Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Guess It Makes Sense, But.....

Via the News-Tribune:
I was browsing through some information previewing a documentary about a vocational training program at the women's prison in Gig Harbor when I came across this statistic:

As of April 2008, only 20 percent of 14,000 inmates surveyed statewide had graduated from high school.
That's an incredible, sad statistic.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tips to Survive the Coming Swine Flu Epidemic


Remember--safety first!

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Oh My God, Unions Really Are Evil!

Two of the biggest issues that the teachers unions fight for involve time (contact time with the kids, set working hours, length of the school year, etc.) and money (total compensation, TRI pay, health benefits). Therefore:

Unions = Time x Money

However, we also know that time IS money. Therefore:

Unions = Money x Money = (Money) ^ 2

But we also know that money is the root of all evil.

Money = (Evil) ^ (1/2)

Which means that we can substitute

Unions = (Money) ^ 2


Unions = ((Evil) ^ (1/2)) ^ 2

Which simplifies to....

Unions = Evil

The math has set me straight. I'm going to immediately renounce my evil ways, make a generous donation to the League of "Education" Voters, and organize an at-home TEA party.

Where did I go wrong. Lord, where did I go wrong.....

(stolen from)

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

This Legislative Session in a Nutshell

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised God doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and prayed for forgiveness.
--Emo Phillips



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Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe is So Full of Crap She Cries Brown Tears

The big thing that I noticed when the conference budget came out on Friday was the $60,000,000 cut to levy equalization, which was certainly better than what the Senate had initially proposed, but still worse than the House, which had been giving good indications that they were going to leave LEA alone. It's levy equalization money that allows our property-poor school districts to have a shot at offering anything even comparable to what a Mercer Island, Bellevue, or other districts with high tax bases can provide. It's a lifeline to poor districts in a way that class size reduction isn't, and let's be perfectly clear: when you cut LEA, you are cutting the districts that can least afford the hit.

So an amendment came up during the Senate debate last night; you can watch it here, and I'm pulling the quotes out of the closed captioning transcript. Sen. Mark Schoesler from the 9th LD, an area of the state (southeast Washington) where levy equalization really matters, lead off with this:
This measure restores levy equalization payments by increasing funding through a variety of sources. We take one learning improvement day, we reform bilingual education and manage to achieve the savings. I think this is important in that it's the property-poor districts that have levy equalization needs. They're not necessarily in northeast Washington, they may be in federal way, they may be in north central Washington, they may be a property-poor district with students of color and of need in the Yakima valley, but they all share one thing in common:
A levy dollar doesn't buy very much.

In a property-rich district, a dollar buys a lot. To get the same earning potential in a property-poor district, you might need six or seven dollars. This restores that.
This puts school districts on a level playing field whether they're in eastern Washington, west, north or south, it puts them on a level playing field and it has the means to pay for itself. I urge your support.
Maybe, maybe Sen. Schoesler over-reached when his caucus added in the piece about bilingual education, which is a hot-button issue that gets a lot of hackles raised. The point remains, though--levy equalization matters.

Then Senator McAuliffe made her response:

I ask the body to reject this amendment. When these - this levy equalization is being cut about 15%. With the federal dollars for title one and special education, these districts are almost whole. In fact, let me just cite one, which is Aberdeen. The levy equalization payment is $480,000. And they receive in special education money $768,000. So many of these districts will have those dollars restored through the federal stimulus dollars.
Let's set aside for a moment the fact that I can't find the document that she's citing anywhere, and it seems like if she's going to read figures into the public record that the public should be able to see those figures for themself.

We'll also ignore the fact that her home district, Northshore, will be absolutely uneffected by this cut because they already don't receive any levy equalization money.

And maybe later we'll talk about the fact that lowering levy equalization at the same time as the Senate has passed a bill to lift the levy lid for districts that take in excess money means that the gap between the rich districts and poor districts will get that much wider.

For now, let's focus on one key fact: levy equalization money can be used for ANYTHING. Programs, teachers, salary, transportation--anything. It's a great source of money that way in that it can fill in any hole in the district budget.

Title I money and Special Education money, on the other hand, can only be used for NARROW, LIMITED PURPOSES. You can't take sped money and use it to pay for an activity bus, or to reduce class size in kindergarten, or for a boost to the ASB.

So the money that Sen. McAuliffe is treating as equal is anything but. It's a nice comparison to make if you're trying to make it look like you didn't really cut anything, but it's an awful long ways from reality.

The reason that this particularly pisses me off is in light of the Basic Education Reform Bill that passed both the House and Senate and is now on its way to the Governor's desk for a signature. I fought against it because I hate what it could do to certification and the salary schedule, but such is life and now the battle turns to mitigating the impact of a bad, misguided bill. Senator McAuliffe took note of the divisiveness of the bill when she released her open letter to the education community, wherein you'll find this gem:
I have heard that this is the wrong bill and the wrong message at the wrong time. I have heard that it is an insult to our hard-working teachers and educators that come to work every day and are committed to providing every child with the opportunity to learn. I want to be clear – teachers are the single most important part of our educational system. This bill is not a commentary in any way about a failure of our teachers. It is a recognition that our teachers deserve better and a recognition that our state's definition of basic education has failed to keep pace with the evolving expectations of society and has failed our teachers.
Senator, YOU ARE THE STATE. You voted to take away money THIS YEAR from districts that are already teetering. You refused to look at bilingual education with a serious eye. You refused to cut the other LID day. You refused to freeze the salary schedule, or take additional money from the rainy day fund. Your caucus chickened out on sending a revenue package to the voters.


Millions of dollars will be funneled off to OSPI and their ilk to study changes to the system, changes that the state isn't bloody well likely to be able to afford until 2012 at the earliest. The idea of looking at school district consolidation to save money went away, probably because it's politically unpopular.

Where there's a will, there's a way. This education budget is the triumph of no-will.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Rep. Lynn Kessler Invokes 9/11 in Discussing the State Budget

Boy, I can't wait for the transcript of this debate to get up on TVW!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation Will KILL YOU IN YOUR SLEEP If You Don't Go To Their Tea Party

Most of the blogs I follow I read through Google Reader. Some feeds send along the graphics to go along with the post; the feed for the highly readable Liberty Live blog from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation isn't one that sends the pictures.

So in context, with the Revolutionary War emblem right there to see, ending a post with "Join or die" makes good sense.

In Google Reader, with a long block of text and nothing else, ending a post with "Join or die" made me lock the door and hide under my kitchen table with only copies of Al Franken's books at hand to throw at anyone who might come to haul me away.

All that said, check out their coverage of the Washington Supreme Court. It's probably the most ignored piece of our state government, and I'm glad that someone's on the watch.

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Here's an FU to the LEV

So HB2356 is making its way through the legislature right now. It's the bill that would suspend I-728, the initiative that provides extra money for class size reduction, full-day kindergarten, and some staff development. We've all seen it coming since the Governor's budget came out in December; doesn't make it easier, but you don't have to like it.

Unless you're the League of "Education" Voters. Check out this synopsis from the testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee last week:
(In support with concerns) The League of Education Voters, under a different name, sponsored Initiative 728 many years ago. As a result, the League is fiercely loyal to its survival and uses. Under the current budget, the League has concurred with your judgment that you'll need to reduce it, but a better solution is to amend the 2009-11 allocations only, rather than making permanent changes to the Initiative.
"Hey, we're fiercely loyal, but we understand.....hell, it's only money!"

Contrast that to the WEA testimony:
(Opposed) The Washington Education Association opposes House Bill 2356. This bill completely eviscerates Initiative 728. It is important to note that this Initiative was passed by the voters by a 72 percent majority vote and is used for important programs like reducing class sizes, full day kindergarten, and other important reform initiatives. Currently about 2,500 teachers are funded by this initiative. The Basic Education bill reinforces many of the initiatives that are already being funded by the Initiative. Additionally, this bill and the resulting cuts will just push Washington further down the rankings in national spending per pupil. It also overturns the will of the voters. A sensible solution to the problem is simply to reduce the spending amounts in statute for two years, rather than making a permanent change to the statute.
"We oppose this, this is why we oppose this, and here's a better way."

Understand that when you sign in to testify at a committee hearing in Olympia you have to indicate your stance on the bill in question. The L"E"V guy consciously signed in on the support side, and I don't care if he did qualify that with a tepid "with concerns"--he's still saying it's OK.

I'll take my union, thanks.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

The Washington State PTA: Just Another Bunch of Political Hacks

So the big fun brawl in the past few days has been between the WEA and the Washington State PTA over HB2261, the Basic Education Reform bill that stinks but has passed because, forgive them Father, they know not what they do.

WEA President Mary Lindquist fired this off to the membership after 2261 passed on the Senate side:
This bill is a travesty and an insult to the education profession. The groups behind it are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children. Yet they’re denigrating and dismissing those of us who actually educate our state’s children!
Which prompted this response from PTA president Laura Bay:

I was stunned and extremely disappointed by the statement in your email that “The groups behind [HB2261] are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children.” This was an unwarranted attack on the integrity of this Association and our 150,000 members, many of whom (me, for example) are also members of WEA.

A certain level of polemics is to be expected in any advocacy effort. However your ad hominem attack on our Association and our members was totally out of line.

Outraged, Mary? You should be ashamed.
Shame's a funny thing, Ms. Bay. You're certainly acting unashamed of the groups that you've thrown the PTA's lot in with, so let's judge you by the company you keep.

Let's start first with the League of Education Voters, which takes a healthy share of their funding from (1) Microsoft, (2) a foundation run by a former Microsoft exec, (3) a guy who sold his company to Microsoft, and (4) the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation proper. What was it that Bill Jr. said about the public schools, again?
Bill Gates blasted the state of U.S. high schools yesterday in a speech before the National Governors Association education summit in the nation's capital.

Using words such as "ashamed" and "appalled" to describe his reaction to the failure rates for students, Microsoft's co-founder called America's high schools broken, flawed and underfunded, and said the system itself is obsolete.
Or try here for more of Bill's blame-the-teacher-first rhetoric.

"But Gates is right!" I hear a lot of people crying. Remember when he was right about breaking up high schools into small schools, and how the theory didn't match up to the practice and how the Gates Foundation blew tens of millions on a failed reform?

Yeah, that was cool. Look for the sequel, coming soon to a school near you.

Or you can have the Partnership for Learning, whose President is a current Microsoft exec and who counts the Gates Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation among their corporate donors.

It's neat that the PTA has lined themselves up with people who hate public schools and the teachers who work in them. I hope that they're proud of what they've "accomplished" with this bill.

From where I sit, though, they're the ones who should be feeling a deep, deep sense of shame for betraying the kids they pretend to represent.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

School Districts In Trouble--I Ask, I Answer

A couple of weeks ago I asked everyone to send me their ideas of the school districts in Washington State that might be circling the drain financially; thanks to everyone who emailed. I did some follow-up poking around on Google and the OSPI Website, and here's who looks like they're in the most dire straits:

  • Shoreline, now up to a 6.32% reserve after several years of tough economic times. There could also be a developing story with Arlington, who had a startlingly low 0.39% ending fund balance at the end of the '07-'08 fiscal year, before the new budget crisis.

    (Aside: Check out the Arlington link above to see their response. A little jab at the union, a little whinge about administrative! They also have one of the most poorly-designed surveys that you're ever going to hope to see. Again, fun!)

  • Montesano actually links to the Apportionment and Financial Services section of the OSPI website right off of their homepage, which tells you something about where they're at with the budget. At the end of 07-08 they were $50,000 in the red. You can read more about it in their district newsletter.

  • Onalaska got audited in March of 2008 with a finding attached because of their general financial disarray. You won't find that on their district website, but it looks like a pattern that continues to this day. That's not promising, especially with more cuts to come.

  • Evaline is a district of about 50 kids that doesn't have its own district website. They also have the disadvantage of being in the same part of Washington where Vader was; add in the fact that they had a $46,560 deficit at the end of last year ($1000 per student!), and you have to wonder about their long-term future. You can read their audit here.
I'll update as time permits.

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If Your Neighbor Loses Their Job, It's a Recession. If You Lose Your Job, It's a Depression.

Watching Meet the Press this morning, and they're having a good debate about when the recession might end. President Obama famously said last week that he sees "a glimmer of hope" in the economy, and you can find economists now who think that it will end later this year.

Here's the trick for Washington State. Our housing bubble trailed the national bubble by a good 6 months; that's why you could still read articles about the Seattle housing market bebopping along even while things collapsed in Florida and Arizona. There's reason to believe, then, that the recovery in Washington State will also be similarly delayed; I could easily forsee next year's "short" legislative session being just as bloody as this one's has been.

The middle-of-the-road estimate is that 3,000 teachers could get RIF'ed or non-renewed during this downturn. Thousands more are making agreements to give back salary via TRI pay reductions in order to save jobs. Every teacher in the state is looking at a 1.1% salary cut because of the loss of the Learning Improvement Days, and their out-of-pocket health care expenses are also bound to go up.

For them, for everyone, the recession continues.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

But Not Enough of One, Apparently

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why Does Marguerite Roza Hate Cheerleaders?

See Marguerite HERE.

Go to the 11:30 mark.

Look at her slides.

Watch her assert that because cheerleading is expensive in this district that she "researched" that something must be wrong with the district.

Consider that she doesn't talk about the relative size of cheerleading squads, the fact that the insurance for cheerleading has spiked in recent years, or that as cheerleading has become an interscholastic sport the cost basis has also risen.

Wonder to yourself why your tax dollars are going to support this.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Let's Make Fun of the Washington Policy Center

A lifetime ago, in February, the Washington State Budget and Policy Center rounded of a group of economists and had them sign a letter stating that they believed raising taxes in this economy was preferable to throwing people off of health care and ruining schools.

This was promptly discerned to be a load of horsecrap by the Washington Policy Center, which is totally a different group than the Budget and Policy Center. Using extensive internet research Google they made the claim that a lot of the people passing themselves off as "economists" in that first letter weren't actually economists, but instead were a ragtag assortment of hippies, undesirables, and others who suckle at the sweet teet of the government wasting YOUR tax dollars.

So anyhow, time passes and the baseball season opens up and ohmygosh what's this? It's a letter from the Washington Policy Center, in response to the other letter, and this one is a bunch of economists, all of whom thing that raising taxes is the wrong way to go!

Fascinating! Let's see who these folks are.

  • First we've got ourselves a Dr. Richard Zerbe of the University of Washington, which makes him a state employee. How fun! Dr. Zerbe does indeed have a by-God doctorate in economics, which he's used to great effect at the UofW where he was an econ prof for a whole year, back in 1990. Since then he's spent most of his time in civil engineering and public affairs.

    The UW--where a 14% tuition hike is just good public policy, but raising the taxes that pay for the financial aid that allows families to pay for that tuition hike? Oh hell no, can't be done, wouldn't be prudent.

  • Next say hello to Douglas Wills, an associate professor at the University of Washington in Tacoma. Focused on the "dismal" aspect of the dismal science, the good Dr. Wills has focused his career on the history of economics, which is a concentration that oozes a special kind of boring. For the full skinny let's ask someone who took his class last quarter:
    This is lets it be known that he hates teaching and is only there to do research for the school and that his class averages a 2.6 gpa. Time in class is worthless better be a great studier and learn everything on your own! The teacher is of no help at all except to tell you how crappy the us government is and how much of an up hill climb you have.

  • The name Thomas Cook sort of sticks out on the originating letter, because it just lists him as an "Economics Instructor, Seattle" when everyone else has an institutional affiliation to go along with their bio. One wonders if it's because Dr. Cook's institution is North Seattle Community College. Why do you hate community colleges, Washington Policy Center? He at least has published regularly, like this great economics treatise on why birth control goes against God's will.

  • The last Washingtonian on the list is Peter Saunders of Central Washington University, whom no one likes because of his bad hair-do. He's written about welfare, but his bona fides on taxation are sketchy, at best.
So of the four people from the state, one is an engineer, one is a historian, one publishes extremely rarely and on welfare, and one would actually fit the definition of what people would consider an economist.

This post is snark, and I make no apology for that. Trick is that when the Washington Policy Center says things like this:

In addition, nearly all the letter signers have a vested interest in urging the public to accept a higher tax burden to support larger government budgets; they either are directly employed by tax-funded institutions, such as a public university or community college, or they otherwise gain from public spending.

It is not unusual for people to promote public policies that benefit themselves, that is standard lobbying, but lawmakers should not give special weight to a letter claiming to give expert economic advice that does not come from economists.

.....while not acknowledging that every single 4-year institution is looking at double digit tuition increases, an option that social services and the public schools don't have, that's intellectual dishonesty at its most bald-faced and obvious.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Education Budget #5: Should Navigation 101 Get Lost?

From the Senate budget (p. 92 line 37):
$3,220,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $3,219,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the dissemination of the Navigation 101 curriculum to all districts, including disseminating electronic student planning tools and software for analyzing the impact of the implementation of Navigation 101 on student performance, and grants to at least one hundred school districts each year for the implementation of the Navigation 101 program.
Nav101 is a curriculum/intervention program designed to provide individualized lessons for kids grades 6-12 and help them plan for their future. It's labor intensive--to do the "advisory" periods requires changing the schedule twice a month, meaning that the other classes get shortchanged on those days. Reaction from teachers is mixed depending on who you ask--in my district some teachers love it, others hate it.

All that said, if you didn't fund Navigation 101 with state money you could save 40 teaching positions.

If relationships are the heart of student success, then let's give them teachers to have relationships with instead of spending money on curriculum.

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The Education Budget #4: While Education Crumbles, Let's Study Education!

This is the *hit that drives me mad. From the Senate budget (p. 90, line 29):
$50,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $50,000 of the general fund--state appropriate for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for implementation of Engrossed Senate Bill No. 6048 (relating to education). If the bill is not enacted by June 30, 2009, the amounts provided in this subsection shall lapse.
Cheeky, putting aside money for a bad education bill while at the same time rocking education to the tune of $1.5 billion dollars in cuts.

Not nearly as cheeky as their counterparts in the House, though (p. 96 line 36):
$1,819,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $1,181,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the implementation of Substitute House Bill No. 2261. The funding supports preparation for the implementation of a new funding formula and accounting system, including convening and staffing costs for technical working groups and funding for reprogramming apportionment and accounting information systems at the office of the superintendent of public instruction.
If you go by the House number, and the $80,000 average cost of a teacher that we've used before, that means you could save 22 teaching jobs by not implementing HB2261.

And why, oh why oh why, do some of our legislators equate improving schools with adding staff at OSPI? This is why I despise the new accountability system that the State Board of Education is working to ram through--it's most practical impact won't be to improve schools or districts, but you can bet the mortgage that OSPI will be coming to the legislature hat in hand in a couple of years asking for 20+ more FTE to staff their school improvement corp.

What you're seeing this year more than ever is the balkanization of the education stakeholders, where the League of Education Voters works against the Washington Education Association, the WEA rises against the State Board of Education, the SBE works at cross-purposes against the Professional Educator Standards Board, the PESB work runs afoul of the vision that Stand for Children has, and on, and on, and on. Politically it's dynamite to watch; in practicality, it's a slowly unfolding disaster.

Meanwhile the budget is a quickly unfolding disaster.

It's not a good time to be in education.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Education Budget #3: Whatever Happened to School District Consolidation?

The Governor's proposed budget had this in it:
(ii) Within the amounts provided in this subsection (1)(a), the superintendent of public instruction is to conduct the following activity to identify efficiencies in the organization and structure of school districts. The superintendent shall make recommendations for a streamlined school district consolidation process, develop appropriate criteria, and provide needed statutory changes to meet the following goals: Reduce operating costs; reduce administrative duplication; and create efficiencies to offer better programmatic opportunities to students. Recommendations shall also include specific proposals for realigned school districts. The superintendent of public instruction shall report to the governor and the appropriate legislative committees by November 1, 2009.
...but you won't find that language in either the House or Senate budgets, and that's a shame.

Long-term readers know that this is a drum that I've been beating for a while now, and it makes absolute sense--if some administrative functions in school districts can be combined to save money that can be re-directed to teachers and kids, why wouldn't we want to do that? It's not about closing schools, though that is the fear some have--it's about figuring out why Sprague, Harrington, and Lamont all have their own superintendent allotment for adjoining school districts that are less than 500 kids each, why we need three school districts in the Spokane Valley, why Orchard Prairie continues to exist, why we need 5 different school districts in the San Juan Islands.

We're either in an economic crisis or we're not--if we're not willing to take a long, hard look at *every* function of school governance, then this isn't really a crisis.

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The Education Budget #2: Useless Programs at the Professional Educator Standards Board

The Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) is the body here in Washington State charged with developing the criteria for teacher certification. In the last few years they've been responsible for implementing Professional Certification (which is a miserable flop), WEST-B testing of ed students at the colleges (which isn't doing any good), and the WEST-E alternate pathway to certification (which is poorly designed, stupidly onerous, and isn't working as it should.)

I'm not a big PESB guy.

In the proposed Senate budget, on page 88, you can read the earmarks for the PESB. There's a lot there to talk about:

  • The overall budget for the PESB is $5,278,000 in fy2010 and $5,176,000 in fy2011.
  • Within that, $1,070,000 a year is for operating costs for the PESB.
  • $3,431,000 is for alternate certification programs, including:
    1. $500,000 a year for scholarships for people going into sped, math, science, or bilingual ed;
    2. $2,372,000 each year for a different alternative program for the high-need areas;
    3. $102,000 for work on the achievement gap in fy2010;
    4. $231,000 each year for the "Recruiting Washington Teachers" program;
    5. $200,000 a year for the "Pipeline for Paraeducators" program;
    6. $244,000 a year for current teachers to switch into math or science endorsements
  • $1,146,000 each year to develop a student information database.
Here's the thing: when we're talking about laying off 3,000+ teachers, when hundreds more teachers graduate every year looking for jobs, when hiring at job fairs is waaaaaay we really need to expand the pipeline? Sure, some of those programs are to create bodies in high-need fields, but with less slots (and more people looking to fill those slots!), is the need still there?

My suggestion: suspend all of the alternate-route certificate programs for the next bienium, saving 42.5 teaching positions.

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The Education Budget #1: Can We Afford National Board Certification Bonuses?

So with the two budgets (especially the Senate budget) set to have a devastating impact on the public schools, it's reasonable to pick through the proposed education spending that is in the budget and see what there is to see. Target #1--the $5,000 a year bonus for National Board Certified teachers. From the Senate budget:

(13)(a) $28,021,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $38,417,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the following bonuses for teachers who hold valid, unexpired certification from the national board for professional teaching standards and who are teaching in a Washington public school, subject to the following conditions and limitations:
(i) For national board certified teachers, a bonus of $5,319 per teacher for fiscal year 2010, and $5,325 for fiscal year 2011. National board certified teachers who become public school principals shall continue to receive this bonus for as long as they are principals and maintain the national board certification;
Similarly, from the House budget proposal:
(23)(a) $26,210,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $35,902,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the following bonuses for teachers who hold valid, unexpired certification from the national board for professional teaching standards and who are teaching in a Washington public school, subject to the following conditions and limitations:
(i) For national board certified teachers, a bonus of $5,000 per teacher beginning in the 2008-2009 school year and adjusted for inflation in each school year thereafter in which Initiative 732 cost of living adjustments are provided. National board certified teachers who become public school principals shall continue to receive this bonus for as long as they are principals and maintain the national board certification;
So for the House the total 2-year appropriation is about $62 million; the Senate, about $66.4 million. Take the average of those, $64 million, figure $32 million a year, divide that by the $80,000 a year it costs for an average teacher, and you've just saved 400 jobs.

The piece that's the most galling to me is having the National Board bonuses follow teachers who move up to the principalship. They're going to get a big raise just by virtue of the job change; what is the state's abiding interest in paying this big bonus for someone who is now a step removed from actually working with kids?

As a state we've committed a hearty amount of resources to National Board certification, and I wish only the best for those who have it and those who are just starting out on the journey. If it's a choice between levy equalization cuts and the National Boards stipends, though, I know the directions I'd like to see the legislature go.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Union President's Dilemma

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With the recent release of the House and Senate budgets it's looking like the economic situation for schools is going to get even more dire. Add in the fact that a lot of this year's relief is because of the economic stimulus money from the Obama administration, and I'm running under the assumption that as bad as this year's cuts have been next year could be even worse.

It's something I've been thinking about since September, when I officially took over as president of my local. It's been a hell of a first year, and the next two months could be the cherry on the proverbial *hit sundae. My superintendent has been telling folks to expect an even $1,000,000 in cuts--about 13 teaching positions--and in light of the past two days even that eye-popping number could be a case of raging optimism.

The question for local union leadership becomes this: how do you respond?

Consider my local of about 130 members. If we did lose 13 positions it would be devastating to all five of my schools. Morale would be ravaged, and I truly don't think that's too strong a word to describe the impact. Class size would spike, particularly if the cuts to I-728 and levy equalization that are being bandied about actually come to fruition. Members are looking to me to save their job, which is a hell of a responsibility; similarly, drastic cuts to staffing also lower the quality of the workplace for everyone left behind.

The temptation is to look at the contract and see what could be "given back" to the school district to save money. We have 86 hours a year of per diem, for example; that's more than $500,000 a year that could save roughly 7 positions. Given that per diem is extra money, some reason, they're willing to give up the extra for the good of the whole.

Not so fast, though. That money is also pensionable income, so any teacher who is within sight of retirement (3 years) needs that money in their paycheck to bump up the pension that they'll receive for the rest of their life. Giving away that $4,000 of per diem this year not only costs them now, but the difference for them every month of their retirement could be profound.

Or, consider my members at the very bottom of the seniority list. The $2,500 that per diem means for them is Christmas, is the property taxes, is the automobile insurance. How close to the bone would I be cutting if they didn't have that cushion?

Another area that comes up regularly is health insurance. There's a piece of the budget called the "Health Care Authority Remittance" (HCA), which is much better known as the carve-out. This is the money that school districts have to remit to the state to pay for health care for retired teachers, paras, and administrators, and right now the bill is about $60 per month per teacher. When carve-out started that cost was about $5 a month, which lead to many districts agreeing during contract negotiations that they would just cover the cost. Now that it's trebled four times over we're talking big dollars: for my district, about $90,000.

I could say, "OK--you can take that money out of the monthly health insurance allotment that we receive from the state." The practical impact would be that the people who are already paying out of pocket would see their costs go up $60 a month; for me, a guy who already pays about $440 a month out of pocket, that would make it about $500 a month. Those who insure only themselves--the single people, or those with a spouse who has good insurance--could come through untouched, or only paying a token amount.

Or, I could say that all the money that currently goes into the insurance pool could be used for the carve-out. That wouldn't completely eliminate the bill, but it would alleviate it some. The impact of that would be felt by anyone who uses the insurance pool to lower their monthly costs. That hits the people with families and kids the hardest.

My speech therapists get stipends--three days a year--but taking that away makes it feel like I'm targeting a very narrow band of my membership. My ag teacher at the high schools has a 40-day extended contract which pays him an additional $10,000 a year, but he earns every penny of it because his FFA duties keep him going all summer long. I could bargain those away, but that's lousy leadership.

What to do?

It's worth noting that the official advice of the WEA is that you never, ever trade money for jobs. Getting cost items into the contract is always a fight, and surrendering the long-term gain to avoid the short-term pain makes no sense in their view. The jobs always come back--remember, it's layoff AND recall--and while the pain is real for those sent away it's just part of doing business.

I understand that. Economically, intellectually, it makes all the sense in the world. When an organization that is fueled by member's dues money is telling you that the right thing to do is to have less members, that's probably something that you should listen to.

That said, teaching is a relational business, and layoffs hurt relationships. Culture counts, and I can understand the temptation to put the school family ahead of the fiscal ideal.

It's going to be an interesting couple of months.

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