An Open Letter to the McCleary Workgroup

On September 24, Governor Inslee will convene a work group on McCleary — the Washington State Supreme Court decision that upholds the state legislature’s paramount duty to fully fund public K-12 education. Rather than fulfilling that obligation, our state legislature is presently in contempt of the decision and paying a fine of $100,000 daily. If you want to get caught up, check out the grassroots group Washington’s Paramount Duty or use their handy list of relevant documents and articles here

Dear Senators Ericksen, Rivers, Rolfes, and Billig and Representatives Sullivan, Lytton, Magendanz and Smith,

I am the mother of three daughters; the oldest two are elementary students in the Seattle Public Schools. I am writing on behalf of these members of the Class of 2025, 2028, and 2033, in the hope that you apply sensible, bi-partisan solutions for Washington state to finally fulfill its paramount duty to fully funding public education.
Our state has unparalleled natural, agricultural, intellectual, and technological resources to marshal in providing for both our most vulnerable and for our future. By not fulfilling our promise to our children, we risk bankrupting our 21st century economy. The funding shortfall means that working, middle-class families are juggling constant requests to make up the budget at school, which always competes with the budget at home.
Here are the requests we have received to provide basic academic classroom equipment or supplies since the beginning of the school year:

Continue reading An Open Letter to the McCleary Workgroup


7 Ways to Keep the Strike Going All Year Long

Even if the Seattle Educators Association votes on the tentative agreement as a fair deal, the community support around our educators and students needs to continue for real change.

  1. Keep the pressure on state officials. Why is a state with a positive trade balance with China 47th in the U.S. for education funding? Demand serious results out of these McCleary work groups. Increase calls for Governor Inslee to call a special session. Pressure your legislators to get out of contempt. Don’t ever, ever forget that funding education is the state’s paramount duty, enshrined in our constitution. We can’t bakesale our way out of this. 
  2. Work to end PTA funding inequality. Why do students with wealthy PTA supporters get music, library books, and more staff while schools across the opportunity gap are locked out? If your school’s PTA raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, you have a moral responsibility to share those funds with under-funded schools in our district. The de-facto privatization of our most affluent schools who overcome this funding gap through wealthy backers has no place in a progressive city with an eye for the public good. Suggestions like donating a percentage of funds raised or creating a ceiling where funds in excess go into a pool for underfunded schools should be explored district-wide.
  3. Think long and hard about the makeup of our school board. Do you want to retain a board who moved to take legal action on educators before the strike deadline and one lone dissenter voted WITH our teachers? Get educated on who’s running. Put time into a campaign that will back educators. There have been calls made to recall the current board. Bottom line: our votes got them there and our responsibility doesn’t end with the ballot.
  4. Turns out the teachers really love the support. It’s going to be a strange start to the year, and they need to know you’ve got their back. Remember to write thank-yous to your teachers. Work in collaborative, respectful partnership around your student’s development. Volunteer. Bring in coffee. Take flowers. Buy a gas card for a teacher with a 45 minute commute.
  5. Consider opting your student out of standardized testing. Standardized tests are a great moneymaker for the companies dictating curriculum. I’d love for my students to use the library for reading and learning rather than excessive testing. We have the right to opt our children out. At some point, enough students may opt out of the tests that administering them won’t be worth the time and money.
  6. Keep up the witness at the administrative offices at JSCEE. Play-ins, parent pickets, and vigils. If every time the board, superintendent, and the 100 top-paid employees in the district (whose collective pay rose by $1,400,000 from 2012-13 to 2014-15)* walked past a group of parents in red, they’d remember who they are serving.
  7. Equity matters. Be the village. Promises around ratios for special education, caseloads for nurses and therapists, and equity committees must be honored. Stay connected with parents and schools across the city to broadly advocate for equitable treatment and hold the district accountable for its promises.

*Numbers from SPS budget hobbyist Meg Diaz, shared in a post by David Edelman in the Facebook group Soup for Teachers on 09/11/15.

Incoming Kindergarten Parents: Fear Not

A little story from the family archives regarding the start of the school year getting delayed.

Three years ago, armed with the school assignment letter, the transportation letter, the back-to-school night class assignment, and a welcome letter,  we arrived to drop off our firstborn on her first day of kindergarten only to find that she wasn’t on the list.

That’s right. A five-year-old who is stratospherically excited to finally start school and somehow between back-to-school night and actual back to school, the district computer system had eaten her record.

Continue reading Incoming Kindergarten Parents: Fear Not

What if we Flip the Script

We keep hearing from district administration that money is limited. We understand.

Seattle Public Schools families understand what it’s like to live on a tight budget; rents have gone up approximately 37% in the past 5 years and nearly 40% of SPS families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

If anyone is worried about money this week, it’s the families struggling to pay for extra childcare outside what they budgeted for. If anyone is trying to figure out how to do more with less, it’s the families who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to feed their families. If anyone is concerned about money, it’s the teacher who sent a plea for her project that she’s hoping to get matching funds for to purchase books for her classroom.

Money is limited. So why are we spending it on an excessive number of standardized tests, far beyond the state and federal requirements?

Money is limited. So why are spending it on searches for position openings vacated by teachers who leave the profession or the district in search of decent pay?

Money is limited. So why do we keep spending it on searches, interims, and severance packages for superintendents in a district that has had FIVE people to hold that title in ten years?

Money is limited. And yet we’ve had to endure fraud and embezzlement and the attendant legal fees de-throning of district administrators.

Money is limited. So why are did the top 100 salaried administrators in the district earn a combined $1,400,000 MORE in 2014-15 than two years before?

Money is limited. So why are we spending it to retain counsel to explore legal action against the teachers for striking?

Money is limited. So what is being done to bring pressure to bear on Governor Inslee to call a special session of the legislature and get out of contempt on the McCleary decision?

Money is limited. So what is our district leadership doing to change our funding model?

Our educators already know that money is limited.

Money is limited. Our teachers bring in their own art and equipment for their classrooms.

Money is limited. A science teacher keeps the same population of meal worms alive for over ten years.

Money is limited. A school nurse cruises the Goodwill to stock up on extra clothes for the kids who have accidents and rarely return the loaners.

Money is limited. Parents buy basic classroom supplies.

Money is limited. Educators are already responsible stewards of district resources. Don’t balance the budget on their backs.

This Would Only Happen to Educators

One of the things about this strike that begs credulity is that somehow, teacher compensation has been forced into a negotiation package on issues that have nothing to do with salary. Our educators are on strike for a host of reasons, and it’s a real headscratcher as to how issues like recess time and equity in discipline around the opportunity gap got on the table when negotiating fair pay.

There are educators on strike because students in other schools don’t have guaranteed adequate recess. Teachers are on strike because other schools don’t have equity in discipline. Educators who teach advanced placement and high ability students are waving placards so that students in self-contained special education classrooms have access to the professional services they need.

Now imagine any other job where you would negotiate your contract based on the working conditions of colleagues in different departments across the city. Continue reading This Would Only Happen to Educators

Everybody Goes to School

On the picket lines yesterday, I got a few moments to hear from a special education teacher. After a hot day stumping around on the concrete, talking about his students put a huge grin on his face.

“I have the best families,” he enthused, his passion for his students radiating from him. I learned that he works in a self-contained classroom. “Everybody goes to school.”

Everybody goes to school.

It’s a revolutionary idea. We live in a time and place where the predominant belief is that everybody deserves access to an education.

Not just the aristocrats.

Not just the boys.

Not just the children of literate people.

Not just the citizens.

Not just the neurotypical.

Not just the whites.

Everybody goes to school. 

I’m not saying our system is perfect, or that massive reforms aren’t needed to provide the care and services to the most vulnerable students. I’m not saying there isn’t an opportunity gap. I’m not saying that there is racial equity in discipline. I’m just saying, that in this place, in this brief slice of human history, we live in a place where access to education is PUBLIC.

We have thousands of educators, many with advanced degrees, who work to implement this idea in a thousand ways every day.

By working a plan to communicate with a student who is just learning English.

By meeting with parents to learn how to best partner in the education of a medically fragile child.

By getting a homeless student to the right shuttle at day’s end.

By calling on the girls who don’t raise their hands.

By designing a lesson to engage a reluctant reader who needs to use her whole body when she’s sounding out words.

By welcoming a refugee student to the American school system for the first time.

Everybody goes to school. 

Not just the test acers.

Not just the ones who will profit their families by getting an education.

Not just the ones with parents who can afford it.

Not just the ones who were born in perfect health.

Everybody goes to school. 

That’s the foundation of our democracy. School is a place where we learn to be citizens and to care for one another. Not to care for just some of us. Everybody.

It’s enshrined in our Washington state constitution as our paramount responsibility.

When will our state officials and district leadership restore this sacred trust and fund a city and a state where each child can get an education?

And when will we as citizens hold our elected officials accountable to that great democratic ideal: everybody goes to school.

On Private School and Choice

“So, when are we going to get sick of this and just go to private school?”

It’s said jokingly, in the handoffs with makeshift childcare arrangements. When the e-mails come in from the district: no school tomorrow. When we see first day of school photos rolling in from friends around town, their kids looking pert and uniformed. We imagine private school parents swinging from the chandeliers, mimosas in hand and bathrobes casually askew as they saunter back home to eat bonbons and mine Pinterest for birthday party ideas.

Instead, this week public school parents are scrambling for childcare. Summer has already gone a few days past its sell-by date, with the kids amped up on daily hopes of starting school and a stench of too much sibling togetherness. Those who stay home do it only with a blue U.N. peacekeeping helmet and a constant drip of coffee. Those who work outside the home drag kids to the office, beg favors from friends and family, or call any organization or camp that may be offering childcare on the fly.

It’s stressful.

“Seriously, have you thought about private school?”

In Seattle, nearly 30% of our school-age children attend private schools. I find this fascinating, as we’re one of the most un-churched cities in the country. Private school choice is not a religious phenomenon.

Continue reading On Private School and Choice