Money woes in the spotlight at Steve Sundquist’s “coffee hour”

By Charla Mustard-Foote
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Seven people with a vital interest in West Seattle public schools got together with West Seattle’s Seattle School Board rep Steve Sundquist at Coffee to a Tea in The Junction this morning, to discuss issues ranging from proposed new staggered school start times (to accommodate a dual busing schedule) to a redefinition of the statewide definition of Basic Education.

It was Sundquist’s first “coffee hour” since the board’s controversial vote on school closures/changes, but that wasn’t the top issue on the mind of attendees — who had ties to Center School, Pathfinder, Garfield, and Washington Middle School — all were passionately concerned about the effects of state and local budget deficits on the content and quality of Seattle educational programs.

SB5607, is the proposal of Washington State Education Associations and Unions, along with some other local school administrations.

The definition of “basic education” determines education requirements for schools across the state. In times of drastic budgetary constraints, this is where the bar is set. Parents present were concerned that schools provide programs to attract and retain all students; limiting funding to “basics” at the expense of art and sports programs can sharply cut into attendance, even though the budgetary issues are obviously important.

Issues of transportation and “bell times” are also in the forefront of school planning now. Using the same “yellow buses” for two trips per day can cut back on transportation costs. Determining start times for younger students, versus high school students is of critical interest to many parents who have to coordinate bus times with their own work transportation issues. Again, parents were urged to get involved and express opinions early in the process to get the most attention.

Parents expressed concern about rumors that Deans, who identify at-risk students at Pathways High School, will be retained but teachers who work with the students may be laid off. Sundquist acknowledged that these are difficult trade-offs, but they may be required by the drop in available funding. An across-the-board concern was that these drastic cuts will mean that fewer kids graduate from high school — and, ultimately, their work opportunities will be limited by short-term budgetary constraints.

Many critical school issues piggyback on other state financial concerns: Funding for the Metro bus system will impact availability of alternative transportation for high school students, school funding included in the Federal Stimulus package will affect money available to local schools, and, of course, decreases in city property and sales tax revenue have a negative impact on the overall money available to schools. The school board and administration has to consider all these variables as they plan upcoming budgets and they depend on input from parents to assist in this planning.

Thursday, February 26, is the statewide PTA Focus and Lobbying day in Olympia. The revised basic Education definition will be a major topic of this annual event. To get more information, check out the state PTA web page and contact your local school’s organization.

2 Replies to "Money woes in the spotlight at Steve Sundquist's "coffee hour""

  • Westside February 18, 2009 (10:52 pm)

    For example, at least two groups have proposals to redefine basic education: two bills, Senate Bill 5444 and House Bill 1410, are supported by the Seattle School Board.

    Has anyone seen what these bills contain? They are horrendous! It’s nothing short of a de-professionalization of teaching. If the bills pass, teachers will no longer make more money for becoming better educated themselves (got a Master’s or Ph.D.? You’ll make the same as the new guy fresh out of undergrad). Further, teachers will no longer be guaranteed any pay increase if they take continuing education credits. The bills also extend the provisional contract for new teachers to five years. It also ties certification to a student scores on standardized tests.

    All of these things favor new, inexperienced teachers over experienced, veteran ones. If passed, these bills will greatly worsen the revolving door problem in public education, making teaching a stopover job for people moving on to do something else, instead of a professional vocation. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to go to a school with some continutiy among the staff and with teachers who really want to be there.

    Essentially, these bills will create the same system that we ended up with in the community colleges. Thirty-some-odd years ago, the legislature passed a bill to allow “part-time” teachers at community colleges, so community members with experience in various fields could bring their wisdom to the college. The intent was to have 5-10% of the staff be part-timers. In Washington, that number is now close to 80%. Why? Because it’s cheaper to hire part time teachers, even though most of them don’t even last long enough to figure out what the hell they are doing before they move on. I taught at a Seattle community college for 2.5 years, and when I left, not a single other part-timer was left in my department that had been there when I was hired.

    Is this the kind of system we what we want for our primary and secondary schools? If we don’t do something about these bills, that’s essentially what we are going to get.

    So call your state legislators and tell them to VOTE NO ON HB1410 and SB5444. Spread the word. Visit for more information or call the Legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000

  • parent February 19, 2009 (10:39 am)

    perhaps the fact that he only had 7 people attend the coffee hour was linked to the fact that he held the coffee hour during work hours.

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