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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Media, district levy advocacy not appropriate, not leadership

[Edited Feb. 9. Addition noted below.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

"And I tell you this: you do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it's usually called 'assault' – not 'leadership'.”     
--     Dwight D. Eisenhower, as told to Emmet John Hughes, for “Re-Viewing the Cold War: Domestic Factors and Foreign Policy in the East-West Confrontation”

Last year, someone said to me: “Laurie, I heard you’re a nut job. So tell me, who are you, really?” I said: “You’ve heard me talk. What do you think?” The person chuckled and said: “I kind of like you. I think you care.”

I do care. I have a fierce protective instinct toward the community, the country, and the children. I’m a patriot, but no politician. I’m not interested in making money or gaining political allies through District 81, the union or the media. I was trained as an old-style reporter, with an eye to supportable facts and a determination to know and report the truth. I’m not a natural extrovert, but five years of dealing with administrators and board directors have turned me into a fighter. I’m not a liar, and I’m no quitter, and I don’t know how to do just the bare minimum of anything (except dusting).

In my mind, the truth is the truth, and I’m not inclined to sugar-coat truth so as to avoid aggravating little feelings or interfering with grasping for dollars. People can call that polarizing or extremist. I think those people don’t want to be sidelined by the truth.

I was thinking about the face in the mirror Jan. 30, as I was blown off yet again by a local reporter who wanted me to fit into her agenda. She called because she wanted to talk with local businessman Duane Alton about his opposition to local levies. She couldn’t find Alton, and she heard I might be part of his group. I told the reporter I’m not part of Alton’s group, and not necessarily “anti-levy” but rather “pro-disclosure.” I said the districts were not giving voters full information (or even truthful information, I could have said), and they were not engaging in full disclosure.

After exactly two minutes, having determined that I wasn’t going to fit into the story the way she wanted, the reporter asked if she could call back. I smiled, knowing she wouldn’t. Her TV report and subsequent article painted the levy discussion as polarized, with the poor, allegedly underfunded district on one side, and the evil “mysterious” anti-levy folks on the other. There was no mention of the solid and supportable information I have put together on the Spokane levy. The reporter offered no questioning of the districts’ claims, and no contrary information. Other local TV stations have reported in a similar fashion.

[Added Feb. 9: Another reporter called recently, also wanting to know if I was working with the anti-levy group (whatever "working with" means). I told him that my associations and leanings have nothing to do with the issues, and that he should do some real investigating of the school district, its budget, its claims, and its presentation of information to the public. I offered him my entire blog for quoting. After a lengthy off-the-record conversation, this is his report.
... sigh ...

Note to self: The words "No" and "comment" are your friends, especially when stated together.]

Local media are complicit in their willful failure to properly inform the public about education issues that affect our children and community. Have you seen Spokane lately? I mean, really looked around? Empty buildings, “for lease” signs everywhere. This city is suffocating, slowly choking on an undereducated, unmotivated, frightened populace. And rather than inform us about those who perpetuate this failure, the media are “hitting us over the head” with fake information and fake district claims.

Despite the possibly illegal, certainly inappropriate and arguably false activity all around them, the media instead polarize the conversation in favor of the districts, and they hound people who are doing something they believe in and who are breaking no election laws. It’s pitiful.

Notice the daily “vote for the levy” drumbeat in the local newspapers. An article here, an editorial there, pro-levy advertisements strategically placed every single day. In this ad, see all of the people who advocate for the levy -- while they work for the district, make money off the district, or align politically with the district. There are “vote yes” signs everywhere in the city. Flyers are sent home with the kids. There is open advocating in the schools, with “pro-levy” commentary to children and “Vote for the kids” buttons. The districts’ supposedly “factual” information often is actually promotional, highly subjective, and designed to frighten us, make us feel guilty, and, most of all, push us to vote “yes.” They are leading by hitting us over the head, and it’s all done at an extra cost to us.
Keep this in mind: These talks of possible "cuts" in programs and teaching positions qualify as threats, not facts. As long as districts have school directors, multiple assistant principals, expenditures for a new data system (and new administrators to go with it) and a new, unproved national program, they have places to cut. As long as districts keep torturing teachers with "professional development" and interfering instructional coaches, and as long as districts keep flipping inadequate curricula and supplementary materials in and out, they have places to cut. As long as ineffective administrators make more than $100,000 per year just in base salary, districts have places to cut.

Many of the people making these threats about cutting teaching positions and programs have no compunction about using the children, either, sending home flyers with them, pulling them out of class to talk about campaigning, and showing them pro-levy material on a daily basis.

A parent in Central Valley wrote to me Jan. 30: “I was so heartbroken for my son, when this morning he said to me and his mother: ‘Vote for the levy.’ I responded, ‘I will not be voting for the levy.’ He then began to cry and said 60 teachers will be losing their jobs…. I asked him who told him (that). He answered his teacher. I responded understandingly, but in the negative, and he asked, ‘Why would my teacher lie to me’? Then, ‘She wouldn't lie to me.’ I said, ‘I wouldn't lie to you. You know that, right?’ I asked him who he believes, and he responded after several seconds, ‘I guess you.’ He was genuinely perplexed.”

The father expressed a desire to sue the district over the emotional distress on his son. “Good thing for them I am not a sue-happy American,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, our children are being raised academically feral. Left on their own to figure things out – and not provided sufficient guidance, discipline, academics or individual work – they are incapable of following their dreams when they leave high school.

Carol Landa-McVicar, trustee of Community Colleges of Spokane, told The Spokesman-Review recently: “We are not graduating enough kids from high school, and when we do, they are coming to college unprepared, delaying their progression to a higher education degree. … how do we address the high number of students that are coming into the college who need remedial math?”

A local politician told me, “You have to work with somebody,” as he refused to lift a finger to help me. I can’t work with people who lie, who want me to lie, or who don’t care about what matters to the children. And I do work with others. When I show parents and grandparents what’s being taught and not taught, they see it right away. They don’t call me names, accuse me of lying or suggest that I’m the problem. They see me for what I am: Just the messenger, delivering to them a critically important message that they need to hear.

So, I work with We, the People. I work for the children. I help teachers where I can. I work for academics. I work for math. I work for this country. I work for the future, and I work for what’s right.

My efforts, my insistence on solid, provable information, and my refusal to play purposefully polarizing games aren’t respected by the district, the school board, the media, or various “players” in the city. But my family respects it, and the people respect it. I suspect the folks on the “anti-levy” side also respect it.

I'm trying to help parents and grandparents learn enough to step in and save their children from these grasping, self-interested school districts and the sycophantic media. And that’s what matters.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted.
The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Media, district levy advocacy not appropriate, not leadership." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was reposted on Education Views Feb. 3, 2012 at:


Dave said...

1. Irt it not being a new tax:
Anything that has an end date (like a "3yr" levy tax) has to have a "new" one started in order to "remain" in place so it's perfectly accurate to say it's a new tax.

2. Actual levy rates and Levy Equalization Funds (LEF):
The levy rate most often used by school districts is the smaller, LEF assisted one. However, with our current economy, this is a time when LEF funds could go away and people should plan accordingly. That would cause the amount taken by this levy to be approximately 22% more than the optimistic school dist claims.

3. Irt A) It being 28% (mead) of their budget & B) What the levy $ is and is not used for:
A levy is meant to be a one time fill-gap revenue stream that might be necessary once every 10-20 yrs. It's "NOT" meant to be a "constant" revenue stream... It shows incredibly bad district leadership when they've gotten to the point of expecting levies as a never ending part of their budget. It's extremely disingenuous to say the money "is not" used for new buildings, repairs, pensions, etc. That's a simple "shell game". It's like having a monthly budget (that includes $100 each for phone, power, partying, and gas) and saying "gee mom, I don't have enough money to cover all my monthly bills; If you could give me $100 I can pay my pwr bill". There's no way to realistically seperate that $100 out and stipulate it's actually being used to pay "the pwr bill" as opposed to gas, phone, partying, etc. Similarly (like the phone, pwr, and gas in previous example), if all salaries, pensions, maintenance, etcetera were covered "without" asking for a levy, there would be no request for additional money (like the $100 in previous example) via the levy tax.

After asserting that funding is inadequate to cover all expenses they request a levy to fund what they choose to define as the underfunded part of the budget. The exact part of the budget the school dist "chooses to say" the levy money pays for is simply a matter of which shell they choose to say it goes towards. Again, it's a simple shell game of distortion to say "a given amount" of any budget is only going to be used "for select items of that overall budget."

4. Despite how this may sound, I'm completely for education funding via a fair and equitable method. A much more equitable method of requesting additional funding should be to request it via a sales tax increase (whatever fraction of a penny required). That way, "everyone" casting a vote would actually be voting to increase "their own taxes" as well as other people's taxes. Otherwise this type of a levy tax requires a super majority in order to be considered more of a fair vote (#5 below). A cost cutting, as opposed to revenue generating, method of addressing the education budgets would be to address the underfunded TERS1 pensions and work to modify those pensions via negotiations and constitutional changes. The state already acknowledged that TERS1 (stopped in 1977) was unsustainable and a responsible re-negotiation could be done without undue harm to current pension beneficiaries. All other post TERS1 plans should be transitioned to 401K plans. Additionally, cost structures should be reviewed and compared to the charter schools that currently operate for far less money while achieving better scholastic success rates.


Dave said...

Remainder of post...

5. If it was a super majority vote this would at least be a fair vote. A super majority vote is necessary anytime you allow a subset group of people to vote on a matter that could be beneficial to them and that they are "not" directly impacted by (in a financially impacting way, i.e. they pay for it). For example (using property ownership rates of 60%), if 65% of "non-property owners" vote "YES", a levy like this could pass with only 40% of property owners voting for it (even though the property owners pay it).

If Washington was having a vote to increase the sales tax by 2% you wouldn't want people from Idaho to be allowed to vote because, as stated above, they would be a subset of voters that don't have to pay for the tax but could actually benefit as their sales went up due to people going into Idaho to avoid the 2% increase.

The counter point of "renters pay these fees via rent" is ridiculous because only in a perfect system would this be the case. In actuality, landlords can only charge what the market will bear. Meaning, if a landlord can't get a renter at a price that covers the levy costs he/she has to lower the rent in order to rent the unit out...

C.M. said...

Isn't it against the law for the district to use public funds and publicly-funded time to advocate for a political position? If not, it definately SHOULD be! (It is in Oregon They cannot use their paid time or school funded resources to campaign for a ballot measure.) So you should contact your state representative and have them propose a bill that would outlaw it because it is absolutely unethical!

Anonymous said...

@C.M. She has already contacted state authorities about illegal campaigning with school funds/time. Though it may not be related to the levy:

-- Young Curmudgeon

Richard Reuther said...

Going to the press is likely to lead only to the discovery that the newspaper editor and the school officials who are causing problems are in the same Rotary Club. The one is not going to rat out the other.

School levies have, over time, become "necessary" because the public has not insisted that their political leadership find an adaquate, reliable funding source for the schools.

One of the biggest issues with the levy system is that it is hard to discern why people do not support them. Is it a general rejection of all levies or specifically that this levy is too large or too small or that a "no" vote is a rejection of school management and leadership? People who vote against levies cannot simply be broadly categorized as "nut jobs" by the press or school officials. There ARE legitimate reasons to vote "no."

If we actually trained teachers to be teachers (rather than just throwing them into a classroom and watch 50% of them quit within 5 years) and empowered them to teach in their best style, with the learning styles of the students in mind, we could eliminate 90% of the "central" administration and staff.

When the Japanese wanted to build better cars, they asked the people working the assembly line how to do it. Now we have Mazda, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Acura, and the copy cat Korean Hyundai and Kia competitors while we have had to bail out GM and Chrysler. As a society, we have failed to ask our front-line educators what they think is best. We have, in many cases, done just the opposite: pushed out the senior teachers under the logic of "whatever is wrong with the schools is the fault of the teachers; if we get new ones who are beholden to us for their jobs and will do what we tell them to (no matter whether it is 'good education'), things will improve." That was done in our schoolhouse and test scores, not surprisingly, dropped after senior staff were driven out.

Every 20- or 30 years our courts find that the state has failed in its "paramount duty" to educate the kids and our political leaders, with our blessing, put a band-aid on it and in 20 or 30 more years we go through the whole process again.

In principle, I don't think we should have levies for schools. Schools should be fully funded by permanent, untouchable sources. Nor should we hedge our bets by saying that foreign language or drivers' ed, for example, isn't "basic" education so we won't pay for it, let the locals run a levy if they want it. We should never put our schools or our children's education in the position of having to choose between math and music or language arts and physical eductation. These are false choices- straw men set up to distract us from the real issue of why can't we get this right?

If we can't fully fund education on the state-level, then we need to just admit that we simply don't want to and stop the pious pretending that we do.

I think anything is possible if we puts out minds and political power behind it.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Look at all the time you use getting all this information. All your statistics, attending functions, writing these blogs...why don't you pop in on a school, volunteer for a few hours a day and then really see what it's like. Maybe see what's it's like to work at a school that's had cuts. To work at a school that does not have current technology, and has lost EA positions, and has been sent a list of teachers in the district and their years of experience. Yes, we were told that if the levy doesn't pass we would probably would lose about 60 positions. And what about a school with 70% free and reduced lunch - I can't imagine the class sizes going up with all the issues teachers already face. You can't talk about a profession without being in it. I would never say anything about doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. I would never comment on how easy it is to write and publish a book - I've never actually done it. Although, I am proud of my grammar usage and spelling. Does that mean I can write a book about people that oppose education? Go into the schools daily - volunteer in the classroom. Work with needy kids on a daily basis. Get off your ass, I mean blog page, and get into the schools.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Dear Anonymous: (Feb. 8, 5:17 p.m.):

You said: ”Wow. Look at all the time you use getting all this information. ... why don't you pop in on a school, volunteer for a few hours a day and then really see what it's like.”

I have, for all of the years my daughter has been in school, with the exception of the current school year.

You said: ”Maybe see what's it's like to work at a school that's had cuts.”

It is the district’s choice about where to make “cuts” – or rather budget “shifts” as I call them. Please note that the bottom line of the Spokane Public Schools operating budget has NOT been cut since 2002. It has instead grown from the 2002 actual expenditures to the current estimated expenditures by about $80 million. The entire budget, including capital costs, has grown by more than $200 million.

You said: “Yes, we were told that if the levy doesn't pass we would probably would lose about 60 positions. “

If this statement is true, it sounds an awful lot like a threat. Remember that it is ADMINISTRATIVE CHOICE about where to make budget shifts.

You said: “You can't talk about a profession without being in it.”

Sure I can. Journalists do it all of the time. You’re doing it here, by commenting about my advocacy work.

You said: ”I would never say anything about doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc.”

So, if the doctor cut off the wrong leg, you wouldn’t say anything about it? What if your school district keeps “cutting off the wrong leg”? Do you not think the people who are missing “legs” have a right to comment?

You said: “Go into the schools daily - volunteer in the classroom.”

I have, actually, for all of the years my daughter has been in school, with the exception of the current school year.

”Work with needy kids on a daily basis.”

I do, on a near-daily basis. However, I also consider my advocacy for academics, accountability and transparency to be efforts to help needy children and their families.

You said: “Get off your ass, I mean blog page, and get into the schools.”

Over the last several years, I’ve asked three Spokane principals, the Spokane superintendent, and the entire Spokane school board to help me, or even just to allow me to set up a FREE tutoring program, run by community members, in arithmetic and grammar. I was turned down repeatedly – notably by the superintendent – and, in one case, unreasonable restrictions were put on the idea, such as: We had to include language arts in the math program, we had to accept special education students (we would not be qualified to do that), and we had to use the district curriculum. That sounds like the district program, and if it worked, tutoring would not be necessary.

Anonymous said...

Over the last several years, I’ve asked three Spokane principals, the Spokane superintendent, and the entire Spokane school board to help me, or even just to allow me to set up a FREE tutoring program, run by community members, in arithmetic and grammar.

Given that you hate them all, why would you expect a yes?

Laurie H. Rogers said...

To Anonymous (Feb. 11, 1:23):

I would expect them to say yes.

The truth, which I understand and administrators do not appear to, is that my feelings about district administration do not matter. Administrator feelings about me do not matter. What matters is that the children learn sufficient academic material that will get them settled in successful postsecondary life. It’s the SOLE REASON why the students are there.

Our school districts have lost sight of this mission. That’s clearly illustrated in their refusal to allow community members, who will work for free, into the schools to help the children learn arithmetic. You will note that I asked the district if we could help. They did not ask me. In a time of alleged budget “cuts,” they chose to say no to FREE help.

You are assuming I “hate” them. Hate is a destructive, non-productive emotion. It would tire me and get in my way. Therefore, I choose to not hate. I choose to just go find another way.

I expected them to say yes. They should have said yes. The group of volunteers expected them to say yes, and was shocked when they said no. Whose little feelings were driving things? Not mine.

Bruce Price said...

The point of this post--that our ostensible protectors are letting us down--has also been much on my mind.

For years I've lamented that academics don't help in the Ed Wars. Equally egregious, the media don't help. I've written columns about the newspapers seeming to have a death wish. They don't even take sides in the Reading Wars.

More recently, i've started to focus on business and military groups. What are they doing? Not much that I can see. Really sad.

One hope is that local VIP's can be drawn into the Ed Wars. I made a short video to explain how they can get involved. (Enter "Are you a community leader?" in quotes on YouTube.)