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Seattle Couple Wants To Revamp State School System Initiative 642 Would Put Parents, Teachers In Charge

Jim and Fawn Spady envision scores of diverse publicly funded schools if Washington embraces their market-driven plan for education reform.

Fine arts schools, Afro-centric schools, even schools where learning focuses on chess would be possible if teachers wanted to run them and parents supported them.

The Spadys, a Seattle couple in their 30s, wrote an initiative to overhaul the state’s school system after pulling their two children from public schools because they were dissatisfied with the quality of education.

They now pay $4,400 per child to send their children to Bjorn Lih Primary School, a private school in Seattle.

“We can afford to spend that. Most people can’t,” said Fawn Spady. The couple was in Spokane to gather support for Initiative 642, the Education Excellence Initiative.

Kathleen McCurdy, a Spokane home school advocate, will be their local campaign manager, they said.

The state teachers union and the Washington Federation of Independent Schools oppose the measure.

The state PTA is studying it, but has concerns about how it will affect statewide education standards-setting efforts now under way.

The initiative attacks the monopolistic hold state government exerts on schools, said Jim Spady, an attorney who manages Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants, a Seattle chain.

“We’re trying to create a system where bureaucracies don’t stand in the way of reform,” he said.

The initiative would turn the current education system on its head by giving parents and teachers power over the purse strings. School districts would be reduced to landlords and transportation providers.

Each teacher-run school would get all the state, federal and local money now available for each student it enrolled. Spokane School District 81, for example, gets about $6,000 per student.

If the Spadys gather 187,000 valid signatures by July 7, the initiative gains a place on the ballot next November.

If it passes in November, the first effect would be a round of elections in local school districts in February 1996. Only districts where voters approved the plan would participate.

Reformed districts would have fewer state rules to follow. Teachers would manage their schools, hiring and firing principals and renting buildings from the district.

Parents could choose their children’s schools.

Private schools could get state money as long as they had certified teachers and were not religion-based.

A group of parents could organize a school tailored for their children’s needs as long they had a certified teacher.

Russian refugees or black parents, for example, could organize public schools as long as they didn’t discriminate, the Spadys said.

The current system fails because it tries to serve everyone, said Fawn Spady, president of a Seattle business consulting firm.

The teachers union says the reform plan could invalidate collective bargaining and due process for teachers, and would leave taxpayers responsible to bail out schools that mismanage money.

“It assumes teachers want to be business managers and in charge of turning institutions of learning into profit-making businesses,” said Spokane Education Association president Jerry Hopkins. “Most teachers didn’t go into teaching to do that.”

The independent schools group says the measure does nothing to benefit 85 percent of their member schools, which are religionbased. It also puts too much emphasis on teachers, the group says.