I am completely convinced that there is a much greater competence problem with principals and not with teachers.

I have worked with 4 principals - 1 pretty good, 1 good, 1 a real mixed bag of some strengths but some real big issues too and 1 grossly incompetent. I've been surprised that 80-90% of the teaching staff I work with is fairly decently competent and only 5% or so really should choose another profession (and yes, there's an issue in getting those really incompetent ones out, but it's mostly because incompetent principals can't follow the procedures to get rid of those who should leave). Overly reward principal power and the effect on education will be detrimental.

The research initially showed strong schools had strong principals - duh! That became convoluted with "strength" as coming in with a kick-butt take-no-prisoners approach by principals who wanted to look strong - they wound up just being obnoxious twits who hurt schools.

Yes, most successful schools do have a good principal, but a principal who brings out the best in staff is what is truly a good leader... not one who runs many of the staff out with false reviews and narrow-minded slavish devotion to things like extreme views of discovery math.

** Teach who respects good principals but has seen bad too**
mirmac1 said…
I want to know which principals are the bad eggs. I'm talking the ones who harass teachers, video them in their classrooms, follow them down hallways writing notes on their clipboards.

It's time to name names.
Anonymous said…
Name names? How about naming names of incompetent teachers too? I notice that some on this blog are only too happy to name names of principals and admin folks they find incompetent but I can't ever remember hearing the name of a specific teacher who has been found lacking. For instance, last week (?) there was a discussion about a teacher at name there.

As the Hamilton discussion proves, some found this very teacher appropriate and competent. We are discussing peoples lives and professional reputations - tread lightly.

No Double Standard
mirmac1 said…
Don't know that many principals drummed out by vengeful, incompetent teachers. But I know of a number of caring, inspiring teachers drummed out by vengeful incompetent principals/APs. The numbers increase daily. And no one rides herd on them. The Exec Dir of Schools? Hah! They think its their job to help principals with maximal CYA. Look at Nancy Coogan and Gregory King, Rina G., Tolley and whoever that retread principal was at RBHS. And how many issues must we have at McClure before there's competency and fairness? MGJ and Enfield did a great job of placing their syncophants at the helm of our school buildings, all in the name of "strong instructional leadership".
Anonymous said…
"The numbers increase daily," huh? Hyperbole much?

Kids are directly affected by incompetent teachers. With 3 kids in SPS, we have hit a couple of incompetent or couldn't give a damn teachers. Yet I wouldn't name names of them - including the one who wasted a year of algebra (you know, that math course required for graduation?) - because no one should be publicly smeared by a bunch of largely anonymous commenters.

No Double Standard

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