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Spec Sess Day 3: Education cuts blasted


OLYMPIA — School administrators, teachers, middle school pupils and college students pleaded with a Senate panel to spare many of the programs on the chopping block in a budget fix proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Some broke down in tears when they described state programs that kept them in school or returned them so they could graduate. One group of technical college students played a YouTube video in an effort to convince legislators that budget cuts now would darken the future for years to come.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn criticized Gregoire's plan to save $99 million in the General Fund by cutting four days from the school year in 2012-13 and another $152 million by rearranging the levy equalization system so that poor school districts get less and more affluent districts could get none at all.

“Cutting four school days is simply not going to help students,” Dorn said. “Kids deserve an opportunity to reach their maximum potential.”

Students from Renton Technical College played a video they produced called “Don't Cut the Solution” (above) which features those in welding, computer aided design, medical assistants, auto technology and culinary arts holding up signs that said they had been unemployed but can expect to be working, and paying taxes, when they graduate.

The committee's opening hearing on the budget was interrupted for about a half-hour Tuesday by protesters who demanded the committee abandon its rules and abide by their rules for a “general assembly.” Several of those protesters were escorted or carried out of the committee room before that hearing could continue.

There were no such interruptions Wednesday. The committee, which has primary budget-writing authority in the Senate, will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon on proposed cuts to state Social Service programs, Health and Long-term Care programs on Monday afternoon, natural resources and general government programs Tuesday afternoon.

If students aren’t learning, who’s to blame?

Whom do you hold responsible for the problems Washington schools have graduating kids who can read, write, calculate and be intellectually flexible enough to have a dozen careers before they retire?

Put another way, whom do you blame for the fact that nearly one kid in three doesn’t graduate from high school, and among those who do, some go to college thinking a hypotenuse is one of animals in tutus in “Fantasia” or a dependent clause is a dead-beat relative?

To read more, go inside the blog…

WA Lege Day 23: Gov v. SPI on education

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire made the pitch to unify the state's school systems from preschool to gradulate degrees under her office, even if it means getting rid of the state's elected school chief.

“This is not about one governor…This is about having one system,” Gregoire said in supporting a bill that would allow her to appoint a cabinet-level secretary of Education and create a department that encompasses all learning prorgrams in state schools and colleges.

The current Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, made the pitch to keep an elected education leader.  “We need to do more. But I won't sit here and say the system is broke.”

The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee is considering several bills that would make major changes in school systems, including Gregoire's plan to consolidate all education under a gubernatorial appointee, and a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the office of SPI.

Some members of the Senate panel seemed critical of Gregoire's plan, wondering if it would create another mega agency like the Department of Social and Health Services. Not so, the governor said; DSHS has about 18,000 people, the education department she's proposing would have about 700.

Other members were critical of the current system. People complain the SPI's office “is like a dinosaur that can't be moved,” Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines said, while the dropout rates get worse and the achievement gap broadens.

Things need to be fixed, Dorn conceded, but the Legislature needs to accept some of the responsibility for the current problems. “We are cutting education,” he said.

But it's not solely about money, Chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, countered. The state has spent more on various programs over the years, but “there are many pieces that are still broken.”

Most speakers told the panel that some reform was necessary. But they disagreed sharply whether putting all education systems in one office, led by a governor's appointee, was the right reform.

The state needs the independent voice that a separately elected education official provides, Marie Sullivan of the state's association of school directors said. A member of the governor's cabinet can't speak against the governor's budget if he or she doesn't think it's adequate for education, Sullivan said.

But Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the office, said the governor is recognizable in a way the education superintendent is not; putting the governor in charge of education would create a tool needed to improve it.

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center said the governor needs the authority to make changes and by appointing the person in charge of all the state's education systems, voters “can better hold her accountable for improving education.”

Gregoire proposes education czar

Gov. Chris Gregoire explains proposals for education and higher education at a press conference Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — All of Washington's education systems and programs, from preschool through graduate degrees at universities, should be working together and overseen by a single office, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday.

Gregoire proposed creating the cabinet position of Secretary of Education — appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature — and placing responsibility for the many “silos” of education at all age levels into that office. That would include the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a constitutionally mandated official, elected by voters every four years, just as the governor is.

The state could eliminate the elective position, or keep it and have the OSPI report to the Education Secretary, Gregoire said at a morning press conference. “I'm comfortable either way.”

The current occupant of that office, Randy Dorn, is not comfortable with the idea. Wednesday afternoon he suggested it was a power grab by the governor…

Gregoire, others try to put best face on Race To Top loss

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire, Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn and others were trying to make lemonade Tuesday morning out of the federal government’s announcement that Washington didn’t make the list of finalists for Race To The Top.

All that work that was put into the application process can now be used as a roadmap to make Washington schools better, Gregoire, Dorn and state Education Board Chairman Jeff Vincent said in a prepared statement:

“When we put together our application, we were committed, win or lose, to making sure we would carry out education reform our way, the Washington way. Race to the Top enabled us to spend time creating a road map to our education reform efforts through a draft plan that reflected the work of many diverse groups as well as the good work started by our most recent education laws. We will finalize the plan this fall and use it to prioritize and allocate resources as we move ahead with our state education reform efforts.”

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the chairwoman of the Senate Early Learing and K-12 Education Committee, also was putting the best face on it:“Although we were not identified as a finalist in the RTTT competition, we will not waver in our work towards successful education reform.”

And from Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist:“…the steps we have already taken in preparation for Race to the Top money set a framework for investing in a stronger public schools system. The application process itself proves that we can and will continue to work together to continuously improve public education across Washington.”

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center, issued sort of a “told  ya so” statement, calling Washington’s cut from the team no surprise. The bill passed by the Legislature didn’t allow for innovative or charter schools, she said, create a rigorous enough evaluation process for teachers, make it easy enough for the state to turn around failng schools or assign good teachers to poor schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan talked about a quiet revolution in naming the finalist states, she noted: “Well, that revolution has clearly not reached the borders of Washington state, which continues to trap generations of children in second-rate schools.” 

Race to the Top is a competitive program, and states have to submit plans to meet certain goals to improve their schools. Tuesday morning the feds announced that 18 states and the District of Columbia are finalists and move on to further competition for the $3 billion.

Stapilus: Dorn Is No Cliff Lee

Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, pictured, (first elected not all that long ago, in 2008), evidently isn’t happy about his annual salary of $121,618. (Well, that was before he called it “a good salary,” maybe after rethinking his words.) Speaking to the House Ways and Means Committee a few days ago, he pointed out that he is paid less than 121 local school superintendents around the state – that’s not just larger urban district, but getting down into small rural ones with few kids, teachers or staff. And he compared his pay to the $9 million that Cliff Lee is paid by the Seattle Mariners to play baseball/Randy Stapilus, Ridenbaugh Press. More here.

Question: Do you get paid what you’re worth?

Dorn apologizes (sort of) for Cliff Lee comparison

OLYMPIA — State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn is sorry he compared his salary to Mariners’ pitcher Cliff Lee’s salary last week.

Which isn’t too surprising, considering he’s been taking flak for it for the last week on talk radio and elsewhere. It probably doesn’t help that Lee is proving to be well worth his salary these days, what with last night’s third consecutive complete game victory. If Dorn put up numbers like that for school test scores or graduation rates, he might be able to get a raise, too.

The background: Last week at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Dorn was telling legislators it was time for the nation to rethink priorities and put more resources on education.

“I don’t want to tell you how many pitches my salary would pay for, for Cliff Lee from the Mariners. It would be embarassing. Somebody who’s responsible for a 1,050,000 kids. It would only add up to a few pitches,” Dorn said. “We have our priorities out of whack.”

“It should be embarassing to our state, and the citizenry of the United States, that we’re only willing to spend, basically, a half a game, to be responsible for 1,050,000 students.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire was asked this morning what she thought of Dorn’s comments, and she declined to get involved in comparing  the SPIs and ERAs. But she didn’t support giving out raises, either.

“Every family that I know of in Washington state is struggling,” she said. “Nobody that I know of in public or private sectors is expecting pay raises now.”

Today, Dorn issued a statement about his previous statement, insisting that he was merely trying to make the point that we need to spend more on education by comparing it with what’s spent on professional sports.

“Unfortunately I made the mistake of using my salary as the point of comparison.  It was a poor analogy and I regret using it,” he said. “But I don’t regret pointing out the absurdity of our current lack of commitment to education funding.  I strongly believe we need to reset government and actually dedicate ourselves to fully funding a basic education for every child in this state.  Our future as a society depends on it.”

So here’s the problem with the logic in today’s statement…

WA sends in its Race to the Top app

OLYMPIA — Washington has nearly 9 of 10 school districts signing on for the federal Race to the Top competition, hoping to get a total of $250 million in federal cash for a wide variety of education programs.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn had a made-for-media event late Tuesday morning at Nisqually Middle School in Lacey to give the application a formal send-off. They have 265 of the state’s 295 school districts — covering 97 percent of the total students —  signed on.

A couple of months ago, there was some concern the state wouldn’t be able to submit an application because so few districts had turned in their paperwork. But it looks like that was mainly a function of waiting until close to the deadline.

Finalists for the program — it’s competitive, so the Deparemtn of Education will have to pick winners and losers — will be announced in mid summer, and the winners in early September.

For a list of the school districts, go inside the blog.

Dorn gets device that led to Thoma’s lawsuit

State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn received an automatic 90-day driver’s license suspension when he pleaded guilty last month to drunken driving.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t drive.

The Associated Press reports that Dorn (left) is driving with an ignition interlock device - the same device Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick wouldn’t allow now former Sgt. Brad Thoma to use in his patrol car after a DUI arrest last fall. Thoma is suing the city of Spokane, alleging wrongful termination.

The 2008 Washington Legislature adjusted drunken driving laws beginning in January 2009 to allow all offenders to regain their driving privileges if they install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles, instead of simply suspending their driving privileges for a period of time. The devices test a driver’s blood-alcohol level and prevent the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected.

Even first-time offenders who chose an intensive, five-year deferred prosecution program, like Thoma, must use one.The option also is available for DUI suspects facing license suspensions because they refused blood or breath tests, like Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Darin Schaum.

It’s unclear what that could mean for a Sheriff’s Office policy that calls for employees to be fired only after their second drunken driving offense. Kirkpatrick wouldn’t allow Thoma, a first-time offender, to use one because she doesn’t feel its appropriate for someone in law enforcement to drive with the device on their patrol car.

Past coverage Feb. 3: Ignition device law a test for agencies

State schools chief suspected of DUI

ORTING, Wash. (AP) — The state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction was arrested over the weekend for suspicion of driving under the influence, his office confirmed Tuesday.

Randy Dorn was stopped by police around 1:30 a.m. Sunday near Orting High School in rural Pierce County. The Tacoma News Tribune was first Tuesday in reporting on the arrest. Dorn said in a statement Tuesday that he and his family were attending a community event Saturday night at which he drank beer with dinner. He was stopped by police on the way home.

“The public has a right to information regarding the conduct of elected officials. However, I hope people will understand and respect that this is a personal legal matter that at this time I am not at liberty to discuss,” Dorn’s statement said. “I look forward to the day when I will be able to discuss the details of this incident.”

OSPI spokesman Nathan Olson said he could not comment further on the matter.

Police cited Dorn for driving under the influence and he also received a ticket for driving 10 miles over the speed limit, Orting Police Chief Bill Drake said. He wasn’t booked into Pierce County Jail, according to booking records. No charges had been filed as of Tuesday afternoon, but an April 6 court date has been set for an arraignment in Orting Municipal Court.

A breathalyzer test found Dorn’s blood-alcohol content was 0.11 Sunday morning, which is 0.03 above the legal limit in Washington, according to a State Patrol report released to the News Tribune.

A police officer administered the test twice at about 3 a.m., roughly an hour and a half after the officer pulled Dorn over.

Drake said he wouldn’t release any additional information until the city prosecutor decided whether to press charges. Orting Prosecuting Attorney Aaron Walls said that a decision about charges would be made after police have sent the arrest documents to his office.

Although the arrest occurred over the weekend, Dorn’s office remained silent until the newspaper sought comment, perhaps in the hope that the incident might go unnoticed because it happened in such a remote area.

Only a rare public figure comes out ahead of the news to announce such a lapse, said David Olson, UW political science professor emeritus.

“The uniformity with which elected officials do not do that is quite impressive,” he said.

Dorn was elected in 2008 to a four-year term leading Washington’s K-12 education system, unseating three-term incumbent Terry Bergeson.

He was executive of the Public School Employees of Washington union from 1999 until taking his new job. Earlier in his career, he served seven years in the state House, and worked as a teacher and principal in Eatonville and other districts.

Redefining basic education: 11th-hour deal is close…

In tomorrow’s paper:

In an 11th-hour push, education advocates in Olympia are calling on lawmakers and the governor to update the decades-old rule that spells out what the state should pay for in public schools.
“We’ve studied this long enough,” said state school superintendent Randy Dorn.

Dorn, along with members of the state board of education, parent teacher association and League of Education Voters, wants lawmakers to redefine “basic education.” That’s the basic learning that the state is supposed to pay for, with schools left to add extras from their local tax levies.

The definition of basic education hasn’t changed since the 1970s, he and others say. It doesn’t factor in things that have become increasingly important, like technology and school security.
“We are not a Third World country, yet we are not even paying the full cost of taking the bus” to school, said Mary Jean Ryan, chairwoman of the state board of education.

“We’ve been leaning on, leaning on, leaning on local levies,” said Dorn. “They’re maxed out.”

House Bill 2261 would expand the definition of basic education to include things like all-day kindergarten, more early learning programs, raising the high school graduation requirement to 24 credits and adding staffers, including librarians, counselors and nurses.

The changes would almost certainly mean raising more tax dollars. An early version of the proposal came with a price tag of at least $3 billion.

Proponents argue that better education means a stronger economy and fewer social service costs later.

“This is urgent, it’s compelling, and it has to happen now,” said Tacoma parent Cheryl Jones.
Conspicuously absent from Wednesday’s chorus, however, was a major player in state politics: the teachers’ union. In an unusual public split among education advocates, the Washington Education Association has focused instead on trying to stave off major budget cuts.

“We have adults who are pointing to this bill and saying this is something good for kids,” said Rich Wood, spokesman for the union. “At the same time, we’re cutting a billion dollars from those kids and the education that they’re getting.”

Instead of more promises of money in the future, he said, lawmakers need to be finding ways

No raises, thanks, most elected officials say. But new schools chief says the $121k salary’s not enough to draw top-tier candidates…

Yesterday and today, the state commission that sets salaries for elected officials has been meeting at a hotel in downtown Olympia.

So far, most of the politicians who’ve testified have said there should be no raises over the next two years, seeing as how Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed no cost-of-living increases for state workers and teachers.

One exception: newly elected state school superintendent Randy Dorn.

Dorn, who’s trying to hire staff for his office now, this morning stopped short of explicitly calling for more money. But he strongly hinted that the $121,000-a-year salary isn’t enough to keep attracting top talent to the public position.

By comparison, he said, 121 of the school superintendents across Washington are paid more than he is. The top 20 or so make considerably more — $200,000 or more, he said.

As he tries to hire people, he said, he’s finding that school district administrators typically are paid 15 percent to 25 percent more than the state pays school administators in his office. 

Dorn said he personally took a $25,000 pay cut to become state school superintendent. (He was the head of a union representing public school support staff.)

He said he knew that when he chose to run. But he said his employer was unusual in letting him keep his job while campaigning nearly full time. Most employers wouldn’t, he said. And that’s especially true for the top-rank pool of school superintendents. Why would they give up a year of their life to campaign, Dorn said, “and then take a $75,000 cut in pay?”

“How do you get quality people into the position? I think you’re going to have to make it more attractive than it is,” he said.

What’s Dorn planning to do with the WASL? Here are some hints…

Speaking of new state school superintendent Randy Dorn, he sent out an interesting invitation recently, saying that tomorrow he’ll unveil his plans for the controversial Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

Dorn was a state lawmaker when the original law passed, launching the WASL. But throughout last year’s campaign, he’s said that the intent of the law wasn’t the sort of expensive, high-stakes albatross that many teachers and parents see the test as today. Teachers have long complained that the grading takes so long that they don’t get the results until far too late to help struggling students.

From the press release:

In recent years, a consensus has developed within the state Legislature and the public that changes to the assessment system are needed. A less complex and more responsive system of measuring students’ progress is critical to help them achieve the basic skills they need.
While the WASL will be administered as planned in 2009, by spring 2010 the state assessment – including its name – will change and resemble what lawmakers, educators and the public want, Dorn said.

I caught up with Dorn in a Senate hallway this afternoon. He was reluctant to say much, but it sounds like he wants a computerized test that can provide results within a 30-day window, so that teachers can use the results to tailor their instruction for individual students.

“We can make it shorter, we can make it diagnostic, we can hook it up to technology, and then (shorten) the turnaround time, so teachers can use it as a tool,” he said.

More Wednesday on this.

Dorn opens with tough talk to lawmakers…

Newly elected state superintendent of public instruction Randy Dorn threw down the gauntlet on school funding Monday in his inaugural appearance before the state Senate education committee.

Money for schools must come first, Dorn told them:

“We’ve really never matched up the standards and how you fund education…I will be reminding the legislators that the number one, primary, paramount duty you have is to fund education. That doesn’t mean kinda number one, close to the top, it means beyond the top and out in front of everything else that you look at. That has to be your number one priority.

“That is a hard shift because there’s many many things that come to view that just strike you that we’ve got to do something about that. And it’s hard to place education absolutely above everything else. But you don’t have that choice. Your constitution says — and you take an oath of office — that you will follow that. So that’s what has to create all the decision-making…that’s where the funding has to be.

The lawmakers showed little reaction. Some shuffled papers; others gazed, showing no emotion, straight at Dorn.

Committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe said the budget remains a reality, and she wants input from Dorn to help lawmakers face the challenge.

“I’m asking you if you could help us, prior to seeing budgets released, could you give some input?” she said. “Because I think that’s critically important that you take this opportunity between now and a few weeks to kind of let us know, in this budget crisis, what would you do?

“I know you said it’s the number one priority,” she continued, “but we’ll take some share, you know that. While we will protect basic education, as we should. That is the paramount duty.”