An impressionistic account of the WEA Chinook legislative forum on January 8th, 2008 in Tumwater, Washington. All rights reserved.
Arrived at headquarters. Walked through the Burger King-imbued mist to the forum. Snacked.
"I know our lobbyist checks out your blog from time to time," said one of our union reps.
"It must be pretty good, then," said the fellow who was trying to get me on the wireless network. One reboot later, I was good to go. And here I am, liveblogging the legislative forum.
Teachers, EAs, retirees, and hangers-on are still milling about the cheese tray. The muckety-mucks aren't here yet. I'm guessing that Karen Fraser and Brendan Williams will be fashionably late, that Sam Hunt will arrive first, that Gary Alexander will smile until his cheeks split, and that Tim Sheldon will join the Republican party before coming.
Am I the only person who confuses Sam Hunt and Gary Alexander?
Sam is taller.
Gary Alexander (20th District) and Sam Hunt (22nd District) take the stage first. Karen Fraser's running late, visiting flooded areas, says WEA's Kathie Axtell. Alexander gets to talk first. "Good--let me eat, and you talk," says Hunt.
Alexander talks about his experience, committee assignments. A new gig: the Gambling Committee. "I'll find out what my responsibilities are tomorrow," he says. "Wanna bet?" Hunt quips, and then launches into his own résumé and educational bona fides.
Fraser (22nd District) appears, introduces self, long list of political positions. "I have managed to lead a real life in spite of all that."
Axtell thanks the legislators for coming, near the start of the short session, and introduces WEA prez Mary Lindquist. Axtell's first question: what are the "hot spots" in the upcoming session?
Alexander: The flood. He's happy with the Congressional, legislative, and gubernatorial responses so far, but wants to ensure that the work keeps moving forward. Sees a need for budgetary restraint--worries that we're going to spend ourselves into a deficit if we don't pare down in this "supplemental budget year." Interested in seeing what educational and health care task forces will come up with.
Hunt: The flood. Transportation--ferries, viaduct, 520 Bridge, Seattle congestion. Sums up the problem of securing funding for new projects or fixes: "If it doesn't fall down, you're not getting any money." Worries about state education revenue--according to recent forecasts, growth may slow in 2009-2010 to 3%. "Where we're going on WASL, I don't know." Going to try to focus on real "emergency" needs. "We have enough dilemmas to last us at least 60 days."
Fraser: The budget. "If there's anything we can do smarter, we should do it." Says the capital budget is "oversubscribed," but is no public demand for revenue increase (what you might call, say, "taxes"). Flood. K-12 construction competes with prisons. "Always engage on prison and sentencing discussions, because it affects you." I-970 makes some budget decisions especially difficult.
Hunt jumps in to point out that the fastest-growing cost is in health care, and that environmental issues are also major priorities this year.
Question / comment time begins.
Glen Hunter, a math teacher at WF West, talks about the difference between 1973 and now. Back then, he was 1 out of 150 applicants for a math job. This year, the school posted a math job that got two applicants. How do we get more, better qualified math and science teachers?
Alexander blames school districts for taking additional funding for math and science and "spreading it around" to other positions. Sees "nothing wrong" with providing incentives for filling difficult positions.
Hunt disagrees, saying that our salaries lag behind other neighboring states, and that the legislature has failed to step up. "The ceiling becomes the floor," he says, but I'm pretty sure he means the opposite.
Another commentator talks about the substitute shortage, too. In Australia, she says, subs are put on per diem pay, which keeps their numbers up. Another chimes in: I shoudln't have to find the principal.
Samantha Chandler, Olympia, a 6th-year teacher, talks about the debt new teachers can take with them into their early years in the classroom. (Read the NEA article here.) Her idea for cutting back: how about reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders? Also, "Development should pay for development," instead of providing loopholes for companies like Cabela's.
Fraser notes that the legislature has been very cautious about the drug issue, because they might appear "soft on crime." She's disappointed by the deal Cabela's got.
Hunt adds on, saying that the legislature's habit of increasing crimes to felonies adds costs. Thinks that we're "looking at that much more carefully" now.
Betty Hauser, North Thurston para-eduator, asks about the distinction between cost-of-living increases for teachers, and similar increases for EAs. The former went straight to the individuals, while the latter was trickled down to districts--and sometimes stopped there. What gives?
Alexander bites first, saying that he's frustrated that districts have ignored the intent to have individuals compensated directly--and that this is the first time he's heard about it. (This surprises Axtell.) Furthermore, Alexander says the GOP caucus would support having a separate education budget first. Sees a lack of funding for special needs as well. Hunt appends here, noting that other agencies have ignore legislative directives, treating them as mere "guidelines." Fraser basically agrees. Alexander says that redistributing appropriations "goes beyond local school district authority."
Hunt talks about one of the major weirdnesses in our system: teachers funded by the state get a 3% raise... and "levy teachers" don't. To keep everything equitable, districts are forced to make up the difference.
Rebecca Angus: What about the COLA that we should've got, but didn't?
Alexander: "I don't think it'll be this session." He notes that it's usually more costly to play "catch-up" than to just fund our obligations in the first place. It's "sexier" to build new schools than to fix old ones, Hunt adds.
Jenny Morgan, CHS counselor: What about class size?
Fraser says to keep fighting for expansions beyond K-3. Hunt says we'll get smaller classes "When we get tax reform, and a new funding formula for basic education." Alexander believes that the issue is still debatable and is open to arguments on either side, but sees success in earlier years. Wants K-3 money to go there, and not somewhere else. Hunt thinks "295 school districts is at least 150 too many."
Angus presses Hunt on the issue of reform: when will this happen? Hunt says that public pressure isn't out there, at least not yet.
6:50, one hour in
A commentator named Kathy Tarabolski (sp) from North Thurston asks about the WASL and special needs. What do we do with the students who aren't meeting standards on our state's test, when it seems to be such a poor measure of certain students' abilities?
Hunt questions the questioner: as a teacher, what would you do?
Another teacher talks about the European style, separate "avenues" for those who aren't supposed to be "scholars."
Alexander agrees, saying we need an earlier form of vocational tracking in schools.
Axtell explains that we lost the WAAS-DAW (the WASL alternative) when it was axed by the federal government. Tarabolski seconds this.
Fraser says that we should re-examine how much time, effort, and money is going into
Carmel Berg, White Pass: as a citizen and teacher, how can I get involved to make changes? Did we fail somehow when the WASL first came about?
Fraser: I don't think we anticipated the outcome. The entire educational establishment was for the WASL when it was originally conceived.
Hunt: "The WASL became the canary that ate the cat." HB 1209, the WASL bill, included a list of goals that were meant to be fulfilled concurrently, but weren't.
Betty Hauser speaks again: the test itself isn't the real problem, it's what we do with the test.
Mike, a math teacher, talks about how "wrong-headed" the WASL has been since the beginning. And some other things. His major point: learn about other systems. While he's filibustering, I check out the original WASL bill [pdf]. Those were heady days.
Other teachers talk about how the federal government, especially through NCLB. Will we take a stand against NCLB as a state?
Hunt encourages teachers to start pressuring their legislators en masse. Also, "I'd like to see this reversed" next year, so legislators can listen to a teacher panel. Be careful what you wish for, Representative...
I finally ask my question. No one committed yet; Hunt "hasn't met" Rich Semler, and has no current endorsement in the upcoming. "That's a good question for all of you," he says. "We're on it," Axtell responds. Later, she talks about how the WEA went out searching for a fresh face for OSPI, but couldn't find anyone. Is Semler going to cut it? Will someone else step up? Or is Bergeson a lock?
And we're done. I'll wrap up in a little while, once I've had time to reflect and check a few quotes on my voice recorder.