Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Seattle Schools Levies; The Times Pounces

In a fairly incoherent editorial yesterday, the Seattle Times slams SPS for their Operations levy. (And takes one swipe at the BEX capital levy.)

They say the district is asking for more in the Operations levy than they say is legal and "jeopardizing a 40-year effort to reduce inequity among schools across the state."

To note, OSPI signed off on Seattle's levies so if there was something illegal, they didn't find it. I am fairly certain that OSPI knows more about it than the Times.

Also, it is the Times that had advocated in another editorial that districts to take a "wait and see" attitude on the McCleary spending plan for a couple of years. Problem is that every district has budgeting folks who actually know how to forecast and nearly every single district in this state will have a shortfall by 2020. No crystal ball needed.

They say about the McCleary spending plan:
The plan is dynamic and can be adjusted to cover districts with extraordinary needs.

And yet the Times blows off the shocking lack of action on the part of the Legislature on fully funding Special Education. Some "dynamic" plan.

I think the central question that the Times ignores is that the State has ignored their paramount duty for decades. And, in the question of "what is basic education", the Times pretends that that issue has been solved.

If nine nurses for 53,000 students is a reality of basic education, then I'm gobsmacked. I'd like to personally ask the Times that question - do you think that is right?

They also ignore that fact that while Seattle and Bellevue can surely ask for more and pass levies, the more rural parts of the state don't even pass levies at lower rates. Is that about being rural or being conservative?

Children end up with unequal educational opportunity based on where they live, and the wealth and generosity of their community.

At least they are partially honest - it does depend on whether a community values education enough to be generous. I grew up in a rural community but it is a choice when considering taxes of what you value.

But they also forget that SPS is not a mirror of the City demographically. Seattle is a lot whiter and wealthier than the district - the stats show it. So SPS is not just serving "wealthy" students - it's serving homeless, low-income, and immigrant students.

Their editorial also begs the question - how come they mightily endorsed the doubling and expansion of the City's Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Plan levy - but now they have a problem with SPS' levies because property taxes are high? 

The SPS levies are renewals (which they were fine with the City's levy).

And, the money collected by the State on Seattle property taxes does NOT all stay in Seattle. So yeah, Seattle's property taxes collected for levies DID go up but it's not all staying in our schools.

So to restate, I am for equity in school funding statewide but you have to be pragmatic about the understanding that big districts have big needs AND some smaller districts have populations that won't pass levies in the name of better public education.

The Times also has a series of questions. (I note that one reader put a few of these in a comment in another thread - without attribution - please always attribute wording and not pass it off as your own.)
  • How much of the operations levy is for basic education, that the state should fund, and how much is for extras that are legal under McCleary?
The Operations levy cannot be used for basic education. So the money the State has granted for "basic education" is being used for that but SPS believes it has a duty to fund beyond that.  So the levy dollars can fund beyond what the State says is basic education.

At last night's levies meeting at John Rogers, head of Budget JoLynn Berge said it was "moral duty." And again, 9 nurses for 53,000 students and 3 social workers for 53,000 as the State funds "basic education" is immoral.
  • If the state’s definition of basic education has flaws, and isn’t covering essentials, why not work to change that definition so every school district and student benefits, not just those in property-rich Seattle?
That would be a question for legislators, not the district. The district does advocate at the State level but honestly, their job is to run a school district, not write state policy.
  • If the district is facing a financial shortfall, why did it approve 10 percent raises last year? Educators must be well-paid, but wouldn’t it have been prudent to provide a smaller raise?
Every district has a duty to answer that question but I think Seattle Schools would say, we want to keep our teachers. The district especially does not want to lose its best teachers who might consider going elsewhere because of the costs of living in Seattle. That said, I think teacher raises throughout the state will be a topic of discussion in coming years.
  • Lawmakers say they’ll fully fund special education this year. Won’t that resolve much of the district’s budget problems?
What legislators say they will do - as they did for decades in promising to get schools fully funded - is different from what happens. The district does not expect to see the $72M extra that it pays for Sped services to be fully funded by the State.

However, parent at last night's Levies meeting did ask what would happen if the State did fully fund Special Education and there were extra dollars. Berge said that they have many items they would like to invest in like a nurse in nearly every school, counselors, ELL and music.

But a Sped teacher did say that they have almost no curriculum and that the transportation issues were of great concern for their students. Berge said that transportation is another area where all districts are having issue and they need state help.

My main concerns for the levies are big and small. The big issue is that I continue to see a lack of transparency on where all the capital dollars go. How can Whitman Middle School have buckets in their halls because the roof leaks and there is money in both BTA III and IV and yet nothing is happening? What does the district consider a true capital emergency?

My small issue is that both Schools First (the group that plans the campaigns for SPS levies) and the district refuse to state how much each levy asks for AND don't admit like the City with their education levy, are asking for a lot more money. I get that the taxing rate is the same but yes, the district is asking for more money. They need to own that.

For the record, the Operations levy is for $815M and BEX is for $1.4B and I support both.


Anonymous said...

Maybe SPS should look into waste and efficiencies improvements before asking for more cash? They sure spend a lot on things unrelated to the classrooms and learning. Those interest payments on JSCEE are a budget killer and what are all those centralized employees really doing day in and day out.

Reading this blog tells me that central administration is bloated and ineffective and the school board still has not reined spending nor established ANY accountability in to the budget process.

Now that we have a new super it means a ramp-up period of 2-3 years before she knows what's going on and don't expect the foxes in JSCEE to point out where to look.

Just Shameful

Anonymous said...

What a joke. Maybe SPS should have thought about this prior to handing out massive raises to the teachers last year.

Fed up

Grouchy Parent said...

You know how they could save some money? By not sneak-adopting Amplify. It's embarrassing that they haven't adopted any new science curricular materials in so many years but they DID shell out a bunch of money for Amplify's science testing. That's messed up. First you spend $$ on teaching the students, then you spend $$ on testing the students. Otherwise what are you testing?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just Shameful, I would like the district to be more transparent with dollars as well. It seems they have no money when they don't want to fund something but magically find dollars when they do. As for:

"those interest payments on JSCEE are a budget killer" - Yes, they are and have been for a long time. However, it is an obligation that they signed for so they have to pay those bonds off. I think that will finish around 2025.

I actually hope that with a new Super, CAO and Finance officer that we will see more transparency.

Fed Up, the money was to fund basic education. The largest part of ANY district's spending is salaries (teachers, nurses, etc). SPS did not give as big raises as other districts. That said, it might have to be reviewed. That's to come but even if the raises at been less, I believe the district would still have a deficit.

Anonymous said...

The joke is the Times and our Legislators declaring Mission Accomplished on McCleary. This post was spot on. The legislature has created a mess by not actually funding basic ed. But legislators like Ruevyn Carlisle are far more interested in spiking the football and smugly declaring some political victory than admitting there is a tremendous amount of unfinished business. They need to roll up their sleeves and take care of it but instead they would rather us deny the emperor has no clothes.

Incoherent is the perfect description of this editorial. It was concerning to read initially with a worry that this piece of muddled propaganda may influence voters. But then I remembered that everyone knows the Times editorial board is a joke and disregards them. And those in the know are aware that the Time's education reporting is paid for by the Gates Foundation and therefore has an agenda to undermine public education systems. I have faith that Seattle voters are going to do the right thing and pass this levy. And then hopefully continue to pressure our legislators to do their job on McCleary.
-Ravenna Mom

Unknown said...

This is typical Seattlite white-liberal stuff. We want equity except when it means we're put at a disadvantage, have to make do with less, have to change our ways, etc. McCleary and the increased state centralization of funding was about making Seattle more equal, or equal, to Shoreline, Lynnwood, Highline, Kent, etc. Now that we're more equal, we hate it and hide behind the word "equity," which has become a meaningless word because it points to need as the driver, and let's face it: when it's need-based, everyone gets really needy.

Equity Warrior said...

Seattle's levy will be used for leverage in Olympia. If Seattle voters approve SPS's levy... some will call for Olympia to lift the levy cap.

Calls for equity will ring hollow if SPS has the capacity to raise more levy funding than other districts.

I also agree that SPS needs to be more transparent and unsustainable raises (10%-20%) are not sustainable.

No Taxes said...

Many people didn’t like the pre McCleary style of education funding. There was a reliance on local levy dollars to cover education costs. The legislature, meanwhile, defined basic education. The legislature did provide funds to deliver what they defined as basic education. So we have the perfect set up for a lawsuit.

The Constitution requires THE STATE to fund basic education. The legislature has defined it. Several years of litigation later, the Supreme Court has agreed that the legislature is now adequately funding the basic education they defined.

I don’t disagree that McCleary and the change in the funding methods (and the restrictions on local districts) will have a negative impact on Seattle. But the remedy is not raising levies in violation of the law. The remedy is to change the system back to one that gives local districts more authority and responsibility over their finances or get the legislature to provide more funds.

An uphill battle? Yes. An impossible battle? Maybe.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I will be right with the "warriors" should SPS try to make this a continuing thing. For now, I think they DO need the money.

No Taxes, yes, quite the dilemma but one more of the Legislature's making than the district's.

And the Legislature did not finish the job. And I saw a video where Carlyle says that they didn't get Sped funding done "because we didn't have the data and now we do." Really? I find that very hard to believe.

Anonymous said...

Basic education, like equity, should be defined before we make any further moves. Without these definitions, we cannot assess whether anyone actually needs more money or not because we have no idea as to whether what they are getting is above "basic" or not. I also think that if the state is going to determine "basic" funding, they also need to set the salary scales state-wide AND set a cap on administration. This will likely have negative implications on Seattle because the COL is so high, at least in the short run, but I suspect is the only way to ensure enough money actually gets through for curriculum, supplies, etc. It makes zero sense (and in fact could end up being highly inequitable) that the state decides how much money each district gets, but then leaves it to each district to negotiate contracts. That's how we added a ton of dollars last year and not a single one actually make it into changing any kid's educational experience.

At the same time, we have wild (to me) funding oddities. Maybe we could make sure kids have paper and pencils before we worrying about kids having 1:1 access to computers to take science class.

NE Parent

No Taxes said...

The legislature defined basic education. There is a statutory and regulatory scheme which lays it out. That was what underlay the McCleary decision. The Court essentially said “look, you’ve defined what a basic education is, the constitution requires you to pay for it.” When they approved the funding formula last spring, the Court agreed that these requirements were met.

Anything defined as “basic Ed” cannot be paid for by local levy. That would violate the Constitution and McCleary.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Taxes, you misunderstand a point I think the district has found.

The State has defined "basic education" and funded it (well, except for the Sped population). For example, 9 nurses for 53,000 is their idea of basic education.

So, in the Operations levy, the district is choosing to fund BEYOND the basic education that the State says and is funding more nurses. The district IS using the McCleary money to fulfill the State definition of basic education.

But they are choosing to go to voters to ask for money to fund beyond "basic education."

Anonymous said...

@ Unknown, how is this a "white-liberal Seattle issue"?

FYI, SPS is not majority white (47%). It's also more racially diverse than Shoreline, one of the districts on your contrast list, which actually IS majority white (54%). SPS also has double-digit percentages in each category for Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Mixed. SPS also has a higher percentage of low income students than Shoreline.


Anonymous said...

Equity does not and must never mean anyone has to make do with less. It means bringing everyone up to the same high standard, making sure everyone has the same ample resources. Too many people are using "equity" as a way to settle scores and pull people back down, like crabs in a bucket.


Melissa Westbrook said...

WS, and until the district and the Board actually define equity re; SPS, then anyone can take it to mean what they want.

The Asia Society:

"Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background, are not obstacles to achieving educational potential (definition of fairness) and that all individuals reach at least a basic minimum level of skills (definition of inclusion)."

The NAACP says this:
"To achieve these goals, the Education Committee of the national board, in concert with education chairs and leaders from across the Association, have settled upon a four-prong strategy to improve educational achievement for disadvantaged students:

Increasing Resource Equity: Target funds to neediest kids
Ensuring College & Career Readiness: A path to success after graduation for all students
Improving Teaching: Growing our own great teachers now in underserved communities
Improving Discipline: Eliminate zero tolerance; keep kids in school* All applied to turnaround schools"

The NAACP also suggests this:

"A major contributing factor to the disparities continues to be the lack of appropriate instructional materials. One effective solution becoming widespread nationally is the use of open educational resources (OER). These materials encompass both print and other media that are generally free and readily available to schools and school districts. In addition, they address a range of subject areas and grade levels as well as educational needs from instruction to assessment. Most important, OER can help school districts in their efforts to close elusive achievement gaps by providing resources that many educational institutions could not otherwise economically afford."

Anonymous said...

More spilled milk, black students perform better with teacher that look like them...from the data I've seen, the test scores from majority black schools with mostly black instructors are no better than the scores from similar schools with majority black students and mostly white teachers. I guess performance is in the eye of the beholder or granter. OR maybe black students are more likely not to disrespect a black teacher so there are less suspensions and that could be the performance improvements they are very loosely coupling to color.

Where do these equity supporters come come up with their data.

*Fairy tells

Melissa Westbrook said...

Fairy Tells, this report is the most recent evidence that kids of color do better with a teacher of color.


SPS did do a big experiment in black education - the African-American Academy. I have heard many reasons it did not work; some were SPS issues but others were issues internal to the school. It's hard to know what to think.

Shiela said...

Also achievement effects:

Previous research suggests that there are academic benefits when students and teachers share the same race/Ethnicity because such teachers can serve as role models, mentors, advocates, or cultural translators. In this paper, we obtain estimates of achievement changes as students are assigned to teachers of different races/ethnicities from grades 3 through 10 utilizing a large administrative data set provided by the Florida Department of Education that follows the universe of test-taking students in Florida public schools from 2001-02 through 2008-09. We find small but significant positive effects when black and white students are assigned to race-congruent teachers in reading (.004 to .005 standard deviations) and for black, white and Asian /Pacific Island students in math (.007 to .041 standard deviations). We also examine the effects of race matching by students' prior performance level, finding that lower-performing black and white students appear to particularly benefit from being assigned to a race-congruent teacher.


Anonymous said...

Yep if Harvard says so then it must be true.

BLah ha

Anonymous said...

@Blah ha

If you had bothered to click through and read even the first page of that paper, you'd have seen it's by one professor at Harvard, one at the University of Arkansas, and one at the University of Colorado, and the study was conducted in Florida. "Harvard" didn't say anything about the issue. I'm sure if you had gone through Amplify you wouldn't have made those oversights.

Haavaad Yaad

Anonymous said...

You act as if only being 33.3333% Harvard and 66.3333% U of A and U of C is a good think.

You need Amplify


Anonymous said...

What is a good think?

Haavaad Yaad

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yikes, if you have nothing constructive to say, then go.

We barely take care of our buildings and some of that is because BEX is now sharing dollars with Technology. 85% of the Technology Department's budget comes from BEX.

I know we all can see and understand the need for technology in learning but Amplify would require a LOT more in the way of hardware and software plus licensing fees. Where's the money for all that?

Former WPD said...

Seattle is pitting Seattle's poor students against poor students throughout the state. There are districts that have higher rates of poverty and diversity.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I do want to remind readers that I have gone on the record as saying I thought the district overreached asking for more money in the Operations budget. I was quite surprised they did that.

But I don't have a problem with them having an Operations levy.

And Former WPD, you do know that much of the new state property tax (to fulfill McCleary) collected in Seattle goes elsewhere? SPS doesn't get all the money that Seattle collects. So some of those "districts that have higher rates of poverty and diversity?" They are getting more dollars.

Unknown said...


Please include the idea of scarcity and zero-sum games into your thinking.

Bringing everyone up to the same level either requires new resources or those with more to get/have less.

Do you believe there is scarcity in school funding, thus creating a zero-sum game, or do you believe there is no scarcity in school funding?

Unknown said...

It's a white liberal issue because white liberals in Seattle seem to think that school funding is an endless stream where the haves can get plus one resources and the have nots can get plus four resources and then everyone will have five resources when in reality, resources are limited, so the haves will get plus zero or minus one resources and the have nots will get plus three resources and everyone will end up with four resources.

Government funding is finite.