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Monday, October 31, 2011

Vote for those whose allegiance is to the people

By Laurie H. Rogers


Thank you to all community members who worked so hard this campaign season to inform the public about local political races. You helped fill a huge gap in your community, and your efforts are deeply appreciated by citizens who care about the truth.

A fundamental difference between political candidates is found in their language. Candidates’ use of pronouns tells voters nearly everything we need to know about their alliances, allegiances, priorities, and likely future decision-making. When they use the pronoun “we,” are they referring to “We, the Establishment” – or to “We, the People”? When they talk about “our" money, are they referring to government budgets – or to private dollars? When they want things for “us,” is it for the government bureaucracy – or is it for us, the citizens?

In the case of the Spokane school board race, the language of candidate Deana Brower warns of a tight bond between her and the district/union leadership. Her use of the words “we,” “our” and “us” continually evokes “We" the district, we the union, we the establishment, we the power-brokers, we the ones who know what’s best. It’s rare that Brower publicly questions anything the district does. Meanwhile, our children and teachers are being suffocated by district decisions and by an administrative elitism that shunts aside the public’s questions, concerns and needs.

When board candidate Sally Fullmer uses pronouns, however, she evokes “We," the parents, teachers, children, taxpayers, voters and community members. She naturally speaks of “Our" taxpayer dollars, our children, and our community. Through her, we hear that the government works for the people, that the system should be accountable to the people, and that absolute government transparency is necessary to a free country. My questions for voters are these:
  • Do we like how things are being done now in our public school system?
  • Do we think our children are being properly educated in our public system?
  • Do we think public-school teachers have sufficient freedom to do what they need to do in their classrooms?
  • With a public-school budget in Spokane that has exploded by $210 million (for operating expenses, capital projects and debt service) since 2002, and an administration that keeps telling us the budget has been cut, do we think our tax dollars are being spent wisely?
If your answers to these questions are “yes,” then you might vote for an establishment choice. But if you’re frustrated that more than half of the children are failing basic math tests, that most high school graduates are testing into remedial math in college, that almost half fail or withdraw from those remedial classes, that many of our middle and high-school students drop out of school -- without even the skills they need to fill out a job application – if you’re a teacher who is tired of being micromanaged and then blamed by the district – if you’re tired of your tax dollars going to fund administrative raises rather than instructional staff – you probably will vote for change.

In Spokane, if voters want the school district to be accountable and transparent to its publics, I think we must vote for Sally Fullmer as the next school board director. Spokane citizens are beginning to sense how little real administrative accountability or transparency there currently is in Spokane Public Schools.

On Sept. 28, I filed a formal complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission regarding activities by Spokane Public Schools with respect to a) school board candidate Deana Brower and b) the 2009 bond and levy “campaign.” Curious to know how Brower and Fullmer would handle such a situation if they were elected to the board, I asked them about it at the Oct. 25 Northeast Community Center candidate forum. Their answers were illuminating.

Question: Project into the future. You’ve been elected as a board director, and you’re facing a situation similar to the one that we’re facing in Spokane today. The school district has violated state law by distributing campaign information for a candidate for public office, invited that candidate to attend district meetings to which no other candidate was invited, and used district resources to promote a ballot proposition. How would you hold the district accountable for violations of state law?

Deana Brower said: "I realize you’re speaking of a very specific situation that has been asked at previous forums. Some of your question addresses, that you’ve suggested (sic) is in violation of policy. In fact, it’s not. Some of it is before the PDC. Your complaint has been registered, and the PDC has not responded that, in fact, any wrongdoing has taken place. It’s being investigated.

"Flash forward. I’m on the school board. I believe that our educators, because our union, Spokane Public Schools is the second largest employer in the city of Washington – excuse me – in the City of Spokane. Our union are our employees, those are our teachers, our support staff, our custodians, our cafeteria workers. They are our employees. They have protected time in their day to conduct union business. It’s within their rights, in their contract. And so some of what you allege is wrongdoing took place during that time. And so, as a school board member, I certainly will honor and respect the negotiated contracts – the contract that’s negotiated between our administration and our employees – I find that, I will respect that fully.

"In terms of wrongdoing, should there be wrongdoing found, those individuals should be held accountable, absolutely. There should be a review of what happened and clarification of policies moving forward so that there is, we don’t, policies are not being violated. I don’t think anyone should be exempt from taking responsibility for their actions. I fully support having those be, (transparent?), being held accountable for their behaviors."

Sally Fullmer said: "In the newspaper on Saturday (Oct. 22), there was an article that says the union broke the law with the KIDS Newspaper ad. ... What happened was, there was an ad written for three candidates, including Deana Brower, that was sent home in every elementary child’s backpack in a magazine called KIDS. If I was on the board, first of all, I would stop the practice of sending this magazine home to kids altogether because it’s just full of ads, and I’m not sure that we should be sending any ads home with our kids.

"And then the district claimed that they hadn’t done any oversight of what goes home in that magazine in the past, and they’re committed to have oversight from now on. And that’s important, but they should have had that oversight before now. They shouldn’t be sending anything home in the kids’ backpacks that they don’t know what it is, or what the content of that is. So it’s very important that – we’re asking our kids to be honest and transparent and open – that the district holds to that standard, too. So I would call definitely for an investigation, and the people that have broken the law have got to be held accountable.

"I also would want to stop the practice of – and I understand that this is negotiated by our district with the unions– for them (the unions) to be coming in during school hours and bringing candidates in. I don’t think that needs to be taking place during the school day."

Also at the Oct. 25 forum, Fullmer and Brower discussed academics in Spokane Public Schools, specifically mathematics outcomes. This is what they said:

Sally Fullmer said: “One of the areas that I think we really need to make a difference in is math. I mentioned the scores before. I’ve been talking to business owners who say it’s hard to find employees that can do just some of the basic math skills they need or write in complete sentences. I’ve talked to business professors, college professors who say kids coming into the colleges lack the skills they need to do college-level work.

"And so, we need to make sure that the $12,000 per student we’re spending in the schools is being used to give them the basic tools they need to be successful. We need to teach them how to do math, not just how to use a calculator. We need to make sure they can write in complete sentences. They shouldn’t be just socially promoted through the system, because it does you no good to graduate if you don’t have the skills to move forward in life. So, I think those are things that need to be made a priority for the school board."

Deana Brower said: "In response to the math comment, we do have tremendous work ahead of us, and I’m very proud of the work that is being done. Just recently, this week, there’s been an announcement that Bemiss Elementary School received an academic achievement award for this last, most recent school year. Garfield Elementary, Logan (Elementary) and Whitman (Elementary), all received academic achievement awards for the previous year for math and/or English, some combination thereof. We have fabulous strides being made. Rogers High School, under the direction of (the principal) – they’re doing – with their school improvement grant – they’re making tremendous strides in improvements for the quality of work that the students are being expected to do and that they are producing.

"And so, we know, we do have our analyses, our test scores. The number that keeps coming up about the 10th-grade math scores – our district was right in line – within a half a percentage point of what was happening statewide. So, to look at that as a reflection of failure on our students, our teachers, or our district, I think is a little bit out of context. I think we have to step back, take a look at the broader picture at what’s happening statewide in education, and be proactive as a district in making positive strides for improvement."


That’s how these two candidates answered to the people on matters of legality and academics. (Please do click on the links I provided for the schools Brower cited as having won awards. See how they're doing.) Which candidate appears to speak for the people? To me, Deana Brower sounds just like the superintendent - excusing failure, blaming others and asking for more money. Her use of "we" consistently refers to the district and not to the People.

Our children desperately need arithmetic and grammar, and we the people need public accountability and absolute transparency. Our elections MUST be fair, honorable, ethical, and lawful. We seriously need a change in school district leadership.

Please vote for Sally Fullmer, and please ask your friends and neighbors to do it, too. For more on Sally Fullmer, see her campaign Web site: http://www.seewhatsallysays.com/



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (October 2011). "Vote for those whose allegiance is to the people." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com /

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Newspapers neglect critical information about PDC issues

[Edited Oct. 27 to add a comment about the difference between union support for Brower and individual support for Fullmer.]


By Laurie H. Rogers

On Oct. 24, a Spokesman-Review reporter called me to talk about education. Over five years of education advocacy, this was the second phone call I've received from a SR reporter.

The first call came Oct. 13, after I submitted a Letter to the Editor about the formal complaint I filed Sept. 28 with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). This PDC complaint concerns Spokane Public Schools and school board candidate Deana Brower. Reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner called me to ask for a copy of the complaint.

On Monday, Lawrence-Turner called again as I was driving home with my daughter and a student I’m tutoring. Before I talked with Lawrence-Turner, I confirmed that we were having a conversation that was NOT on the record. Having confirmed that, I talked with her about various education-related topics.

This is the article that showed up in the paper today (Oct. 25): http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/oct/25/caign-limit-trend-shifts-to-smaller-races

If Lawrence-Turner wonders why I asked if our conversation was off the record, all she needs to do is look at her articles. Gee, do you think The Spokesman-Review and Lawrence-Turner want Brower to win the school board election? I offered my entire blog to Lawrence-Turner, the information in it, and the links to district emails – and this is what she wrote. It looks to me like yet another slanted article with unsupported insinuations regarding school board candidate Sally Fullmer and a local community member, and with an accompanying free pass for opponent Brower.

As a ("self-described") education advocate, I find the newspaper's public-relations pieces for Brower and the school district to be annoying and unhelpful. As a former newspaper journalist, I’m embarrassed for the state of print journalism. As an American citizen, however, I find it disturbing. Three local elections are at stake. Where our elections go, so goes a free America. This is a point I made repeatedly to Lawrence-Turner.

The SR articles lack respectable coverage of what Brower and Fullmer stand for. They lack a solid explanation of RCW 42.17.130, of how it applies to the school district, and of what it means to the people that the district appears to have violated that law in more than one way. They lack any mention of the district’s activities with respect to the 2009 bond and levy “campaign.” They fail to delve into reports to the PDC regarding union and district support for three local candidates. They fail to clearly explain possible consequences to those races because of district activities.

Before Lawrence-Turner's deadline, I gave her one quotation by email, which she declined to use: "Free and fair elections are the basis of a free America, and I'll stand up for that principle any and every day."

All that Lawrence-Turner and self-described newspaper The Spokesman-Review appear inclined to talk about with respect to board candidate Sally Fullmer are 1) Sally’s involvement with the Jefferson Elementary School move and 2) Sally's campaign donations from Duane Alton. Brower was involved in the Jefferson issue, too, seeming in district emails to stand on the same side as the school district. They decline to add to Brower's union support the vast practical and financial assistance she has received from union activities on her behalf since before the campaign began, including campaign training, a ready email network, sign waving activities, and these two $1,000 per page advertisements in the KIDS Newspaper.

The SR and Lawrence-Turner continually repeat Brower’s talking point about receiving just $800 from the union, as if that’s all there has been. Meanwhile, they insinuate without proof of any kind that Fullmer and Alton share philosophy on bonds and levies. Fullmer addressed her contributions from Alton at the Oct. 17 "Face Off at Ferris":
“I will be an independent voice, not beholden to anyone. If it weren’t for individual citizens helping me get my message out, I wouldn’t have a voice, because the traditional methods that the school uses to contract people using school emails, to contact teachers using school resources, are not available to me. I was not invited to come into the schools to meet with teachers as Deana was. Also, these people have chosen to donate to my campaign because they believe in my message, and they want to help me get it out, and have not asked for anything in return. Although I do know that they are really big on transparency, as I am, and I think the majority of people want to know where the money is going, and what’s happening with that in the school district.”[Added Oct. 27] A big difference between the union's support for Brower and Alton's support for Fullmer is that board directors won't be voting on bargaining agreements with Alton. And board directors don't have to worry about Alton using public resources to campaign for elective candidates or ballot propositions. And Alton didn't violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement by sending out campaign ads to schoolchildren -- in contravention of RCW 42.17.130.

Regardless of what happens now -- Brower and two other local candidates will benefit from the district’s acknowledged and seemingly unlawful distribution of two campaign advertisements in issues of the KIDS Newspaper. The district distributed these publications to elementary schools and to elementary school children across the city. It had them available for community members in school offices and in the downtown district office. Only after a community member and I queried the district, did the district acknowledge that its activity with respect to the KIDS Newspaper was in contravention of RCW 42.17.130. The district's acknowledgement of wrongdoing was confirmed in emails to me and that community member.

Lawrence-Turner and the SR knew about the district's distribution of KIDS, but wrote instead that the union (which is not a public agency) broke the law. They didn't write that this activity also appears to violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (see page 9).

The Oct. 25 SR article finally mentions the PDC complaint I filed, but spent about half of its space talking about the size of contributions to Sally Fullmer. What impression of the issues do you suppose the paper and district want you to have? Imagine for a moment how Lawrence-Turner and the SR might have reported on these issues had Sally Fullmer received the SR's endorsement instead of Brower.

Gretchen McDevitt, former District 81 teacher/counselor, and her husband Jim McDevitt, wrote today about the district's distribution of the KIDS Newspaper in a joint email to colleagues: "Such campaigning is clearly in violation of State law, which the District now acknowledges. Those of us that worked in the District for years and are retired, were truly stunned that this type of activity is occurring."

I have loved newspapers since I was a girl. My undergraduate degree emphasizes print journalism, and I worked for newspapers as a reporter, editor and columnist. I’m sad to see their general decline, but they have brought it on themselves. No newspaper can cover everything, and there will always be complaints. But our print media have gotten so far away from the mission of providing unbiased information, they’re often painful to read. Any time We, the People face Power-with-No-Accountability, it seems we wind up with self-interest trumping the public interest. That isn’t a political problem; it’s the nature of people. It’s why absolute transparency and accountability are critical to maintaining the people’s interest.

The SR endorsed Deana Brower. Its education coverage typically is friendly to her and to the district. On Oct. 13, the SR and Lawrence-Turner received my Letter to the Editor regarding my PDC complaint -- nearly a week before ballots were mailed. And this is their pitiful response, published nearly a week after the ballots were mailed, and without my Letter.

The Inlander also received information on the PDC complaint Sept. 29, and my letter on Oct. 13. To the best of my knowledge, it, too, has declined to mention these issues. Below, for your general fund of knowledge, is a copy of my Oct. 13 letter.

I guess all of this is job security for me. Unfortunately, I don’t get paid to do this job, and it’s a job I’d rather weren’t necessary. I’d like to go back to the life I used to have. But somebody’s got to do it. As an education advocate in Spokane, I will continue to advocate for the children, academics, accountability, transparency, and – now – for the law.

Please stay tuned. There is more to say about the issues surrounding the PDC complaint and how this district runs itself. Meanwhile, as you fill out your ballot, please reject the way business is done in Spokane. This year, please elect people who are there for YOU, the parent, teacher, taxpayer and voter. Please elect Sally Fullmer as the next school board director. Stand up for academics, accountability, transparency, the law, our community and our children.

****


Laurie Rogers’s Oct. 13 Letter to the Editor, sent Oct. 13 to the SR and The Inlander:

Election coverage fails to mention that a Public Disclosure Commission complaint was filed Sept. 28 regarding Spokane Public Schools administrators, superintendent, board directors and school board candidate Deana Brower.

The PDC complaint concerns RCW 42.17.130, which prohibits the use of public agencies, facilities, or resources to campaign, directly or indirectly, for a candidate for elective office (such as a board candidate) or promote a ballot proposition (such as bonds and levies).

Public records from District 81 indicate that Brower was invited into schools to speak to employees about her candidacy, and that her appearances were promoted using district emails.

Public records appear to indicate that district employees used district resources to promote the 2009 bond and levy, setting a minimum number of presentations for principals, sending home pamphlets with students, asking staff to mention the initiatives before drama and concert performances, asking teachers to wave signs and hand out leaflets, asking parents to write letters to the editor, and making presentations to organizations and media throughout the city.

Public records indicate that the superintendent and administrators planned to meet with Brower, co-chair of the bond/levy advocacy group Citizens for Spokane Schools, to talk about strategy for an upcoming levy.

***


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (October 2011). "Newspapers neglect critical information about PDC issues." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/  

Friday, October 21, 2011

District distributes campaign material to students and community

By Laurie H. Rogers


Dear Spokane Community:

I’m writing to give you information that the local newspapers have so far declined to give you.

As you vote this week, understand that we need to get arithmetic and grammar back in our schools. We taxpayers need accountability and absolute transparency for the $500 million that will be spent in Spokane Public Schools this year. We desperately need administrators who respect teachers as professionals, children as individuals, and parents as allies. We need school board directors who see themselves as accountable to the people, not as allies of the superintendent.

As you vote, take a moment to feel sympathy and sadness for the children and their teachers, all of whom are bludgeoned daily with a clunky, inefficient, ineffective system – forced on them by administrators who aren’t accountable to you. Understand that the children want to learn and the teachers want to teach, and that the main thing standing in their way is administration. Understand that instructional positions are being cut so that the district can fund administrative interests.

The union leadership, local newspaper, and various administrators and others in leadership have indicated that they want Deana Brower to be the new Spokane school board director. It comes as no surprise when you know how close are the ties, connections and personal and business interests of all of these people. But who is looking out for the children and the teachers? District administrators often say, “It’s all for the kids,” when the truth is closer to, “It’s all for us, on the backs of the kids.”

Deana Brower's positions clearly align with the positions of district administration and union leadership. Forgive me for saying it so bluntly, but the district and union leadership seem more concerned with their own interests and with stroking like-minded political and business allies, than with supporting the best interests of students or teachers. Classroom teachers soon will be assessed based on an unproved “value-added model,” when they know they don’t have the classroom freedom they need to properly add that value. How fair is that? Who is fighting for the teachers on that?

As you vote, understand that this district needs a serious and dramatic change in its leadership – across the board and top down.

The newspapers haven’t told you much about these issues. Instead, they'd have you believe that math is hard, that everything is fine, and that if it isn’t fine, the children probably have dyscalculia.

Local newspapers were given notice of the formal Public Disclosure Commission complaint I filed Sept. 28, which expresses concerns over possible school district violations of election law. Why did they choose to not tell you about this formal complaint BEFORE you received your ballot?

I filed a formal complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission regarding Spokane Public Schools and school board candidate Deana Brower. The PDC complaint concerns RCW 42.17.130, which prohibits public agencies from using public resources to campaign, directly or indirectly, for a candidate for elective office (such as a board candidate) or to promote a ballot proposition (such as bonds and levies).

Most people don’t realize that school districts are prohibited from using taxpayer dollars to campaign for elective candidates or for bonds and levies. Public records from District 81 indicate that:
These matters are separate, yet connected, and they show a pattern of district behavior. At serious risk is a basic principle of a free America – the people’s vote.

As mentioned, in September and again in October, the district distributed the KIDS Newspaper to at least 34 elementary schools in Spokane Public Schools, as well as to several other area school districts. According to KIDS – supposedly a nonprofit venture – 30,000 copies are distributed with every issue. Spokane Public Schools distributes KIDS throughout the school year, but in September and October, the editions for Spokane each contained a full-page article written by Jenny Rose, president of the Spokane Education Association (the teachers union). Those articles cited SEA endorsements for three candidates for political campaigns, including Brower.

The district used public resources to stuff this newspaper into the children's backpacks to take home to parents and extended family members. Copies were left out in each school for parents, which is how I got copies of it, and also were provided to the public at the downtown district office, which is how a community member got a copy. The district said nothing about any of this until the community member called to ask if sending out the newspaper with the endorsements was permissible under Washington State law.

In response to this question, the district contacted the Public Disclosure Commission. District Community Relations Director Terren Roloff issued an email to the community member and to me stating that the district will prepare a statement for an upcoming issue and that, in the future, it will not send out endorsements of specific candidates.

The Oct. 22 issue of The Spokesman-Review (SR) said that the union broke the law, that everyone failed to "think about it," that everyone is sorry and that everyone promises to not do it again. There was no other voice in the article. To the best of my knowledge, the SR - which endorsed Deana Brower - still hasn't informed the public about the PDC complaint.

These responses are ... words fail me ... insufficient. Whatever the district does about its distribution of the KIDS Newspaper from this day forward, it will not be able to withdraw its implied endorsements of three candidates for public office. It's too late for a retraction or any other action that might attempt to reverse what the district has done. How does any independent candidate overcome this kind of free assistance? The three candidates NOT in those newspapers were not endorsed by the union and their viewpoints were NOT distributed by the school district.

I believe that Spokane Public Schools, in twice sending out materials that endorsed specific candidates, might have critically influenced three elective races. It’s personally offensive to me. Honorable people with our Armed Forces - including my husband - have shed blood for the Republic and for principles that are at risk here. I do not accept this pitiful response from the district.

Please stay tuned. There’s more to tell you about the people who run Spokane Public Schools, and about the elected board directors whose job it is to be accountable to taxpayers and voters. These are your 500 million tax dollars they’re spending for operating expenses, capital projects and debt servicing, and these are your children they’re supposed to be educating. Your children deserve to have a good education, we deserve to have the truth, and we must be able to participate in free and unbiased elections.

As you vote this week, please ponder these issues, and consider our desperate need for academics, accountability and transparency in this district, for adherence by all to the laws of this Republic ... and for real consequences for their failure to do any of these things.

And then, to Spokane voters: Please vote for Sally Fullmer for the District 81 school board.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (October 2011). "District distributes campaign material to students and community." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Your choice is Accountability with Fullmer --- or more of the same with Brower

By Laurie H. Rogers


Do you think the school district is being run well? Do you want it to remain as is? When a board candidate says "we" -- should that refer to "we, the people," or "we, the district leadership"? Your answers to these questions will bear on how you'll vote this week for the District 81 school director position. I hope a majority of voters clearly sees that serious change is needed and that the candidate who will work for that change is Sally Fullmer. Her commitment to the voters was apparent beyond a shadow of a doubt last night in Spokane at "Face Off at Ferris."

The Leadership Class at Ferris High School has much to be proud of today. That class again gave city residents a good look at how journalism could be done in Spokane. The first half of the "Face Off" dealt with the school director race, and the questions chosen by the Leadership Class were relevant, hard-hitting, and fair. I said - and I heard people around me saying - "Those are great questions!" If we had print reporters in this town asking similar questions, we might actually get somewhere.

Well done, folks. I'm immensely proud of all of you.

Immediately below is a table indicating the topics of last night's questions, and whether the candidate's answers appeared to me to align with the district and/or union leadership's positions. If you doubt my interpretation of the candidates' comments, following the table is a transcript of the school director portion of "Face Off" - minus the candidates' opening and closing statements.

Candidate's Comments Align with the Interests, Positions or Plans of the District Leadership and/or Union Leadership?

Comments align with district/union Comments align with district/union
Brower
Fullmer
1. Where is the district money going?
yes
2. How is mathematics being taught?
yes
3. What is the state/federal role in education?
yes
4. Why were no Spokane schools graded as exemplary?
yes
5. What is your top priority?
yes
6. Explain your approach to transparency.
yes
7. Is Sally Fullmer a one-issue candidate?
yes
8. What do you think about the Tacoma teacher strike?
yes
9. Do you support assessing teachers on other than seniority?
yes
10. How will you assure taxpayers you answer to them?
yes
11. What's your view of federal mandates?
yes
12. What's your view of "green" schools?
yes
13. Do you think the superintendent is paid too much?
yes
14. Why do private schools cost less and achieve more?
yes
15. Who benefits from unions?
yes


Transcript of questions asked of school-director candidates at the Oct. 17, 2011, "Face Off at Ferris"

Question 1: Spokane Public Schools is spending more than it ever has, and yet, since the year 2000, the number of students has decreased by nearly 3,000. If the money is not going to the students, where is it going?

Sally Fullmer: That is an excellent question, and that’s one of the things I think needs to be looked into. No administrator is left behind when it comes to pay in the Spokane Public Schools. We have 110 administrators who make more than $100,000. These are people that are not directly teaching the children. So I think we need fewer administrators. We need to look at what they’re doing and if that’s necessary. Our teachers are professionals; they don’t need to be micromanaged by instructional coaches. We also don’t need to be paying our superintendent more than the governor. The administrator salaries would be a good place to start. We need to spend the money as close to the classroom as possible so that the money is going to education of the students. The money per student is around $12,000 per student; that’s if you don’t include capital projects and debt service. I think we need to demand results for the money we’re putting into the public schools.

Deana Brower: I agree we need to have high expectations and look for results for our students. The cost structures in education are very interesting right now. I think we have to look at where the money goes, education, certainly goes towards teacher salaries and books and things of that nature. But we also have buildings to maintain, heat and light, and these expenses have gone up significantly in the last couple years. I know I’m paying more for gasoline and food in my family’s budget and I know the school district is doing the same. This topic has come up and I wanted to get some concrete numbers. One of the areas I find interesting is insurance. In 2005, our district paid on average per employee, paid about $650 per employee. And it’s gone up to $1,100, almost double.

Question 2: Is it true that District 81’s math program fails to adequately prepare a majority of students for college-level math? An example of this is that 98% of the Running Start students must take remedial math at the college level. What is the problem, and what specifically would you do to alleviate this math crisis?

Deana Brower: I think math is an interesting topic and one that we – our district is taking a very close look at. I was fortunate enough to attend a math summit late last spring where the math curriculum was discussed in great detail, and I was encouraged by what I was hearing. There is a call, definitely an interest in a return to procedural proficiency, and I appreciate that as a parent and as a volunteer in our school district. But then I also heard that we need balance, we need good solid practice in our math classes, we need application that gives students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in more abstract situations. So I appreciated that. What you have shared, goes against a little bit of some data my opponent and I received (at the) Citizens Advisory Committee last Monday, a week ago. We have some information to share. Those numbers for community college students going into math were much lower. So I would like to know where those numbers are coming from. We saw with our dropout rate not long ago that there was some discrepancy between how things were calculated. I’d like to know how they were calculated so that we can make sure we’re directing the proper services where they need to go, and not giving them to a number that’s more, maybe, “inflated or exaggerated.” All that aside, we need solid curriculum, we need our students to be college and career ready, and I feel that we’re moving in that direction. I’m very pleased with the direction we’re going.

Sally Fullmer: I think we need some major changes in our math program. It’s very important for people to understand statistics, and how studies are done, and how statistics can be used to say whatever a person wants to have them say. Right now, our board has refused to put a better math curriculum in place, especially in junior high. They started to put it in place in the high schools, and yet they’re micromanaging the teachers and not allowing them to teach from the book. Our kids have got to be taught the basics in math and given the tools with which to move forward in math. So, basics in arithmetic, then they can be given the problem solving and taught the concepts. This has become a big issue for all of you parents who have ever tried to help your kids with their math homework or have been shocked when your kids go to college after getting As in honors classes and have to go take remedial classes that you have to pay for. To me, this is a very core issue that must be addressed immediately. We can’t wait.

Question 3: Do you believe state and federal government has too much input in our schools? Critics say we should reduce the role of government and return control of our schools to our elected school boards. What do you say?

Sally Fullmer: I believe it is certainly moving in the wrong direction. Our governor and state superintendent of public instruction, as well as our state legislature, have already signed us over to national core curriculum, standards, where basically the federal government will have more control. Corporations will get in on the act. Pearson Corporation and others [couldn’t hear] a curriculum to the whole country. We need to retain local control so that our elected officials can choose from a variety of curriculum and choices, and not have one mandated by the federal government to rule them all – one way that things have to be done, because I think choice is what is best. It is part of our state duty to fund education, and so I believe the state has a definite role in that, but I think anything the federal government takes over and becomes a monopoly – creates more problems than it solves. I did not want to see us move in that direction. However, our school board has already set aside $500,000 for the nationalized math curriculum, and that is going to cost about 4 times that amount – even though they haven’t seen it yet and don’t know totally what’s in it. Instead of fixing it now and putting the books into place that will help the kids now, they’re waiting for this curriculum. That’s not great if you’re one of those kids that’s losing this year of math instruction.

Deana Brower: Because my opponent brought up [can’t hear] in that example, I would like to point out that my son Joshua in 7th grade uses Holt Math textbooks. I’ve yet to see him use a calculator. He may have lost it for all I know. But our kids use a solid math curriculum. The curriculum that my opponent referred to – the common core – our district has – these are not coming down from the federal government. These are programs that as a school board, as a school district you can opt into. Forty states nationally have opted into this curriculum, and I think that at times there, it can be very beneficial in the world of education to not recreate the wheel, but rather come together, combine resources and put together a solid program from which everyone can benefit. We see all too often kids going out-of-state to colleges, and it’s very nice to see children competing nationally.

Question 4: The state board of education recently graded all of the schools in the state. Not one Spokane public school received the highest ranking of exemplary. What are some of the reasons for this, and what would you do to fix it?

Deana Brower: I think we’re doing a lot of things really well in our district, but we still have much more [can’t hear]. And I can say that with [six?] years of experience working on our Middle School Advisory Committee. I think that’s a great example where a group of folks were brought together to say, “All right. We have a problem. We have concerns over our dropout. How are we going to solve those issues?” Well, Priority Spokane came together and met, and said let’s look at .. They did a study. They said, “You can immediately identify - very quickly identify - your at-risk students while they’re in junior high.” And they listed the factors. So, as a school district, we can get right on those factors. And we’re in that process of momentum and change right now. It’s a very exciting time. It’s a time that I’m excited to be involved in our schools. We‘ve got great programs in place like the ICan program in middle schools, and programs like Avid in science, uh academy. All sorts of great programs to help our students achieve opportunities for themselves. We have more students here in Spokane going off to four-year colleges than the state-wide average. We know the direction that we’re headed, and we need to look at the programs that are working well, and support them, and encourage those programs [can’t hear].

Sally Fullmer: If you’re going to solve a problem or look at an issue, the first thing is to be willing to admit that there is a problem. That is something I think sometimes our district has trouble doing. They’re very good at public relations, and that’s great, putting the best foot forward, and that’s important. But you also have to be willing to look at where you do have problems, figure out the best methods, [can’t hear], and then have the courage to implement that, rather than just trying to cover them up. So, it goes back to making sure we have strong curriculum. We already have great teachers, but many of them are being micromanaged by the administrators - the instructional coaches - who are telling them how they want things to be taught and when they want things to be taught. We need to give our teachers the freedom to teach.

Question 5: If you could implement one school reform within existing resources by reprioritizing funds and staff time, what would you push for?

Sally Fullmer: I’m going to go back to the math again because I think math is the new reading. To get a good job in many fields, you have to understand your math. We need to have kids be ready. I’ve been talking to business owners who say, "I can’t find employees that can make change or handle customers – or the basic things in math." We have industries that can’t find the employee base they need in Spokane because the kids don’t have the level of math they need. This is not the kids’ fault. This has not been offered to them. And I don’t blame the teachers, because they had to work with great constraints with the curriculum and constant experimentation. Teacher-directed learning to get the basic tools is where it starts [can’t hear]. So I would change the math curriculum and let the teachers loose to teach.

Deana Brower: I would be very interested in seeing a continuation of our improvement in our graduation rate. I think we need to make sure that every student who graduates from any of our schools are college and career ready for a path of success when they leave our schools. And it doesn’t just come from the math. Math is important. I agree, wholeheartedly. But we have a spectrum of subject areas that we teach to and that we’re dedicated to, and we need to make sure we’re meeting all the students. Direct instruction works very well for many students, but for some students, they need alternative programs. We need to make sure that their needs are being met and that we are taking them through their educational experience with what their opportunities [can’t hear] their potential. I’d like to see programs that have had great success be encouraged and grown [can’t hear].

Question 6: Would you support putting the detailed budget and union contract agreements online for everyone to see, and is it true that people have to file a public disclosure petition to get full details of Spokane School board meeting minutes?

Deana Brower: I absolutely support full disclosure. I think it’s a contract agreement between elected officials and the public. I think a good example of that is that I worked very hard just three years ago on our last bond and levy election. I was the speaker’s bureau chair, and I was out in the community asking for money for this very remodel at Ferris High School, levy funds to pay for that music program that you heard as you came in. We worked very hard for that. I went out in the public and asked for support for these programs. Therefore, I am a steward of that [can’t hear], and I look forward to being a good steward of those dollars on the school board. In terms of requesting public records, I would be all for having records more easily accessible. Absolutely. I think there are times in contract negotiations where there are issues of sensitivity and I think we have to respect that. We’re dealing with the second largest employer in the City Spokane, and there can be very difficult contract negotiations from time to time in discussions. I have to trust that those who have gone before me know - were giving guidance on that. But I absolutely agree with full disclosure on school board meetings.

Sally Fullmer: As I said in my opening, that’s one of the things I really want to see improve: full disclosure. I recently wanted to look more at the budget. The 185-page budget is available online, but this 40-page document that has [explanatory figures] that you can’t get without putting in a public records request. So I had to put a public records request to get that. And then to get the code for that, you have to go to some other Web site. I’ll go to read the minutes of the meetings – Quite often, they’ll talk about we’re going to change this policy or that policy, and just have a number, and then you are left to go find that policy. Quite often, you can’t find that anywhere without filing another records request. So, we definitely need to improve on that. Transparency when we’re asking the public for money is crucial. If we’re going to say, collect levy money from people, then we need to know where that’s going [can’t hear].

Question 7: (To Sally Fullmer) Some people think you are a one-issue candidate, concerned with the location of Jefferson school. True or false, and if not, please explain.

Sally Fullmer: False. I’m not a one-issue candidate. I think I’ve made that clear from my opening. You can go to my Web site http://www.seewhatsallysays.com/ and read a lot about all of the issues I’m concerned about. It is true that I don’t want Jefferson School to be moved. And I am a member of an organization that filed a lawsuit to hold the district accountable for what they put on their bonds and levies. On the 2009 bond, they said they were going to modernize four schools, and Jefferson was one of them. And instead, they decided to move the school six blocks away onto Lewis & Clark High School athletic fields. The court will simply clarify whether they can actually use that money to move something and build new buildings instead of modernize it. Everyone is excited about a new Jefferson – either a remodel or a new building – It’s a question of, was it transparency in the bond to use that language. So that is my involvement in that. Because of that involvement, I’ve also found what it’s like to go before the school board when you’re on the other side of an issue. You get a little bit different reception than when you have the same viewpoint as the board does. That is why I’m so keen on respect for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. The board is elected officials, so when the people come to talk to you, they should be respected. We have this problem in our city council – we need people to be respected when they come down to speak to elected officials. So that’s a thing that I would really like to see improve.

Deana Brower: As far as I know, my opponent has not been involved in our schools in a voluntary capacity beyond our neighborhood school and the discussion of this move. If you look at the effort to make broad progress in our schools, you see individuals who put themselves out to volunteer on committees, and work with our educators and our parents to bring improvement to our schools. I haven’t seen this. I’ve seen a candidate come forth out of anger, with one particular situation, and I don’t think that that’s broad enough for the leadership we need of our entire school district. I also find, when you talk about transparency, that we have one individual funding my opponent with $3,850. I think that’s very, very significant in this race. So in terms of independence and transparency, we have to take that into consideration.

Question 8: Recently, teachers in Tacoma went on strike, defying state law and a judge’s order to return to work. Documents now show it was part of a larger plan by the teachers union. Did the WEA want to send a painful message to parents and lawmakers? Do you see the same thing happening in Spokane? And if so, what would be your reaction?

Deana Brower: I don’t know what WEA – I’m not privy to their discussions, but what I do know is that I have the endorsement of our education association. I’m very proud of that. I have a good working relationship with our educators in Spokane. I’m very proud of that. I also have a good working relationship with administrators, and former superintendents and former school board members. And what that allows us to do in situations, unlike Tacoma … in most school districts across America, the breakdown happens between management and labor. That’s where the lockout happens. That’s where the problems arise. When you have school board members who have good working relationships, and strong collaborative, problem-solving history with our educators and our administrators and our parent community, I think that allows those situations to be worked out long before they turn into the situation like we saw in Tacoma. I’m very, very proud of the working relationships that I’ve established, and I look forward to bringing that to our school board, and I think we need those relationships now more than ever.

Sally Fullmer: I have a hard time with people who have a great-paying job, paid for by the public, who refuse to go to work and do their job. They need to work out their problems some other way. I’m opposed to public employees striking. So that’s where I am with that.
As far as the other volunteering in the public schools – Deana’s only been here for six years and was in California previous to that. So she doesn’t realize what I’ve been doing since 1999 – volunteering in the classrooms with my kids, being involved in the music programs at LC, in the sports programs. I was involved [can’t hear] and working in the classrooms there also. So that’s just a lack of information on her part.
I also would like to talk about support and endorsements. I’m pleased to have many private citizens endorsing me, and some of them have given large sums of money to counteract and allow me to get my message out, because I don’t have the backing of the union and their money and all of the other ways that they support Deana, which I’ll talk about later.

Question 9: Would you support strengthening District 81’s ability to retain or place teachers based on criteria rather than seniority?

Sally Fullmer: Yes, I would. I think it’s really important that we have the best teachers that we can for our students. I think teachers are professionals, and we need to make sure that when we hire teachers, that they’re trained and ready to go. I know though, that as you teach and gain experience, you improve, and you learn more about what works and what doesn’t work. And teachers are supportive of each other and helping them that way. So we can’t always tell when we hire someone. So there has to be a process in place. [Can’t hear]. It is very difficult to let go of a teacher who’s not being successful in the classroom. There needs to be additional ways to work on that issue. I wish the unions would come along and say “Hey, we recognize that this is a problem and we want to work on that.” I don’t see that. [Can’t hear] We have to step up and say, “We demand something different now."
(I'll also talk about how) other than money, the union also supports Deana and also the administrators. For one thing, they have brought her into the public schools to speak to teachers during the school day about her candidacy. They have also done a lot of funding through small contributions through individuals and then you don’t have to say who they’re from. So that doesn’t show as a large contribution. There is this newspaper called Kids that’s sent home in every elementary child’s backpack across the city. In September and October, the union put an article in there. It’s actually an ad endorsing Deana and several other Democratic candidates. So to me, that’s the kind of support you can’t pay for. What would that cost be?

Deana Brower: I’ve been an educator for 12 years in the classroom. I taught high school, social studies for 8 years and middle school, social studies and English for four years. I know firsthand the challenges of teaching a classroom, particularly when budgets are in flux like we see right now. We have teachers who are coming on to the job with some of the largest class sizes that we’ve seen in many, many years, and with resources diminishing right before their very eyes. When they were student teaching, they’re coming into their classrooms the first year with conditions unlike anything that they’ve ever seen before. We need to provide support for our education professionals so that they can do the best job that they can. In terms of hiring and retaining, I think we need to support our educators and make sure we’ve got the best teachers working in our district that we can provide our students.

Question 10: (For Deana Brower) You have been endorsed by the teachers unions, received union campaign contributions, and attended union candidate schools. If elected, how will the voters know that you will act in the interests of the community and not the proxy of the unions?

Deana Brower: I’m glad to be able to address that. I’d love to address the financial question. $800. Two $400 checks from the education association, representing 3,000 members, that’s about $.25 per employee. I don’t feel I owe anybody anything for $.25 per person, not that I could be bought that easily anyway. I’ve been criticized for having the support of the education association, and I’m criticized for having the support of the administration. Again, that’s labor, that’s management. If I can work with those two groups successfully, I feel that that is a winning combination for our students in Spokane. My greatest loyalty is to my children and to their generation, and to the legacy of education here in Spokane. That’s where my priorities will be as a school board director. I think that’s significantly different than taking a chunk of money -- Most campaigns you cannot take that kind of money from one candidate. There are campaign contribution limits in most campaigns. $3,850 from one individual who is on record as voting against our levies time and time again is significant in terms of [can’t hear] what would be represented on the school board, and that’s not the voice that I would bring.

Sally Fullmer: Like I said in my opening, I will be an independent voice, not beholden to anyone. If it weren’t for individual citizens helping me get my message out, I wouldn’t have a voice, because the traditional methods that the school uses to contract people using school emails, to contact teachers using school resources, are not available to me. I was not invited to come into the schools to meet with teachers as Deana was. Also, these people have chosen to donate to my campaign because they believe in my message, and they want to help me get it out, and have not asked for anything in return. Although I do know that they are really big on transparency, as I am, and I think the majority of people want to know where the money is going, and what’s happening with that in the school district.

Question 11: School administrators have asserted that local tax dollars are going to Washington, DC, but they’re only getting a fraction of those dollars back. Meanwhile, many federal mandates are unfunded. As a school board member, what would you do to change that?

Sally Fullmer: First of all, I think right now we do have local control over many things, so it is our board’s choice to chase after those federal dollars. They did not have to apply for Race to the Top or any federal grant. We need to look at those monies, and say, “What do you have to do to get that money? Will that benefit our students? Is that going to improve their education? Or is that going to take us down another rabbit trail, and leave us with things we have to do and pay for after the federal money runs out?” When I’ve gone to board meetings, I sometimes felt like all they’re about is where can we get more money? How much money would ever be enough? When are we going to concentrate on making sure we’re getting the best education for the money that we have available to us? So, we do not have to follow the federal mandates. You can challenge federal mandates. School districts across the country are doing that. They’re not accepting that money. They’re not being controlled by that. It usually is a very miniscule amount, that asks you to do a lot more than what we’re getting for that money. So I would challenge that involvement.

Deana Brower: We have to make sure that our mandates are funded. First and foremost. And we have to make sure that the state is honoring its paramount duty in making sure education is a top priority. And that includes fully funding state programs as well. We have had some interesting state financing as of recently. Education finance is very interesting, insofar as, the state kicks the money into school districts that have lower-income rates than other parts of the state. Say, compare Spokane to Bellevue for example. Our property rates are lower here than they are in Bellevue. It’s easy for Bellevue to pull in levy money and support their schools. We have something called levy equalization that the state kicks in. The state is looking to cut levy equalization in the upcoming budget session they’re going into. We have to make sure that money is protected so our schools are fully funded.

Question 12: Studies show that so-called green schools are not as efficient or cost-effective as widely promoted. Please define green schools, and also, should we be spending substantially more of taxpayers’ money to build them?

Deana Brower: Green schools obviously are those that are energy efficient and using energy and environmentally friendly products or materials. It’s funny – just today I saw a news release awarding Shadle High School for their architectural plan. I find it interesting what appeals to say, one group in a population might not appeal to another group. I think when we’re building schools, we have an obligation to our community to make sure that they are friendly to our environment. We owe it to the educating future of our community and our students. We also need to take care of our community and our environment. I’ve heard funding reports both ways, that say it’s right in line with any other spending, and then there’s criticisms that say it’s exorbitant and costs too much. We need to look at that. I’ve not examined the budget of every school built, however, I do feel that our district in general has been good stewards of the bond money. In fact we have the highest rating a school district can have in their bond ratings. And that comes from a review of how that money is being spent, and in maintaining integrity and trust with citizens. So we’ve demonstrated – the district has demonstrated responsibility with [can’t hear] funds, according to this group that evaluates how bond dollars are collected and spent, and a higher financial rating [can’t hear].

Sally Fullmer: When we’re going to build new buildings and modernize schools, I know that at times, there has been extra funding available if the school is built to a certain green standard. One of the things that they found, though, in studies, is sometimes it costs more to build them to that standard and then it costs more to operate them when they’re built that way. I think we have to take a look at those as more of that information is coming in. Of course we want to do the best that we can for our environment at all times. Sometimes the latest trendy green thing in the end doesn’t turn out to be quite as sustainable as it looked in the beginning. So we need to again stick with [can’t hear] proven things and not go off on every new fad that comes along.

Question 13: The amount of money paid to public school superintendents in the state of Washington is a hot topic. Superintendent Dr. Nancy Stowell is paid much more than the state schools chief, and even the governor. Are public school administrators paid too much money?

Sally Fullmer. Yes. And I also believe that their pay in their contracts isn’t tied to the results that they’re getting in the district. Administrators are very keen to tie teachers’ pay and results to what results they get out of the students. But who’s telling the teachers what curriculum to use and what to do? It’s the administrators and the board. So let’s tie the administrative pay to the results of the students, and I think suddenly, they would be much more interested in how the students are doing.

Deana Brower: I think sometimes when we look at things isolated in Spokane, it makes us scratch our head a little bit. Take a step back and look at it state wide, and you start to get perspective. We have the second largest district in the State of Washington, and our superintendent Dr. Stowell doesn’t make the second largest salary, or the third or the fourth or the 8th or the 10th. Her salary is the 12th, and I think that’s a competitive place to be to maintain quality professionals here in our school district. If statewide, that number is too high, and we as a community and we as a state don’t value that level of service for our students, then put it all in check. But we cannot take our one superintendent and look at her out of context. We are, we have, most figures, if you look at district administration is in line, and salaries are in line with what we’re seeing statewide.

Question 14: Deana Brower, you have called for more state taxpayer money for schools. Yet Spokane Catholic schools pay significantly less than the $11-12,000 per student that District 81 spends, and with better measurable results. Is more money really the problem, or is there another issue?

Deana Brower: I would argue the measurable results. I think we do a fine job in our public schools. I’m proud to have my children in our public schools. We are a large, urban school district. 28,000 plus students in our school district. We have 60% of our students on free and reduced lunch, and with that comes responsibility and an obligation to fully serve our students in a way unlike our private schools in our community. We have 24% of our student population are from minority groups. There are challenges. You don’t see that exact population breakdown in our private schools. We have 55 languages being spoken in our public schools. I think all of that provides a very rich culture and diversity in our public schools, but it’s completely different to those challenges faced by private schools in our community. We’re still very fortunate to have strong schools in general – public and private – and I really believe the more investment our community makes into our education – be it public or private or otherwise – it supports our entire system. And I’m very proud just recently of Spokane being named one of the 100 best communities for youth in America. In large part, it’s because of that. We are one of those communities that traditionally supports our levies. We are one of those communities where folks come out and support our education consistently. And that’s where a sense of pride in education comes in our community. I hope to continue that tradition for a good long time.

Sally Fullmer: I don’t believe that a lack of money is the problem. I believe we can educate a student very well for $12,000 a year, and possibly even less. I don’t think there’s any amount of money that would satisfy the ever-growing bureaucracy that is the government school industry. It’s a case of not really looking at what the problem is, and just saying everything’s great. We need to make sure we’re not taking property taxes from people who have an average salary of $32,000-45,000 a year here in Spokane, and using that money to give raises to administrators who are making over $200,000 per year. I think the people of Spokane want their money to be used efficiently and productively.

Question 15: The controversy over teachers unions. Who benefits most from teachers unions – the students or the teachers – and why?

Sally Fullmer: The purpose of teachers unions is to bargain for better conditions for the teachers as workers. I think they’re doing a great job at that. However, their purpose is not to bargain for what’s in the best interests of the students. It’s very important to be clear about that difference. I’m not saying that everything they bargain for couldn’t be in the best interests of the students, for example, class size is obviously in the best interests of the students, so there are times those things overlap, but the primary purpose of the union is to bargain for teachers.

Deana Brower: The union is the teachers. There is no separation. They are educators. They come into this profession to serve our children. And they do a very good job of it. There’s quality of intent, and quality produced. Quality delivered. There are financial situations that enter into the picture. I think that is the business side of education that management and labor have. The more collaborative that relationship is, the better that situation is for everyone.

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: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Accountability, transparency desperately needed for education expenditures

[Edited Nov. 12 to update FTE enrollment based on information provided at the Sept. 28 board meeting, and Nov. 30 to update the proposed levy figure for 2012.]


By Laurie H. Rogers

The British are coming! The British are coming!
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
Public education needs more money! Public education needs more money!

One of these statements (had Paul Revere actually said it) was true. One of these statements is obviously false. And the third, well, skies don’t fall, silly.

Taxpayers keep hearing how the funding for public education has been cut. We’re constantly barraged with: “Money is tight.” “We’ve cut the budget to the bone.” “We’re running out of options.” “We’ve done all we can; now we have to cut programs and teachers.” These claims defy explanation. They aren’t true in Spokane. They aren’t true in Washington State. They aren’t true in most other states, and they aren’t true at the federal level. Unfortunately, many people believe them.

A city council candidate insisted recently: “We can’t gut education!” Last week, a Spokane reporter wrote: “Since 2002, Spokane Public Schools has cut $45 million from its budget…” In its budget forums last spring, district administrators and board directors told the public that since 2002, the district has cut $54 million from its budget. Spokane school board candidate Deana Brower has repeatedly said that the district needs more money.

Let’s look at some numbers. Follow the links to the budget documents. See how enrollment has dropped, the budget has grown, and see the district’s tendency to budget for greater expenditures than it has in revenues.

Spokane Public Schools expenditures
2001-20022010-20112011-2012
FTE (Full-time enrollment) ** On Nov. 12, this figure was updated based on information provided at a board meeting. Costs per students were recalculated based on this number. 31,51829,05028,093 
Operating budget$254.2 million$316.8 million$313.3 million
Capital Projects$14.8 million$124 million$142.9 million
Debt Service$14.2 million$35.4 million$37.1 million
Total$283.2 million$476.1 million$493.2 million
Local levy for district, after rollback.
Update: The district has indicated an increase in the 2012 levy to $73.3 million.
$36.4 million$59.5 million$60.6 million
District expenditures per student
(based on operating expenses only).
$8,065$10,905$11,152
District expenditures per student
(based on operating/capital projects/debt service).
There are other expenses not noted here.
$8,985$16,389$17,556

This is for just one district, in just one state – a district in which full-time enrollment (FTE) drops nearly every year and the outcomes are dismal. Look at the remedial rates in math for recent graduates from Spokane high schools (put together for me by Spokane Community Colleges). Look at the low rates of success in those remedial math classes.

Spokane Public Schools isn’t alone in its seemingly insatiable appetite for the taxpayer dollar. Taxpayers across the country pay exponentially more dollars – for generally weaker outcomes. Expenses per student have risen dramatically. It seems the districts have plenty of money – perhaps enough to fund a private education for every child. Where is the money going?

Public school administrators argue that they have expenses private schools don’t. That’s a huge generalization. Some private schools do take special education students, for example. Some do have transportation costs. It's true that public schools are subject to legislative mandates; on the other hand, many public schools have expenses like these:
  • Flipping curricular materials in and out at dizzying rates, along with a veritable cornucopia of untested curricular supplements;
  • Adopting an unproved federal "vision" for public education, including unproved standards, unproved curricula, unproved testing, and an unproved multi-million-dollar data system;
  • Buying SMART Boards for each classroom, computers or laptops for every student, calculators for children in all grades (including graphing calculators);
  • Paying for endless teacher substitutes because classroom teachers are constantly pulled out of their classrooms for conferences, committees, mentoring, “lab classrooms,” collaboration, and never-ending “professional development”;
  • Paying for administrative conferences, studies, social-services programs and other activities that have little or nothing to do with actual academics;
  • Designing expensive new school buildings in which insufficient academics are provided;
  • Retaining a thick, impermeable layer of redundant, over-paid, micro-managing, spirit-crushing, can’t-get-rid-of-them-no-matter-how-useless-they-are decision-makers;
  • Paying stipends to board directors who seem more interested in getting along with administrators than in being transparent and accountable to the people.
See how the percentage of education dollars that go to actual instruction has decreased. In 2007-2008, it was barely above 50%. It’s almost certainly less than that today. It all depends on how one counts it. Consider the U.S. Department of Education’s spirited education handouts:
American public education has become Audrey, the monster plant from “Little Shop of Horrors.” “FEED ME!” it bellows in our ears while bleeding us dry. All for the kids, of course.

As I read through emails obtained through public records requests, I can see how much those taxpayer dollars mean to everyone in the school system. No doubt it’s that deep caring that produced nearly 900 emails on Spokane's 2009 bond and levy. In 2009, “Yes for kids!” was the district-wide refrain.

Supposedly, there isn’t enough money to pay for solid math materials or remedial programs, but there’s enough money to pay for more administration, an unproved data system, an unproved nationalized math curriculum, administrator raises (paid from the levy), and the latest techno-toys. The kids aren’t learning enough math or grammar, but Spokane administrator Mark Anderson said he was OK with giving them a pamphlet to take home in their backpack encouraging their mommy and daddy to vote on the bond and levy. Administrator Michael Syron appeared OK with pulling students out of class to talk about the bond and levy. Administrator Steve Fisk appeared OK with using district resources to get 100 students to pass out leaflets on the bond and levy.

Those tykes are darned useful. Maybe next time, administrators can tattoo “Yes for kids” on the children’s forehead. It could save on paper.

On Sept. 28, 2011, I filed a Public Disclosure Commission complaint regarding the district’s efforts regarding the 2009 bond and levy. The PDC complaint also has to do with Deana Brower’s 2011 campaign for the school board.

Brower was a co-chair for Citizens for Spokane Schools, which campaigns for district bonds and levies. She was endorsed by Stand for Children, which campaigned for the Children’s Investment Fund, a ballot initiative. She has hosted a representative from the League of Education Voters, which campaigns for more money for education. She also tends to parrot district administrators’ contention that they desperately need more taxpayer dollars.

In 2010, Mark Anderson and Superintendent Nancy Stowell appeared OK with meeting with Deana Brower and the rest of the leadership team of bond/levy advocacy group Citizens for Spokane Schools. Stowell emailed Brower: “Thanks so much for organizing us!” Stowell later wrote to Brower that she was looking forward to the meeting: “Time to start strategicing.” (sic)

On May 25, 2011, Brower was endorsed by the teachers union as a school board candidate. On June 6, 2011, she filed as a candidate. In June 2011, according to public records, Brower was invited (via district resources) to meet with teachers and staff on school district property. Is anyone out there actually expecting Brower to hold the district and union accountable?

Some people see it as anti-education, anti-schools, even anti-kid to question the education establishment's constant bleating for more money. I think most people have no idea of how much money it really is – or of just how focused on the money the establishment is. It’s time for some tough love.

We’re paying through the nose for a failing public system. Most of us will pay again for multiple remedial classes when our children try to go to college or begin a trade. If the district leadership spent as much time and effort on real academics as it does on trying to get more money, they might actually begin turning out entire classes of college-ready graduates.

This October, when the ballots come out, consider whether you want a board director who’s been working closely with the district and the union, or a board director who knows that school boards should be accountable to the voters and taxpayers.


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (October 2011). "Accountability, transparency desperately needed for education expenditures." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was published Oct. 10, 2011, on Education Views at: http://educationviews.org/2011/10/10/accountability-transparency-desperately-needed-for-education-expenditures/

This article was published Oct. 10, 2011, on EducationNews at: http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/laurie-rogers-transparency-needed-for-ed-expenditures/