School board endorses public education reform bills

February 9, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Teachers rally against plan

Issaquah School Board members unanimously voted to endorse two bills supporting education reform,  House Bill 1410 and Senate Bill 5444, at a special board meeting Feb. 5.But not everyone is happy with the two bills or their endorsement. 

Issaquah Education Association union members asked the school board to vote against endorsing the bills, said Neva Luke, president of the Issaquah Education Association.

“The reality is very different from the promise,” she said, adding that the two bills are like previous legislation in Washington state regarding education reform. “The fear is that we would enact legislation, that we, as practitioners, feel is misguided.”

The two bills stem from studies, ideas and recommendations made by the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance committee in 2007, and the Washington Learns Steering Committee in 2005.

The two bills seek to implement several of those recommendations into law from each bipartisan committee.

So far, changes include:

– Implementing Core 24 graduation requirements, boosting the credit requirements of students from 20 to 24, and providing state resources to meet the requirements.

– Recognizing the need for continued professional development opportunities for teachers.

-Providing equity for historically disadvantaged children through early learning and at-risk programming.

– Correcting arbitrary funding disparities among districts in the current education funding system, including levy lids and grandfathered teacher salary schedules.

– Moving teachers from a seniority-based compensation system to a performance-and-evaluation-based compensation system.

– Continuing local control to administer school district affairs, but implementing new accountability systems to ensure local officials are accountable to parents, taxpayers and the Legislature.

– Phasing in educational plans and changes, including resources to fund them. 

By endorsing the two bills the resolution says, board members believe “these changes will demonstrably improve P-12 education in our community and throughout Washington state and ensure that graduates of the Issaquah School District are able to compete in a global market.”

“It breaks my heart that this bill makes teachers feel that we’re saying, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ That is not what I’m saying at all,” said Kelly Munn, a parent active in education legislation and a PTSA member. “What I’m saying is that we, as a community and a state, have abrogated our responsibility, we have not funded education and we have not dreamed. That is why I like this bill. It gives me the potential to dream.” 

In a letter to local teachers two days before the special board meeting, Luke called for teachers to “no longer sit back and just watch the action,” and to get involved, as much of “the profession as we know it is at stake.”

The bills “dramatically alters all aspects of K-12 public education, including certification, compensation and collective bargaining,” Luke wrote.

She said nearly 70 teachers showed up to the meeting. The association has also sent out a petition in opposition to the two bills. Roughly 500 signatures have been collected. 

While they are supposed to address the basic flaws in the educational finance system, many of those changes haven’t been decided or are going to be left up to future committees, the letter said.

“It would be as if the state transportation committee envisioned a new 520 bridge to be put across the water and it was a dream plan,” Luke said. “But they don’t have a financial impact statement, they haven’t planned for all the unintended consequences and they are ignoring the advice of the practitioners that have to build the bridge.

“We would never allow transportation to do that,” she said. 

Put that in context, with the fact there is potentially more than an $8 billion shortfall in the state’s budget, and it isn’t a good idea, she said. 

“They’ve come up with a bill that is a dream education system that costs billions on top of what we have,” Luke said. “Right now, we’re looking at laying off large numbers of teachers in the state and larger class sizes. Where’s the discussion on how to rebuild from that?” 

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com.

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