Fiscal Conservatism and the Bee

Three school districts in Kitsap County have decided to opt out of the Scripps National Spelling Bee because of a $99 fee per school that was added this year. (Full disclosure: Scripps owns the Kitsap Sun.) In CK the district closed two schools this last year because of funding issues and couldn’t see justifying the additional expense.

“When we noticed there was a fee, there was some concern, especially right now with the budget concerns we have,” said Melanie Reeder, spokesman for district, which had to close two elementary schools this year because of declining enrollment. “It became an issue, because some schools wanted to participate, but they didn’t want to spend the money.”

South Kitsap and Bremerton also opted out. There are some questions raised about the educational value of the contest, but the fee at least played a role in all three districts’ decision.

Kids can still get in by competing with the home-schoolers or by paying a family fee.

Most of the comments after the story are critical of the districts, so far. This could fall in a “priorities of government” discussion.

I agree with the comment that there is more to doing well at these things than rote memorization, but the question over whether it’s a valuable use of instruction time is legitimate.

For me personally, I just got back from vacation where the movie Akeelah and the Bee played a background role in our travels. We went to Southern California and on many of our drives my kids were watching the film on the vehicle’s DVD player. I’ve heard the movie more than I’ve seen it. Even though I make a living with words, I come away from the film (and the documentary Spellbound) with a greater appreciation for how the knowledge required to do well at the bee would be beneficial.

It’s worth noting that in the movie the kids got most of their spelling training away from the classroom.

For the record, I was in a school spelling bee in fourth grade and went out in the second round, failing to spell “acquaint” correctly.

10 thoughts on “Fiscal Conservatism and the Bee

  1. Once again I wish the district administration had notified parents before making such a decision. As PTA President for Naval Avenue Early Learning Center, I would have been more than happy to bring the $99 fee for our schools participation to the attention of our members. This would have been something we would have easily discussed and voted on to fund since we have money designated for just this sort of thing in our annual budget.

    Colleen Smidt
    Naval Avenue PTA

  2. Bogus, considering districts at all levels spend a small fortune on sports, other extracurricular activites, and promotions! Sounds like someone is using the $99 fee as an excuse.

    CK is a great district, but this situation is a fiasco.

  3. Bogus? Why? Fiasco? Why?

    In SKSD, the decision came before the board, discussion ensued, and reasonable minds made a reasonable decision in the interest of best use of instructional time.

    By the way, sports aren’t played during instructional time. They are after school activities that are voluntary. Furthermore, ASB funds cover the vast majority of sports costs.

    Any student in any of these districts can participate in the spelling bee. It is just not being done at school, during instructional time.

    What a great opportunity for families to support an after school activity!

    Kathryn Simpson

  4. I suppose the thing that amazes me is that I didn’t hear anyone say “we’re not going to pay this fee” ahead of time so that a parent or group of parents could pay it out of their own pockets. Our kids participate in the bees and all of their practice time is at home, not at school, aside from their normal spelling lessons. We drive to activities spelling words, we eat dinner spelling words, we spell our conversations during quality time, we even spell in our prayers sometimes… laughs… it seems insane some times, but better than video games I suppose…


  5. Monte,

    You can still do all those activities as a family. It just won’t be done at school, during instructional time.

    We take our kids to their soccer games, piano lessons, ballet, drivers ed… Now we can take them to participate in spelling bees on family time, instead of during school time.

    By the way, the spelling bee decision was made by SKSD on October 17th. Two months ago.

    Kathryn Simpson

  6. Monty that is pretty cool ! Spelling your prayers !

    I am a Pentecostal , that could be a real hoot !!!!

    Too bad about this , I think spelling bees are a good way to encourgage spelling correctly . The kids get into it , and as you stated families join in a make it not only educational , but a family affair . Perhaps Kathyrn next year those reasonable minds will be open to reconsidering .

    Sounds like something the schools should be supporting .

  7. Dear Kathryn,

    In response to Chris Henry’s report on the “Bee”, essentially you wrote that Washington State is being sued to fulfill its constitutional duty “to make ample funding for basic education”.


    Washington state’s constitutional duty is “to make ample provision for the education of all children…”

    Please, please, please, get it straight. It’s about education, not merely “basic education”.

    From my perspective, everytime we limit the discussion to “basic education” or “ample funding”, the constitutional benchmarks of “paramount duty”, “ample provision” and “all children” are shortchanged.

    Please, please, please stop misleading the people, voters and taxpayers


  8. Anonymous,

    I said, “Are you aware that in February of last year, SKSD joined a coalition of school districts from across the state that are suing the State of Washington for failing to provide for it’s constitutional mandate of ‘ample funding for basic education’?”

    You are correct that the State Constitution says, “to make ample provision for the education of all children…”. My apologies for misquoting.

    That being said, while I understand your point and agree with most of it, I disagree with you on the the State being responsible for all of public education this state. The first Doran decision focused the State’s responsibilities to basic education. So does the “Basic Education Act of 1977” and the subsequent second Doran decision, and most State education legislation that followed. Local levy funds are to support the enhancements.

    For more information, NEWS has a great explanation here:

    Certainly arguments can (and in some cases should) be made about what constitutes basic education. Some of us think fine arts should be part of that equation, for example. In recent years, technology has become a “basics” question. Is it necessary for basic education or an enhancement? I tend to think it is necessary to basic education in this day and age. What defines “basic education” is the crux of the funding issue. If it is part of basic education, the State has the funding responsibility. If it crosses the currently very grey line into “enhancements”, then it becomes the responsibility of local communities.

    As for misleading the people, voters, and taxpayers, I make mistakes from time to time (as I did with the quote, not taking the time to look it up to get it exact). When I make a mistake, I try to make it right. Making a mistake and “misleading” are miles apart in the realm of the discussion.

    Anyone who knows my passion for public education knows that I don’t make a habit of misleading anyone. I attempt to be knowledgeable about the issues and provide passionate and informed fuel toward solutions. Sometimes I need to be tweaked or corrected, but never is it my intent to mislead anyone.

    Again, my apologies for the mistake.

    Kathryn Simpson

  9. I attended the meeting in which the SKSD school board decided to stop funding the spelling bee. There was no notice given in the newspaper that such a decision was being considered. No one from the press was there to report on the question. No community members were encouraged to come and voice their concerns over losing the spelling bee.

    Kathryn, you repeatedly voiced that you felt that the Port Commissioners robbed you of just such chances to voice your concerns over a tax increase. Why did you not offer those same opportunities by taking out an ad, or advertising in another way, that this decision was being made that night?

    People should have had a right to have offered to pay for the spelling bee, like Colleen indicated her organization would have done. People should have had the chance to argue on behalf of the bee.

    There wasn’t even that much conversation/discussion about the issue. I got the impression that the board had made up its mind that they didn’t like the spelling bees based on the numbers of kids who are disappointed when they don’t win. I didn’t see much discussion on the cost or the distraction from “instructional time.”

    If you want to know what robs our kids of instructional time, look at the overuse of videos (cartoons, movies, etc.) in our classrooms, especially the junior high schools.

  10. Mary,

    While I don’t agree with your analysis of the discussion, I don’t recall your speaking up about it either way. Apparently it wasn’t a major concern to you at the time?

    You are grasping at straws to compare this to the Port of Bremerton imposing a $30 million dollar tax on property owners without hardly a whisper.

    Can you spell “specious”?

    Kathryn Simpson

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