Category Archives: Education

Sheldon goes after teachers, Democrats go after Sheldon for skipping work

In competing press releases sent out on Tuesday Tim Sheldon takes teachers to task for missing work for a strike and for not using a strike day to come to Olympia. Washington State Democrats say that’s Sheldon operating under a “Do as I say, not as I do,” program, citing his absences from county meetings.

We had a story on the hearing.

The dueling press releases follow:

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Legislators say Supreme Court should be a party affair

courtcoverThere is enough Supreme Court aversion to go around, even to the state version of the highest court in the land.

Sometime before Christmas, among the multitudes of greeting cards I received was the one you see here on the left. You probably have to click on each image to see them clearly.

My favorite part is at the end of the inside part of the courtinsidecard. “This card is a parody and not actually from Chief Justice Roberts.” It’s a good thing that disclaimer is there, because Roberts could sue and eventually appeal the case all the way to himself.

The message of this card is that the U.S. Supreme Court is secretive and accountable to no one. State lawmakers have a different complaint about the state nine, and they say partisanship is the answer.

The bill is unlikely to get a hearing, according to other news reports and one local legislator. It sends a message, nonetheless. House Bill 1051, sponsored by state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, and co-sponsored by 15 Republicans and three Democrats, begins with this subtle epistle:

The legislature finds that because the supreme court has decided to act like the legislature and has thus violated the separation of powers, the supreme court should be considered partisan like the legislature.

Why the dig? Because the state Supreme Court has not only ruled that the state is not meeting its paramount constitutional duty in adequately funding education, the court has a bucket of solutions it can choose from should the Legislature’s response to that ruling be deemed inadequate.

Two local legislators, Democrat Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo and Republican Jesse Young of Gig Harbor, are among the co-sponsors.

Young did not respond to requests for comment. Appleton responded to an email saying she believes the bill will not even get a hearing. Asked why why she is backing it, she replied that she isn’t. “It was just a message to make people aware there are three branches of government, and we don’t make constitutional rulings, and they should not tell us how to write budgets.”

Asked what the court should be allowed to do in its role as a check against the state government’s two other branches, Appleton said the court’s job is to determine the constitutionality of laws. “We have a job to do, and they are part of the solution, but not doing the legislature’s business by telling us how to write a budget.  We know full well what we have to do, and we will do it, in spite of the Supreme Court, not because of it.”

Among the solutions the court has discussed should the Legislature fail to meet the court’s definition of “adequate” education funding is one that would void the budget completely, undoing all tax loopholes. It seems unlikely the court would resort to that option first, but should it employ anything there are legislators who believe it would be out of its bounds.

Hugh Spitzer, a constitutional law professor at the University of Washington, said any constitutional revenge by the Legislature would require near unanimity of the lawmaking body, which doesn’t seem likely. More within reach is legislators stalling state law fixes requested by the courts.

Legislators have threatened the court financially in the past, but that seems unlikely, too. Punishing the courts financially “punishes the public if the public doesn’t have access to the courts,” Spitzer said. Furthermore, in a pinch the Supreme court could order funding from the state. It never has, but it could.

Washington would not be the only state with partisan judges and it wouldn’t be the first time the state had such a setup.

According to Judgepedia, seven states elect Supreme Court justices in partisan elections. In two states the justices are nominated in party primaries or conventions and other states involve the parties in lower court assignments.

Spitzer said Washington judges were elected in partisan elections until 1907. Partisanship came back came back a few years later when Republicans were upset that a Democrat had been elected in a non-partisan election. GOP legislators managed to put two more seats on the bench, got two of their own elected and then made the judge races non-partisan again.

Maybe this Legislature ought to consider doing that. If they did it during presidential election years, when all our televisions are affixed to Fox News and MSNBC, we might not notice. The newspapers would cover it, but who reads those anymore?


A conversation about the ‘app generation’

Did you ever wonder how life will be different for your children because they never lived in a world without apps? There may be good reason to wonder.

The conversation that follows is one with Katie Davis, assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Information School. She is also co-author of the book, The App Generation, which discusses the challenges and benefits for a generation that is so plugged in.

This conversation was for the story in Sunday’s edition. The audio isn’t great, but her parts are clear enough that I think you’ll come away better educated on the implications of so much technology.

Linking teacher pay to legislator pay to boost science instruction and overall teacher pay – updated

A bill that would link elementary school science teacher pay to what Washington legislators earn got a Tweet from the News Tribune’s Jordan Schrader and a short mention in Crosscut, but nothing more. Why? One reason is because there is no way the bill will pass, and the bill’s author acknowledges as much.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, introduced House Bill 2655, “Setting the salaries for members of the legislature,” on Jan. 23. The bill would require the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials to set legislator pay at the same level as the “average elementary school science teacher.”

Right away, there is one problem with the language of the bill. Technically there is no such thing as an “elementary school science teacher.” Patty Glaser, Bremerton School District spokeswoman, said elementary school teachers certify as generalists. There is another issue that Central Kitsap School District spokesman David Beil pointed out, that because of declining enrollment the district hasn’t been hiring any teachers in any discipline.

All that aside, Seaquist introduced the bill to make a point. He said there has been an impetus to “start kids sooner in science.” So he is looking at, for example, a Central Washington University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education, but then a master’s degree in something like biology, as a good fit in an elementary school. “We want to go in the direction of highly qualified technical teachers, bringing real science to schools,” he said. “We all know we want to go there.”

One problem, he said, is the pay the state and local districts offer teachers.

The average pay for a fresh-out-of college teacher with just a bachelor’s degree is $34,188, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Add that master’s degree and the average starting pay jumps to $41,716. That’s not far from what legislators receive, $42,106 for what is technically a part-time job. But Seaquist points out that a legislator who lives more than 35 miles away from the capitol is also entitled to a $90 day per diem to handle living-away-from-home expenses.

Seaquist makes the additional point that even the near $42,000 starting teachers with master’s degree make does not compare with what they would make in the private sector. I used an automated salary calculator on to come up with an estimate that a brand new research scientist would be paid $55,000 annually right out of college. That same program estimated the pay would be around $80,000 after five years.

When I first talked to Seaquist he was clear his bill wouldn’t pass, but that it would get a hearing. And that’s what he wants most, for legislators to be compelled to talk about teachers’ salaries.

“What I’m trying to do is add to the weight of the argument that we have to be fully funding our schools, as the court says,” Seaquist said. “I’m really concerned that the Legislature is not standing up to fully respond to the court’s order.”

That order comes from the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which declared that the state was not fully funding education as it was constitutionally required to do. The court gave the Legislature until 2018 to reach full funding and in mid-January determined that the Legislature’s first attempt to get there in 2013 was too small a step.

Seaquist would not limit the pay discussion to science teachers, but did so in this bill to illustrate how people with skills that are in high demand are underpaid in Washington schools. “I’m using the example of these high-demand, much-in-need teachers to point out that all of our teachers are underpaid,” he said.

UPDATE: Seaquist wrote to say he has asked the committee chairman to not schedule a hearing on the bill. He said he was mindful of the “rapidly growing workload” of the committee and asked it to be pulled.

Nonetheless, there are still two points he would make, and I’ll quote, “… a) our teachers are underpaid and b) we are having a hard time recruiting elementary school teachers with subject matter expertise, especially in the science and math areas. Although the school district gave you the technical answer “we don’t have elementary science teachers” the fact is that we are rapidly moving to STEM education in our elementary schools and these hands-on, research Master’s degree teachers are very valuable. I visited last summer at CWU’s ed school where they are developing new approaches to developing these teachers.”

So while the current reality is that elementary school teachers are generalists, Seaquist believes there will be a call for more elementary school teachers with a science background of some kind. This bill was designed to get legislators discussing that, even if he never expected it to pass.

And to answer one question, this is not the first time I’ve seen a legislator propose a bill knowing full well it would not pass. Talking about things is some of what legislators are paid to do. A bill can be akin to an idea in a brainstorming session, something that doesn’t get accepted on its face, but can be the spark for the ultimate solution.

McCleary responses range from compliant to defiant

You might have read the AP story about legislative pushback coming from both sides of the aisle on the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner has a bill that would shrink the court from nine members to five. Part of it is a response to what he sees as judicial overreach, but he also said it would save money.

During AP’s Legislative Preview earlier in January I wondered if state Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was chafing at the McCleary decision follow-up when he said, “If money were the key to education we’d all long for our kids to be in the Washington, DC schools.” If we were not in the midst of a period in which the court had demanded the Legislature spend more on schools, it would be just another political statement. Coming at this time, however, it seemed like it might be more than partisan posturing.

Jim Hargrove, a Democratic state senator, is also on the record saying he sees “separation-of-power problems” with the court’s approach.

Doug Cloud, who was one of the Republican candidates to replace Jan Angel in the House, said he sees problems with the court’s actions.

If legislators, almost all of whom say they will allocate more money to education regardless, decide to challenge the court’s authority, it could mark a precedential moment in Washington history.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing spending $200 million more from this budget on education, including $74 million that would give teachers a 1.3 percent raise. It would be the first cost-of-living raise since 2008, despite the fact that voters approved annual COLAs in 2000. The governor also cited not just the decision, but the court’s statement that the Legislature was not moving fast enough to get to full funding by 2018.

The governor’s press release follows:
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GET good to go, says Seaquist

It’s a bad year all around for the state’s guaranteed tuition savings program, as Thursday’s story points out. But state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, thinks he has the votes on moves that would save the program for the long term.

The first piece of bad news is high college tuition has elevated the price for college units parents can buy now to save for their children’s future college education cost. The second is that some with a philosophical problem with the Guaranteed Education Tuition program generally have greater power this legislative session and would love o see the program killed.

Seaquist, speaking by phone from Olympia following a committee hearing that spent 75 minutes discussing the program, thinks the philosophical challenges come for two reasons. Some are questioning whether the program pencils. The second reason comes because there are “some people who question, ‘Is this something the government ought to be doing?'”

On the first question Seaquist said he thinks what he heard Thursday should quiet any notion that program is financially troubled. As an earlier story pointed out, the program has liabilities $631 million greater than assets. The Legislature would have to come up with that money only if every person enrolled in GET decided to go to college now. That means everyone from high schoolers on down to babies.

Jim McIntire, state treasurer, said actuarial models reveal a well funded program. It’s not 100 percent, where the state would like to be. But being at 100 percent is rare, he said.

The state actuary estimates there is only a 0.6 percent chance the state would have to pay out of the general fund to cover liabilities in the GET program. This brings up an important point. The state administers the program, but it’s funded by people participating.

McIntire said the fixes needed for the program have already been put in place. The threats, other than a Legislature and governor agreeing that the program should be discontinued, are ongoing tuition hikes and implementation of a differential tuition program.

Seaquist has a proposal to get higher education funding back to a 50/50 split between tuition and state contribution. He also wants to kill off differential tuition, which would allow colleges to charge more for classes that cost more. For example, a chemistry class might cost more than a journalism class. GET investment rates are based on the cost to attend the most expensive state university in the state, either UW or WSU. If the universities started charging more for different classes, the effect would be “catastrophic” to GET, McIntire said.

So Seaquist has a bill to kill off differential tuition. Instead, he favors financial incentives outside of tuition rates for students taking classes in fields the state would like to see filled. He said Thursday he thinks he has the votes. He’s not promising, but he is optimistic.

“If we do the basic job of no tuition increase and we cancel the differential tuition feature, we’ve got a solid program,” Seaquist said. “So to me the GET controversy is over.”

Heads Up: On the Agenda

Brynn Grimley writes:

Can’t believe Christmas has already passed, now we’ve got New Year’s to look forward before heading back to the daily grind.

There’s really not much planned for this week, in fact the only notice for a meeting we received was from the North Kitsap School Board.

Here’s the details of that meeting:

Wednesday, Dec. 29, 5 to 8 p.m.: The North Kitsap School District Board will meet in a study session to review impacts to the 2010-2011 budget due to recent action by the Washington State Legislature. The meeting will be held at the North Kitsap School District Student Support Center, 18360 Caldart Avenue NE, Poulsbo. No action will be taken. The public is welcome to attend this study session. No public comment will be taken.

Board Members to Forever Hold Their Peace?

Over on the Kitsap Education blog Marietta Nelson raises questions about the North Kitsap School District’s discussion of policy it’s considering.

A proposed item in the policy states, “The board speaks with one voice.” There’s more that, as Nelson puts it, “gives pause,” but the main argument made by one board member argues is that item would quiet dissent once the board as a whole makes an agreement. The logic can be phrased as, “Sure, you disagreed with the decision, but now that you lost please make sure you work with the rest of us to see that program works well.”

Would Congress adopt a policy like that?

Several members of Congress voted against the Iraq War (not technically) and then said they wanted the war to be successful. Some continued to call for immediate withdrawal. Nothing besides the impact it would have in the next election prohibited any member of Congress from speaking freely, even after the fact.

It seems to me, and the headline of this post was inspired by a comment made by Bob Meadows, that after the board makes a decision, time passes and circumstances change. This policy could have the chilling effect of not making it easy for the board to overturn a policy it once regarded as favorable, but upon further reflection wouldn’t seem to work. Under this policy, the argument goes, there would be no further reflection.

Is that advisable for a group of publicly elected officials?

Look In on Our Discussion With Bremerton School Board Candidates

On Tuesday, our editorial board hosted Bremerton school board candidates. We shot video of the event to let you look into the discussions.

Here is the discussion with Bremerton School Board Position 1 candidates Christianne Martin, J. David Rubie, Scott Rahm and Cynthia Large:

Here is our discussion with Bremerton School Board Position 4 candidates Cynthia Triplett Galloway, Bruce Woolnough and David Boynton Position 5 candidates Ken Watkins, Ruben R. Garcia Jr. and Carolynn Perkins. (Note: Position 4 candidates are scheduled to meet with the board on Thursday.)

One Way a Special Session Might Affect You

I received a helpful bit of context to provide to this conversation by listening to KIRO’s Dori Monson Thursday afternoon. Did you know that on Mercer Island they had a school fundraiser breakfast of rolls, fruit and coffee that raised $423,000 for Mercer Island schools? I don’t think this is the first time the $400,000 level has been topped, because someone, a Republican, on the House floor brought it up over the weekend.

If you wonder why this should matter, here’s the reason you might give an ounce of care about the Legislature’s proposed special session.

All school districts will see budget cuts from the state. Mercer Island’s even was meant to offset the near $2 million hole that district will see. Monson offered an opportunity to debate whether the district’s ability to raise that much money is proper, though he was all for it. One listener e-mailed that it demonstrated the inequity in school funding.

Republicans made the same case over the weekend. They were the ones arguing about the impact the Legislature was going to have on schools from less wealthy areas. It was Republicans who were calling for equalization, which some in the same party might refer to “income redistribution,” because equalization money is designed to get more money to places where money is less apparent. As someone who doesn’t get to Olympia as often as those who are there full time, it showed me that many times on a local level the traditional stereotypes don’t apply.

And I’ve written this before, that Democrats weren’t thrilled with the deal. It was a compromise, and much of the criticism was made without naming a Democratic senator, but clearly was aimed at him. He was the one, many argue, who comes from an extremely wealthy area, who fought the hardest to get levy equalization killed completely.

Instead he wanted more money for what voters approved, funding for class-size reduction and teachers’ salaries. That’s certainly in the best interest of educators in his district, because it costs more to live in his district than in the ones represented by a lot of those Republicans. So it’s not as if his argument was completely without morality. Nonetheless, one Republican legislator claimed there was a bake sale for education in his district that raised $400,000. This was before the Mercer Island thing, but I couldn’t find any reference to the earlier event. Mercer’s event, and Dori Monson’s mentioning of it while I was out driving, were well timed for my purposes.

Should there be a special session and the necessary language to match the state’s operating budget is passed, it could mean The Central Kitsap School District loses $1.1 million in levy equalization money over two years. Meanwhile, Bremerton could see their property taxes rise quicker than would have been allowed.

That is true if documents being sent among legislators during the debate are correct. I still haven’t figured out where the Excel spread sheet comes from. I’m on it.
Bremerton would lose $267,816 in equalization money, but could see a return of $1,257,302 in the same period. That would happen because in the same bill the Legislature has increased the percentage the district can get from local levies compared to state funds.

South Kitsap stands to lose about $600,000.

So who benefits the most from that? Besides Bremerton?

Locally, it’s Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap.

Those districts’ taxpayers authorized a levy amount the districts only ended up being able to collect part of, because school districts are only allowed to charge locals a certain percentage (In most cases it’s 24) of the total budget. The legislation the Legislature would pass would raise it by 4 percentage points, except in cases where districts are already getting more than 31 percent (They were grandfathered in when the 24 percent cap was installed.

What that could mean in Bremerton is that taxpayers could see their school portion of their property taxes go up 8 percent instead of 5 percent.

So, kids in your district could see less funding, or you might pay higher property taxes.

I’m not sure how much yet. I’m on it.

Olympic College State Budget Protest

Chris Henry is working on a wrote the story about the House and Senate education budgets, which contain a stark difference in how Olympic College would be funded. Wednesday there was a protest at Oly’s Bremerton campus. Here’s a video of the event.

This year the protests in Olympia, save the Tea Party event, have almost all been about the cuts. State Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said those against cuts have been on the capitol campus every day since the session began.

Washingtonians Like Statewide School Bonds

The Associated Press has a story about Gov. Chris Gregoire’s favorable opinion about sending out a bond for a statewide vote.

Gregoire said discussions of a possible bond package are still preliminary, and she didn’t say what type of taxes might pay for those kinds of bonds. But she signaled a strong interest in taxpayer-backed debt to finance technology and environmental upgrades in the K-12 system.

Such projects would create needed jobs and boost consumer spending while making schools more energy-efficient and improving the quality of public education, she said.

“We’ve got to have a 21st-century education system coming out of this recession,” Gregoire said. “That’s the way in which our kids, and we as a state, are going to be able to compete.”

The Secretary of State’s office followed with evidence that such measures have done well in Washington in the past.

If my search, using the link the secretary provides on the blog, is correct, out of nine bonds submitted to voters in Whashingon’s Washington’s system, eight were approved.

Bremerton Group Touts University Center

The group known as Bremerton’s Economic Roundtable, made up of Bremerton notables, sent a letter to Kitsap’s nine legislators extolling the value (Download PDF) of a university center at Olympic College. This would basically establish OC as a place for locals to get four-year degrees through extension programs and the like. It’s cheaper than establishing UW Bremerton, which right now is probably a good selling point.

This leads me to believe that this is the key paragraph of the whole letter:

And Furthermore on the State Budget

One person I called yesterday for Friday’s state budget story was Olympic College President David Mitchell. He sent me a note saying he’d respond when he saw what the budget meant for Olympic specifically. He called back today.

Like others, the 6 percent cut in the budget did not surprise him. If anything, the surprise was pleasant. “We were bracing for much higher,” he said. Community and technical colleges made out better than the big colleges.

That, Mitchell said, was a reflection that community and technical colleges train people to get to the work that is available. “In hastening economic recovery, our mission is workforce development, getting people back to work. I think that message was really heard.”

The college has been preparing for the cuts by not rehiring where there are vacant positions. Mitchell also said the college will look at programs and make more cuts strategically, not across the board. The emphasis will be on saving programs that are in high demand and making cuts where enrollment is low.

And the school probably won’t need to cut enrollment. Those enrolled, however, will pay 5 percent more for tuition if the budget goes through as planned.

Higher Ed in Kitsap in Governor’s Good Graces

In Olympia Kitsap-based legislators reacted quickly to Andrew Binion’s story about Gov. Chris Gregoire’s response on higher ed to a Bremerton city councilman.

In the letter, dated Feb. 27, Gregoire said her budget request did not include the money partly because of a plan to build a branch campus of the University of Washington in Snohomish County.

“Significantly expanding higher education into other areas of the state at the same time would unwisely stretch the resources of both operating and capital budgets,” Gregoire said in the letter, which was signed in ink and included the handwritten note: “Let’s visit this issue in 2009!”

Several legislators penned a letter to Gregoire trying to clear up any connection between the $212,000 Kitsap effort and the billion-dollar effort to get a UW branch campus in Snohomish county.

“We fear that there was an assumption that we were setting a course for a branch campus for our area and that is not the case.”

The letter clarified that the Kitsap effort is designed meet employers and students’ needs, establishing a “university center” concept. This year’s money would continue a study already begun locally.

The governor responded that she was willing to support the concept.

Legislators were thrilled when they got the letter. Now it’s a question of whether House leaders will acquiesce to the request, since it didn’t make that chamber’s budget.

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.