Monday, October 08, 2018

I'm Not Voting for the New Families&Education Levy; Here's Why

I want to preface this thread by noting what former Councilman Tim Burgess, the co-chair of the current levy campaign, said at an event. He said that voters have always supported this levy because it supports Seattle's kids.

Okay but here's the thing - every single time ANY levy comes before voters, they should examine it. Question it. Review it. There should be no emotional blackmail - "it's for the kids! - for any kind of vote. Because tax dollars are so precious, whatever we spend them on needs to have clarity in vision and the confidence that the dollars will be well-spent.

I came to this decision to say no to the levy with sadness because I have supported this levy since its inception. But this current levy, the Families, Education, Pre-school and Promise levy is a radical change from previous ones, both in scope and cost.
1) The new F&E levy will cost the median Seattle homeowner $248 each year, up from $136 a year under the two present levies. It’s really not fair to say a small extra amount a month doesn’t matter; for those who are low-income or have fixed incomes, it does count.

With the larger property tax increase already enacted by the Legislature to fulfill the McCleary decision, I question a dollar increase AND an expansion of the F&E levy. And, Seattle Schools has its own two levy renewals in Feb. 2019 and I believe that with those four large property taxes, there might be voter fatigue.

It would be catastrophic if the district were to lose one or both of their levies.

As well, the City has many other pressing problems. Is expanding the Department of Education at the top of that list? I don't know if I believe they have the ability or bandwidth to handle this much additional work.

2) About Pre-K. I don't argue that Pre-k isn't a good thing. It is.

To note, the City was funding Pre-k in the F&E levy prior to its separate Pre-K levy passed in 2014. Here are the numbers:

In 2014-2015 in the Families & Education levy, Pre-k was 25% of the F&E levy which was $8.4M a year.

In its own Pre-K levy, the total was $58M, or a little over $14M a year.

Those two totals combined are about $22M.

Now, with Pre-K rolled into the F&E levy, Pre-K will be 56% of the levy, about $363M.

Pre-K spending will go from $22M to $53M a year.

And, with the news that Jeff Bezos will be creating free, high-quality Pre-ks for low-income families, you have to question this kind of spending.

Seattle is also paying more for its Pre-K than the gold-standard for Pre-k, Boston; $12K versus $11K. Boston also accesses both state and federal dollars for its program; Seattle, not at all.

As well, the growth of Pre-K is highly dependent on space.

The City gets space in SPS for free for its Pre-ks and so, if they have to pay for space, that will be a problem for growth. Where will the money come from for that space?

The City claims they have created "new" Pre-K spaces but many are co-opted from previous Pre-K offerings. So how many new spaces have been created? It's not clear.

Lastly, the Times just had an article on the latest Seattle Pre-K program evaluation. There was a lot to like except for a couple of problems. The cost for each evaluation? $475,000 a year. Complete evaluation? Nope, they didn't cover discipline and have no numbers on suspensions or expulsions. (Yes, Seattle's Pre-K suspends 4-year olds.)

3) The City has been unclear about whether they will continue to support in-school Family Support Workers as part of the K-12 portion of the F&E levy. As someone who volunteers in a Title One school, I can tell you first-hand how greatly needed in-school Family Support workers are for low-income or immigrant families. Families count on those staff to be at school, not having the work out-sourced off-site.

4) There is no language in the new F&E levy that says that the K-12 dollars can only go to Seattle Public Schools. Meaning, any charter school in Seattle could access those dollars.

Recall that in 2012 city of Seattle itself voted in - in a firm majority –against charter schools.

I had a lawyer who specializes in public education issues check that language and there is nothing there in the levy language that protects the K-12 dollars for Seattle Public Schools.

(I do want to note that I support the Promise program for ANY Seattle public school graduate, charter or not.)

Why do I think this could happen? To wit:
  • In October 2014 the Levy Oversight Committee, chaired by former City Councilman Tim Burgess, suggested that charter schools become eligible for Levy dollars.
  • Given that earlier this year, Green Dot Charter Schools was able to get an illegal zoning departure for one of their new schools. The City did not follow its own code and the Seattle School Board sent a sharply worded letter to the City Council. I suspect there are those on the City Council who may support charter schools and may have pushed that departure.
Burgess said at a recent event that the question is whether charter schools are legal. That's only half-true. We await the ruling from the Washington State Supreme Court on the case before them (they heard oral arguments already so the ruling could come at any time. As I have said, I believe they will uphold the law.)

The other question is can the City can give charter schools city levy funds. I think they could but I also think the City could say the levy funds are only for SPS schools.

Because while the State recognizes charter schools as public schools, they also recognize them as different because charter schools do NOT get education dollars from the same pot as traditional public schools and because charter schools have no direct elected oversight.

If the State sees charter schools as different, so can the City.

My understanding is that the City Attorney's office is working on this. Weird, don't you think they should have gotten it done BEFORE the levy went out? Or will it just be convenient to get a ruling AFTER the election?

The Mayor and the City Council have sent out a levy that is vague in places. Voters need clarity in a levy, not confusion.
If the levy does not pass, there are funds to continue on because there is currently $12M in underspend in the F&E levy and $1M in the pre-k levy.

If the levy loses, it will be a signal to the City to retool it and get it right. They can come back in April 2019 with a new levy.

I urge a NO vote on the 2018 Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy.


Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the ST article:


And here's a link to that external evaluation:


Am I missing it, or do both fail to look at cost measures? There's no mention of the cost per student over the past several years, but it seems like an extraordinary amount per child. Yes, preschool is important--but for the amount we're spending shouldn't we expect more than small, inequitable gains? According to the ST article (emphasis added), "there were not “large” differences in academic gains by gender or race." Additionally, the article says the "researchers did find that classroom quality was lower for black students compared to white students they evaluated in the study." That doesn't sound like a fair and cost-effective program to me.

The ST article indicates that expanded program under the new levy ask would, after ramping up gradually over the next seven years, serve about 2500 students per year by the end of that period. For $600 million. Since they're at 1200 per year now, let's say that's an average of 1850 students per year, with an average funding of over $85 million per year. THAT'S OVER $45,000 PER STUDENT. Insane--especially when they're getting free space from SPS. And especially when research suggests that the early gains from pre-K programs tend disappear over time. As well, isn't there research that suggests giving smaller subsidies to low-income parents results in more significant--and persistent--benefits to children?

Clearly, the scope of the evaluation was intentionally restricted to NOT look at cost issues. Clearly, the ST didn't want to take a long hard look at the program from that angle, either. They should have bothered to ask some hard questions. This is PUBLIC MONEY--you owe it to the public to look at the VALUE we are getting for our money. Cost is not irrelevant.

Unless the city can quickly provide some quality data that demonstrate this is a reasonably cost-effective investment, you can also count on me as a "no." The city needs to get its act together and figure out how to provide an effective and efficient program. If these costs are truly on par with other similar programs, illustrate the costs of those programs and compare the various components (e.g., wraparound services).

Waste Not

Melissa Westbrook said...

The cost is $12K per child per year in SEattle, 11K in Boston.

I asked the researcher if the gains could be related to costs. She said yes and the mentor coaches were probably important to those gains (inferring that they had those coaches because of the money).

I again ask - what space? There is no room in SPS where I believe the majority of classrooms are. They are using some city space at Parks but that's also finite. If they have to pay for space, it will get pricey.

Yes, I think Seattle Times is for the levy and, as usual, the reporting skews that way. Or, at least, as Waste Not says, they didn't ask hard questions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post - I am also voting no - it's too much money per student and $475,000 per evaluation shows that the management of this program is costing far too much. Perhaps this cost is what is contributing to the high per student cost.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, how do you get $12k per child per year???

They are asking for $600M over 7yrs, with a goal of getting up to 2500 students per year by Yr 7. Even if they magically hit the 2500 student mark in Year 1 and sustained, $12k x 2500 kids is only $30M. Seven years of that is $210M. They are asking for about 3X that much—and they won’t have that many kids for most of the period (if at all).

If they are spending less than 1/3 of the money on the kids, where is the rest goin?

Waste Not

Anonymous said...

I will be voting to keep America great. The president just keeps on winning!


Anonymous said...

$341M over 7 years at 2500 kids per year is $19,000/kid a year. And we all know they will not serve 2,500 kids a year at least for the first few (they didn’t make it anywhere near their initial targets in huge first 4 years). If they get close and average 2,000 kids/ year (note - this is assuming those kids don’t pay anything and some will probably at least not be fully subsidized), the average cost per year is over $24,000. $24,000 for preschooler where they don’t even need to pay for the facilities!!! It’s been a few years since I looked, but that’s higher than any preschool in the affluent, mainly white parts of town outside of a very few private school affiliated ones, and and higher than many high quality daycares. That’s particularly wild given that the preschool rooms usually subsidize the infant and toddler classes since their ratios are higher.

Preschool opportunities are very important to our most disadvantaged children. But a program that largely only subsidizes preschool for those who can have an at home parent (very little childcare/camps are available for 3-4 year olds) and does so at such extreme costs is not the answer. Part time city preschool in rent free spaces should not be anywhere near full time tuition at the University Village Bright Horizons!

Even more awful, that $24,000 isn’t the full amount. The real amount is something much higher because of all of the free public school space AND all of the proposed space increases in BEX V. I’d love to see the actual cost of all of these preschool spaces broken out - I wouldn’t be surprised if we needed significantly less space which could allow us to actually make inroads into the severe backlog of building repairs that desperately need addressing.

NE Parent

Anonymous said...

@ NE Parent, aha, I was looking at the total levy ask, not the portion identified for PreK. But I still think it’s much too expensive, and agree with your point about thiose hidden costs of BEX facility space. Plus, if the outcomes aren’t that positive, and the minority schools get lower quality services, I think expansion is premature. Work on improving outcomes, reducing the costs, and achieving better equity before expanding it. We have enough expensive mediocrity already.

Waste Not

The Gipper. said...

I'm a no vote. On this and the upcoming school levies.

Huge tax increase and no real, substantial change in the classrooms. instead we are being told that we are going to have deficits in the near and long term. How can that be?

Anonymous said...

Budget breakdown for the current SPP levy:



Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Melissa

"With the larger property tax increase already enacted by the Legislature to fulfill the McCleary decision, I question a dollar increase AND an expansion of the F&E levy. And, Seattle Schools has its own two levy renewals in Feb. 2019 and I believe that with those four large property taxes, there might be voter fatigue.

It would be catastrophic if the district were to lose one or both of their levies."

We cannot afford to have the existing levies not renew in Feb. The McCleary so called "fix" that is taking away money from SPS (& other school districts) is devastating.

Voting No

kellie said...

I am also voting no. The costs for PreK are ridiculous and I suspect they are even higher than in the report. SPS had run multiple preschools before this program that were mostly special education and head start. The costs when SPS ran those programs was just a fraction of this cost.

I volunteer at a senior center. This levy has been quite the topic of conversation when I'm there. Many of the folks have never voted no on a levy of any sort and the conversation has been focused on whether nor not they are really going to vote no, because they think this is really just too much.

Anonymous said...

Here is another critical cost analysis of the pre-school levy in Crosscut:


I am also considering voting no on F&E levy (because pre-school program does not serve enough students and is not cost effective, and I do not support charter schools), but yes on SPS levies (since SPS serves all students).

SPS mom

Tapped-Out said...

I'll be voting NO. McCleary, an increased Family and Education Levy and an increased SPS levy is simply too much.

The city is asking for too much. They do a poor job managing taxpayer dollars.

The latest teacher contract will require the state to fund an additional $3.5B in pension costs. How will the state procure these dollars?

OSPI wants additional funding.

I'm tapped-out.

Tapped Out said...

"Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget envisions a program that I estimate would cost $30,297 per student per year, mostly drawn from $341.8 million in levy funds Seattleites will vote on this November."

$30K per student per year! Wowza!!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Maybe the teachers will get a decent living wage, I don't think University Village Daycare pays much or has very skilled teachers.


Anonymous said...

@gg, I don't know about wages, but the evaluation indicated classroom quality isn't all that high. If we're paying more but not getting more skilled providers, that seems problematic. I don't think this is intended as an employment program.

Waste Not

Anonymous said...

Hey Waste Not
You didn't realize it, but I've been using Waste Not for years. I read and comment only sporadically, because frankly it is so painful to see the substandard education our children are receiving in public schools despite caring, earnest teachers. I want the teachers to earn more AND be empowered more. I want the bad ones to be weeded out FAST. I want the good ones to be financially rewarded for going above and beyond. And I want a flat pyramid at the central office, so that our money can be funneled directly to those who have a hand on our kids. It galls me that useless suits have been padding central administration for years, creating destruction and difficulty, then leaving. Yes, I want this district to waste not our children's time or our tax dollars. Please, pick a different moniker.

And yes, I am hugely FOR free and excellent preschool for all kids in economically depressed families/neighborhoods. That is not what this will deliver.

Waste Not (original)

Those salaries are not fully costed, right? Typically, benefits can be +30%?

Question: there are two NEW positions and that add-on is beyond $250k. Because these are two persons, 2 contracts, does it keep below the threshold of the $250K board approval required threshold?

Can the Superintendent decide he needs 12 more deputy sups, at $130k/each, and just go hire (for argument's sake)? And the Board gets to say nothing?

I really can't believe there will be 'continuous improvement' or that 'project management' is really going to help my kids learn. Color me cynical. More steak (teachers) less sizzle (glass palace suits) please.

Didn't a community member on the blog do a pure head count of folks at the glass palace earning more than $100K+ and/or the number of 'cabinet members' from, say, 2008 to now? Has it mushroomed, or am I imaging things?

The School and Community Partnerships position, what happened to Courtney Cameron (she was manager), or Clover Codd, wasn't she doing this too? Why did it go from being a manager position under Holly Ferguson to now a director position?

The athletics position, it was a manager position under operations. Why must it too 'inflate' in status to that level? What is the need, what is the justification, what is the value-add? We're principals not listening to the guy, so they figured they had to give him a better job title and more money? I'm being serious, this escalation of high-level managers together with the proliferation of high-level jobs seems to be pretty rampant. The overall admin costs compared to teacher costs seems to be skewing again. Of course, the budget guys can always reclassify 'mentor coaches' and everything/anything else as 'direct costs', but, unless they are in a school teaching actual students, they are not direct costs. Color me...

Waste Not
5/28/14, 10:55 PM

Anonymous said...

See this story from Monday on preK proposal: $30,297 per student per year under the mayor's budget, with most coming from the levy.

The per-student cost is more than twice what the city cites as the current Seattle pre-school market rate of $12,000. And that high per-student cost means the program can’t reach many children who really need the benefits of preschool. This seems ill thought through.


We are now funding the city's parallel school district for preK.

How many FT employees are now working in the city's preK office to administer this program that serves about 3,400 kids?

Anonymous said...

Sorry to duplicate your moniker, original Waste Not. I'd go with Want Not, but SPS often does leave one wanting...

I would LOVE to see a detailed budget for the Seattle Preschool Program that shows how they arrived at that $342 million figure for the next 7 years. They must have put together a draft 7-year budget in order to come up with that figure. Does anyone know if it's available online?

Unintentional Copycat

Melissa Westbrook said...

Unintentional Copycat, I don't think so. I can ask but it's all very squishy to me and I don't like it.

Unknown said...

I am a NO vote on the City Levy. I imagine I am old fashioned in my views, but I would like the City to excel in the basics of Public Safety, Public Health, Transportation and City Livability before they venture off into "Free Preschool" and "Free College".

Additional dollars spent on City taxes are less dollars to my kids college and our retirement.

I go to the neighborhood grocery store and there are discarded needles in the parking lot. I take my kids to music lessons and there are discarded condoms in the parking lot. At an age they can not understand I try to explain STDs or other life long or live ending diseases such as HEP C, or HIV so that they will be on the alert to not inadvertently step or touch on something that might end or alter their life forever.

Currently City government seems to be intentionally ignoring Public Health and Safety. Because of prosperity our city is receiving record levels of revenues. I don't understand why the City is okay with endangering our health and yet asking for more funds that there is no evidence otherwise will not be misspent.


Anonymous said...

@ StepJ, yes. It would seem that both the District and the City need to get back to basics.


Anonymous said...

I'm not keen on the entire structure of the existing levy with a separate admin heavy staff to run it and all the weird power conflicts that occur because this pot of money is not directly part of the SPS budget. Likewise, I think the costs are eye popping in the expansion this time.

However, our school does receive tangible benefits right now from the after school bus, summer school, health money and extra counselors. So voting it against it will hurt some of the students.

I'm still weighing the pros and cons.

$$$$$$$$$$ said...

I'm a huge believer in the Scandinavian style of government subsidized daycare and preschool. Norwegians don't have to use the excellent daycare their government provides and subsidizes so that last I checked no one has to pay more than about $200 a month. But, guess what? They do!

82.5% of Norwegian children ages 1 to 2 are in daycare.
97% of Norwegian children ages 3 to 5 are in daycare/preschool.

Seattle should absolutely be moving in that direction. But couldn't we pay for it some way other than property taxes??? Because, gah!

Anonymous said...

I have to unfortunately agree with you. "Unfortunately" because I am for free pre-school and community college (for all), but would like to see focus on the basics first too given the squalor around us (although the city might not focus on that anyway).


Hello2 said...

Though I understand the issues raised, and am definitely concerned about the Charter school issue, I just want to be a voice of a parent who has a child in the Seattle preschool program. First I just want to point out that I suspect private daycare and preschool used to be much less expensive in Seattle, but with increasing rental costs and increase demand, private preschool has gone up. When I was looking, there were 2-year waiting lists for daycare and even nannyshares where too expensive, so I ended up not going back to work after I was laid off and instead became a full-time stay-at home parent while working my part-time business as much as possible. I think the increase in private childcare costs and higher demand makes it more challenging for families in low-income and low-middle income situations to manage. This year my child is in one of the SPP schools and so far I'm amazed by the program and teachers. She was in two wonderful private preschools previously (the most affordable ones I could find), but the SPP program seems as good, if not better. They also seem to have to deal with more stringent state laws/guidelines than the private preschools that I believe takes more administrative work. This is the first time in 4 years that our family has had some breathing room. The Seattle public preschool covers 6 hours per day, instead of the typical 4, which is allowing me to both make more money from my business and also look for a part-time job (which ultimately will bring more consistent income hopefully). I am not a home-owner, but my rent went up significantly due to the property taxes last year, but I happily pay the increase because I know how much it has helped both my family and many others. I do believe we need an income tax and that would be the better solution for our problems, but I still think the SPP program is a good direction to go. I think we should continue to look at ways to cut costs to the program, but not at the expense of the employees and staff in the program.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that SPP has something like 40 FT staffers to manage a program that serves some 3,000 kids. That is ridiculous. There needs to be transparency in the budget around this program: What are we paying? What are we getting in return? Are we really substantively helping low-income families in this city? Are we helping as many of them as possible versus a select few?


Anonymous said...

I looked up pre-k tuition at the “higher” end daycares (daycares with preschool programs that serve affluent people in North Seattle) and they run around $1600/mo, so just under $20,000/year. Maybe they pay higher wages now, but since many of these programs are moving into currently existing programs, I expect maybe not. How does the city’s program cost MORE than 10 hour a day, year round, for profit, childcare?!?

It makes me really angry that this levy makes us choose between supporting services that seem very important (family support workers) and supporting this absurd preschool program.

NE Parent

kellie said...

I went back and checked a few notes on the preschool process.

Prior to the city's program, SPS had provided 66 classrooms serving over 1,600 preschool students. These were primarily blended sped programs and head start programs. Those classrooms were managed within the budget allocated by State and Federal money.

I suspect that those numbers are included in this program. Anyone know for certain?

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