Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Post With No Title

I'm sitting with my stepfather. We're at the University of Washington Medical Center. If you're going to die of cancer, it's a good enough place.

Last summer he was tired, extremely tired, all the time. Went in for a blood test. Was rushed into the hospital the day the results came back because his white blood cell counts were negligible. Leukemia, at the age of 58.

So we've been through medications and chemotherapy and every treatment, and last week they looked at where he's at and found that the last round of chemo didn't even make a dent in his condition. The conversation has shifted from "This is how we're going to help you get better" to "Here's a brochure about hospice programs in your area."

Hospice. Fuck.

He asked if I wanted any of his things. You know, after. I didn't have an answser. Who would?

My parents are old. My stepfather probably won't see September. My daughter is turning 4. These things are all equally baffling to me, but it's just the passage of time going on as it always has. I can curse the calendar, but the pages will turn as they always do, uninterested in what I think about the matter.

The only constant is change.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Timbre of the Timber

One of my big projects this spring was to take a New Business Item (NBI) to the WEA's Representative Assembly regarding federal timber money. It read like so:

Background: OSPI withholds basic education dollars equal to federal forest money from school districts by lowering their apportionment by an equal amount. Money intended for schools for the mitigation of the negative impacts of federal and court actions should go to those schools.

Cost Implications: $18,000,000 to Washington State government

WEA Goal Objectives:
  • Improve the quality of and access to public education for all students
  • Forge partnerships with parents, business, other unions, and community groups.
Recommended Actions

That WEA lobby to ban the deduction of basic education dollars in lieu of Federal timber monies and to let these dollars “flow through” to the districts they are allotted to; and

That WEA work in a two prong approach, one with our congressional delegation and the other with the state legislature, to end the current practice of school district general apportionment money being lowered by an amount equal to the Federal Timber money received, thereby depriving some of our neediest school districts of an available means of support.
Why this? The background is that the Federal government provides money to counties that have had taxable land taken away because of the creation of a national park, monument, or forest; this money is to be split evenly between the county government and any school districts within that county. This was how it was done until the economic crisis of the early '80s, when the powers-that-be decided they'd lower the general fund apportionment for timber districts by an amount equal to what they would have received from the Feds; the practical impact, then, was that the state didn't have to fully fund those schools because Federal money bailed them out of the responsibility.

What's that mean, then? A district like Newport loses nearly $270,000 a year, more than enough for three teachers. Republic, one of my favorite places in Washington, is out $120,000+. Down in Southwest Washington you've got Napavine, Adna, Winlock, and Onalaska who all lose out on $100,000+. For Wenatchee, $600,000. Port Townsend, $562,000. Everett, $140,000. All told, we're talking $18,000,000 a year that should be going to the schools that's being put into OSPI instead.

To me it seemed like a slam dunk, particularly since groups like the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition say that the money is at-risk in the Federal budget anyhow, and if we're not using the money the way it was intended that makes it that much easier for it to be cut off at the source in Washington D.C. Further, we don't deduct other sources of money--impact aide, Title money, federal construction grants--from the general fund apportionment of the districts that benefit, so why do we do that to the timber districts that often need the help the most?

I didn't count on the resistance from the urban locals, particularly in King County.

The first step in getting an NBI in is to send it to the WEA Board Meeting for their take on it. I thought I might get a call, get some thoughts, get something--instead, all I got was a phone call from a sheepish board member saying that the WEA Executive Committee, which is a subset of the WEA Board that meets with Mary Lindquist, had given my NBI a Do Not Pass recommendation, which was then stamped by the WEA Board proper. This was rather damning, because then the NBI goes out to all the delegates attending RA with this scarlet letter attached, and that's no good.

I wasn't willing to concede the point, though--the cause is the right one. I started a Facebook group to help get the word out, sent letters to as many councils around the state as I could, and had a couple of friends within the organization leak me the document that was being passed around opposing the NBI so I could respond to it.

From March to May 15th there was a ton of wrangling. Had some good phone calls, had some bad phone calls. Had a couple of people tell me that I was Neal Kirby's patsy, had a couple of others thank me for taking the issue forward. At one point I was pretty well convinced that I was going to withdraw the NBI, but at the end I decided that I'd rather lose for the right reasons than not fight at all, so it went all the way to the floor of the RA....

....at which point it was referred to committee. The fight was shaping up to be big locals versus small locals, and that wouldn't have done any of us any good. I'll be making sure that this isn't one of those "Send it to committee to die" deals, because in these economic times that's just too much money to walk away from.

I learned an awful lot by going through the process--if you've ever considered running a new business item at RA, give it a go. You'll create memories to last a lifetime!

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Open Letter to Certain Conservative State Legislators

Hi friends,

Does the WEA trend to the left politically? Yes, we do.

Historically, has the WEA Political Action Committee (WEA-PAC) endorsed more Democrats than Republicans? Surely, we have.

But do you really think it helps to not even attempt to engage?

Take, for example, a local incumbant legislator here in the Spokane area who I have emailed 6 times (twice each at three different email addresses, including that of his campaign manager), asking for a time where he'd be willing to meet with us to talk about education issues. I also attempted two phone calls to this fellow. None have been returned.

I say this out of love, truly. When we start rolling out the candidate recommendations later this week there are going to be some glaring and gaping holes in certain legislative districts, and it would sound much, much better to the voters if I said, "We chose a different directions" as opposed to "The Representative refused to meet with us." One puts the onus on us. The other puts it squarely on you.

Your pal,


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Free Political Advice from an Asshat on the Internet

If Clint Didier is really going to have Sarah Palin coming to Washington to campaign for him, it's not the east side of the state where she needs to be seen--it's the I-5 corridor. You want an impact, have one event in Seattle and one event in Vancouver.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nine Thoughts on My First Year Teaching 5th Grade

1) This is where I'm meant to be. I loved my years teaching first grade, and covering those early reading skills will always hold a special place in my heart, but the energy and independence of 5th graders is a much better match for my personality and skill set. It was a tough change to commit to when it came up, but it was the right change for me.

2) I'm not a fan of the LASER science kits we use here in Washington. A year of 5th grade teaching, and an experience giving the statewide science test, has done nothing but reinforce my view.

5th grade is the tested year for science in the K-6 band--i.e., we're the ones who's scores get reported to the state--and the science test covers *everything* that they're supposed to know. The trick is that the LASER kits for 5th grade cover variables, earth science, and nutrition, and the way they do it is very, very poor.

We need a proper science curriculum. That's not what LASER is, and I doubt that's what it ever was intended to be. The goal of hands-on science is absolutely the right one (I taught a dissections unit, for example, that was the highlight of the year), but if it's not properly balanced with vocabulary, diagraming, and the like, we're never going to get where we need to go.

3) I spend way too much time during the year reacting--hence the way my amount of blogging went in the tank--but I'm really looking forward to using this summer to reflect on the year. Part of the beauty of K-12 education is that you get a sabbatical every 9 months, and there's an incredible amount of power in that.

4) I'm obsessed with the state budget, but that pays off--I'd been talking to my members all year long about where things are and where they could go, and after everything was fleshed out we were in a position as a district where no one was RIFed, no provisional will be non-renewed, and the only one of my 125 members I might not be able to bring back is a half-time retire/rehire teacher at my middle school, and that said I think I might have a way to save her, too.

My end line is jobs--if we're saving jobs, we're doing the right thing--and for this year at least, my district was able to do the right thing. I'd also note that I get incredibly pissed at those districts that tell the public "Hey, we didn't have any layoffs!" when at the same time they're sending away provisional teachers in droves. We saved every position. That should always be the goal, no matter the sacrifice.

5) I had three kids get sick during the dissections, particularly the star fish--I think it was the smell that did them in. Oddly enough, they were all boys--my girls did great. Breaking down gender roles FTW!

6) The people who hated my science teaching style the most were.....the custodians. Happily, when you have the kids on your side, you also tend to have the parents, and that can carry you a looooooong ways.

7) I had a teacher get terminated this year. It does happen. It is doable. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

8) I've really, really got to lose some weight. I've really, really got to find a way to work exercise into my day during the school year. I've really, really got to cut the Red Bull and Monster Energy drinks out of my diet.

9) My daughter is doing absolutely amazingly well since getting the cochlear implant in--phrasing words, asking questions, and doing everything that we had hoped she would do. Stressful at the time, but the right decision.

See you on the blogs!

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

The L"E"V Makes a Video

I've had Paramount Duty sitting on my desk for a few weeks now, waiting for a chance to watch it over summer vacation. I certainly hope it's better than this:


I'm told the League of "Education" Voters is great on funding issues. I wish they were similarly great on job protections and understanding that KIPP and Teach for America can't possibly go to a million-student scale.

But I guess we can't have it all.

More on their new bad idea here.

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"I want to give the WEA credit for stretching as far as they did. We extended the provisional status of teachers from 2 years to three years. The fact that the WEA enthusiastically supported these reforms is a big deal."
--Lisa McFarland, League of Education Voters, at the Mainstream Republicans Conference

Watch the whole 90 minutes--it's the best overview you're going to find of where we're at with ed reform in Washington.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

See, That's What I've Been Saying!

When the idea of taking seniority out of layoffs comes up, I always think of stories like this:

After working more than 20 years at a well-paying job, I was a victim of widespread job cuts. The fact that I was a long-term employee actually worked against me as bureaucrats eagerly cut many of us who had the highest salaries to maximize their savings.
It's all well and good for the Marguerite Rozas of the world to play with numbers, and God bless those who want to consider their idea of "quality" in layoffs, but the fact remains that layoff by seniority is still the only neutral way we have of making those decisions.

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