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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hire board director who's accountable to you, not beholden to district and union

[Edited Oct. 14 regarding the laws on "mandated dues."]
[Edited Nov. 12 to update FTE based on information provided at the Sept. 28 board meeting.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

What a month. I’ve learned so much in the past 30 days, I need a new brain in which to put it. This old brain of mine feels full. And tired. Public education is a rolling stone run amok. Who can keep up?

This is why we parents and advocates tend to hedge our comments. We never know how things really are, and the minute we figure it out, they change it – without telling us. When we ask for updates, we have to drag it out of them, kicking and screaming through public records requests. And when we get the information, by golly – they change it again.

They do that because a) rolling stones can’t be held accountable, and b) they get to say, “You just don’t get it.” And we don’t. That’s one reason why few parents will discuss education in any depth. They know they don’t get it. Real knowledge is held over our head like a favorite toy, just out of reach. “Jump for it!” But most parents won’t jump for it; we just leave. Since 2002, full-time student enrollment in District 81 dropped by about 3,400 students, even as operating costs grew by about $60 million.

Public records requests are an effective way of clearing up the fog. After I found out that RCW 42.17.130 prohibits using public resources (directly or indirectly) to campaign for an elective candidate or a ballot proposition (such as a bond or levy), I noticed how close the ties were between District 81 and bond/levy advocacy organization Citizens for Spokane Schools (CFSS).
Also from public records requests, I learned this September that Deana Brower, now a school board candidate, was invited into district schools in June to campaign with teachers and staff. On Oct. 12, I learned that she’s allowed to do that. Prohibitions articulated in RCW 42.17.130 don’t apply to private citizens. (District employees and elected officials, however, are prohibited from using district resources to campaign for her.) But here’s what you should know about that.

The prohibitions also don’t apply to unions, which – by a quirk of creative accounting – aren’t considered to be “public.” ** In Spokane, teachers must hand over some of their publicly funded paycheck to the union (or to a selected charity). The teachers’ brief hold on that taxpayer money somehow launders it and turns it into a due. Therefore, the union gets “mandated dues,” not taxpayer dollars. Thus, the union is free from prohibitions on campaigning for candidates, free from public records requests, and free from most of the requirements on transparency and accountability that public agencies must meet. It’s a sweet deal for the union and its political choices.

When the union meets on school property, it also gets a spot in the school that’s free from RCW 42.17.130. And when its candidate steps into that protected spot, by golly, she’s protected too. But candidates can’t just waltz in and be protected; they have to be invited. In Spokane this year, candidates other than Brower were not invited. Brower took district employees up on their invitations to her, gaining the preferential treatment, opportunity to campaign, and face time with district teachers and staff that come with being the union pick.

(This isn’t the end of RCW 42.17.130, however. Some district employees did send out notices of the Brower meetings using district resources. In addition, Brower was invited to other district meetings to which the other candidates weren’t invited and that aren’t covered by union protection. And then, of course, there’s the whole question of the district’s 2009 bond/levy campaign.)

It does appear that Brower – union choice, progressive choice, and seeming district golden girl – was willing to sacrifice credibility as the taxpayer’s representative by campaigning at school meetings, attending school functions like “Doughnuts with Deana,” and accepting invitations to myriad district meetings and gatherings, all the while knowing that other candidates weren’t offered those opportunities. Is that really the board director we want? Brower says she’s proud of her union and district connections.

Hmm. Proud enough to tell the public about meeting with district administration while she was co-chair of CFSS? I’ve pointedly asked Brower four times if she ever worked with the district on bonds and levies. The first time, in September, she answered only the other question I asked. The second time, she wrote that she’d stepped down from a leadership position with CFSS. The third time, she didn’t answer. On Tuesday, at a Neighborhood Council meeting, I asked a fourth time. Brower said:

“I am very proud to have been the speaker’s bureau (unintelligible). Just a couple of years back when we passed our last levy and bond, and I spoke to this area’s neighborhood council as the chair person of the speakers bureau of Citizens for Spokane Schools. And that’s work that I’m proud to have done. And I think demonstrates our commitment to our schools and to the strength of our schools in Spokane, and it demonstrates the commitment that I will continue to have during the course of this six-year term (unintelligible).”This still isn’t an answer to a very simple question. In addition, the timing of this “stepping down” from that CFSS leadership position is in question. Throughout the campaign, various sources (including the CFSS Web site, media, and the Progressive Voters Guide) listed Brower as a CFSS chair or co-chair. At the district’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting last Monday, however, Brower told parents she stepped down from CFSS leadership when the campaign “began,” which would have been in June. This doesn’t bode well for transparency and accountability from a Board Director Brower.

Brower has repeatedly said – without hesitation or explanation – that District 81 needs more money. I haven’t seen it proved – or even defended well. The district appears to waste a lot of money. Last June, I asked Brower how much money would be enough for District 81. She said:

“I do not know the figures to fully fund mandated programs without sacrificing other programs. I think we are so used to looking at what we can get by without, because we are looking at cuts here and there. If we were to come at this saying in a dream world where there are no cuts, how much money would that take? I can’t even answer that at this point because I am so wrapped up in what we are going to cut that it is hard to open up and look at it.”Note Brower’s constant use of the word “we.” It’s one reason I asked for that July 12 public records request from the district, using her name as a search term.

Asked on Monday at the CAC meeting if they would vote for the levy, the two District 81 board candidates had answers that were diametrically opposed.
  • Sally Fullmer said she would want to know what the money was to be used for, whether it was necessary, and whether it would be used for administrative raises (as last year’s levy was).
  • Deana Brower promptly said that of course she would vote for the levy.
What’s the takeaway here? Records requests often are depressing to read, yet enlightening. Deana Brower is the union pick, and, it appears, the district pick and perhaps a Bob Douthitt pick. Brower has said she doesn’t know how much money is enough for the district, but she knows the district needs more. She also has said the district needs effective teachers. (As if we don’t have them now.) She sounds just like the superintendent.

If you want to elect an administrator as a board director, I think Brower’s your girl. So far, however, that strategy hasn’t worked out well for teachers or the children. It’s worked out very well for the union, the administration, certain board directors and Brower.

But if you want a real board director in Spokane Public Schools, one who intends to work for accountability and transparency for you, please vote for Sally Fullmer. Give her a chance to advocate for your children, grandchildren, and for you.

** This sentence was edited Oct. 14. Initially, I said "state law" says the dues are mandated -- I read the information too quickly. It actually appears that this is part of collective bargaining. Therefore, if Spokane teachers want to be free of mandated dues, they'll have to convince their local union leaders. Good luck with that. - LR


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (October 2011). "Hire board director who's accountable to you, not beholden to district and union." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:


Bruce Price said...

This quote from article is best summation of the past century in education: "We never know how things really are, and the minute we figure it out, they change it -– without telling us."
If you study just reading, you'll find 6+ names for the same hoax (look-say, sight words, etc.)
This past year I'd finally been focusing on how confused and useless most discussions about education turn out to be. The top educators have created a swamp of sophistry, and they want the public to swim in it.

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