Posts related to the 2009-10 budget crisis.
Note: The section below in red was updated on 6/2/10. It previously stated “PE time with specialists is cut below what the state recommends at a time childhood obesity is increasing;”
The Bellingham Education Association will be meeting today with Bellingham School District officials to discuss the impacts of the elementary schedule change.
I really don’t have any new information to share, but I know this is something being discussed around the community, so I thought it would be worthwhile to bring the topic up again.
I just had a quick conversation with Shirley Potter, president of the BEA, about this. From the BEA’s standpoint, there are several issues with schedule change, one of the biggest being the change potentially violates teacher contracts, specifically in the area of planning time. (this has been brought up here on School Days before)
As previously reported, district officials changed the elementary schedule in an effort to save money on transportation. All students, regardless of grade, will be attending school from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. This is a half-hour increase for students in grades K-2 and a half-hour decrease for students in grades 3-5. The times were selected based upon input from a survey done with parents, students and staff this winter (the district received about 2,000 responses).
As I’ve discussed here on School Days, this decision has upset many people, teachers and parents included. Shirley Potter said that district officials “failed to discuss the impacts” of this change with the BEA. Changing the schedule means that PE and music time for students in grades 3-5 is cut, with students only getting 40 minutes per week for PE and about 35 minutes for music. However, PE and music time for students in grades K-2 is increased (they previously didn’t have time with specialists).
There are several issues people have raised: teacher planning time is reduced which violates their contract (specialists provide planning time for classroom teachers); PE time is cut below what’s required by state law at a time childhood obesity is increasing (school district officials have said the remaining PE time to be in compliance will be conducted by the classroom teacher, but there is argument about whether the law requires PE time be with a specialist or not); elementary music is being reduced while the strings program is being cut, which potentially impacts the quality of the music program at the upper school levels.
Potter said in a phone conversation this afternoon that these items will be discussed at today’s meeting. The biggest issue however is the potential violation of teacher contracts by reducing their in-school planning time. Potter did say planning time (half-hour) was being added before school, however the contract calls for time during school.
“People need individual planning time to work on stuff for class,” she said.
The appeal that was filed in Whatcom County Superior Court by Save Our Schools Bellingham over this issue (it’s specifically arguing the PE cuts are against the law) is still going, although there has not been any movement since early May. No hearings have been scheduled. The appeal was filed by parents and is separate from anything going on between the BEA and the Bellingham School District.
The Bellingham School District is seeking input about last school year’s budget process and ways to improve it for this school year.
Last winter and spring, district officials worked with staff and community members to create a list of possible ways to save money during budget cuts. To submit feedback, go to www.bham.wednet.edu and click on the “Submit Feedback about Budget Process” link.
The three-question survey will be available until noon on Friday, Oct. 23.
The Lynden School District and the teacher’s union are still negotiating a contract after a mediation session on Friday, Sept. 25.
In a news release from the school district, Superintendent Rick Thompson said the main sticking point is teacher salaries.
Lona Smit, president of the Lynden Education Association, said last week that teachers were asking for the district to bring their pay up to the same level of other districts their size.
The school district and board argue that the state isn’t offering salary increases this year and the district already had to cut more than $1 million from the budget, so it is “neither possible nor practical to consider raises or increased district financial obligations to employees at this time.”
The Lynden School Board will continue bargaining with the LEA in “good faith.” The next mediation session is scheduled for Oct. 23.
The Bellingham School Board is asking district officials to come up with a plan to reopen Lowell Elementary School in fall 2010.
The plan is due to the board for review at the next meeting, Thursday, Oct. 8. There is no word as to when the board might take action on the proposed plan.
Lowell has been closed since the end of the 2007-08 school year. During the 2008-09 school year, crews needed the building empty to perform seismic retrofitting, which was one of many projects approved in a 2006 bond. The school remained closed for this school year as a way to save money during budget cuts.
District officials have always said the closure would be temporary, although this is the first step I’ve seen towards reopening the building.
There will be some additional improvements done to the building this school year, including painting and repairing some worn brick mortar joints.
Teachers in the Lynden School District have been working since Aug. 31 without a contract.
According to Superintendent Rick Thompson, the district and the Lynden Education Association will begin mediation on Friday.
I will update everyone with more information as soon as I get it.
The Bellingham Education Association and the Bellingham School District reached at tentative contract agreement Wednesday evening. The BEA is meeting today at 4 p.m. to discuss and vote on the agreement.
Details won’t be released until after the BEA meeting today, according to BEA president Shirley Potter and Bellingham School District officials.
School is scheduled to start Tuesday, Sept. 8.
The Bellingham Education Association is still negotiating with the Bellingham School District, as of 4:30 p.m., but other teacher unions reached agreements today.
The Sedro-Woolley Education Association has reached a tentative agreement with school district officials over their contract. School will start Thursday, only one day later than originally scheduled. To read the Skagit Valley Herald story, click here.
The Lake Stevens Education Association and the district reached a tentative agreement today. The union had previously voted to strike if they didn’t have a contract by the start of school on Wednesday, Sept. 9. To read the Seattle Times story, click here.
The Kent School District is trying to force its teachers back to work with a court injunction, ending a week of strikes by the teachers union. School was scheduled to start Monday but hasn’t yet. To read the Seattle Times story, click here.
The trial between school groups and the state started Monday, potentially starting education reform in the state.
Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, a coalition of school groups and districts (including Bellingham), is arguing the state doesn’t live up to the Constitution in how it funds education. By law, the state must provide “ample” funding for “basic education.” To read the Seattle Times story about the history of the case, click here. To see my previous School Days posts, click here or here.
Of course, not everyone thinks schools are underfunded. The Washington Policy Center posted this blog yesterday, outlining how schools have received nothing but loads of money. The conservative group argues that public schools receive about $10,000 per pupil per year, which is 1/3 more than private schools spend per student (the actual general fund money the district receives per student is about $5,000; other state special program funding may bring the total to $10,000, but I’m not sure), the number of employees has risen faster than the number of students, the Legislature increased education funding by 2.8 percent even in a tight budget and more than half of school district employees are not teachers.
The debate over education funding is really about the definition of “basic education.” Some of what students and parents expect to see and have access to at school — including computers, music classes, athletics, small class sizes, field trips, technology-related courses, specialty classes, pre-school and all-day kindergarten — are not deemed “basic education” and therefore aren’t funded by the state. However, this past winter and spring, as school districts were trying to slash budgets, these are the things parents and teachers didn’t want to see cut.
So where’s the balance? Any thoughts about how we can fix education funding and spending?
State officials, including Superintendent Randy Dorn, are working on answering some of the questions about what basic education should include and how it should be funded, as outlined in the reform bill that was passed by the Legislature last spring. State Sen. Kevin Ranker recently spent time with teachers in Anacortes to get input from them about how reform should be handled in the state.
“A lot of teachers are concerned about compensation and certification, but the overriding concern was about how we go about funding the world-class education that our children need and deserve,” Ranker said. “This is why the reform bill is so critical. Even during this recession we need to be looking forward and figuring out hte best investmnet for the students in our classrooms.”
The Bellingham School District and the Bellingham Education Association have still not reached an agreement on a new contract for teachers.
Shirley Potter, president of the BEA, said the two sides reached an impasse late last week. They will be meeting again Wednesday to try to reach an agreement before a BEA member meeting Thursday. If there is no contract agreement by Thursday, teachers will be voting about whether or not to strike.
The major sticking points this year are about planning time and health care costs, Potter said. The union is asking that the contract include time for planning and grading, time that could be available if teachers didn’t need to sit through some lengthy meetings. The state cut one day from the school year that used to be strictly for planning and professional development, leaving teachers with only one day per school year unless the district adds extra days. But adding extra days means paying for them.
In regards to health care, premiums increased this school year and the union is asking the district to pay for some of the difference, Potter said. The cost of health care plans rose 6 to 14 percent, Potter said. Teachers already lost their cost of living increases, like all other state employees, and lost a day of pay, which is why the union is asking the district to pick up some of the financial burden.
Part of the problem with healthcare could be solved if school districts could move all their teachers to the state plan. Currently teachers in most school districts choose from private plans, but moving to the state plan would be cheaper all ar0und, if there was one major change. Currently, part-time employees would cost the district as much as full-time employees, making it more expensive for the district. But if that law is changed, like Sen. Dale Brandland proposed last school year, then it would be cheaper to have all teachers on the state plan and there wouldn’t be as much disagreement about paying for it.
But that’s another story that’s just adding to the district-union debates happening all over the state. Districts and unions are working up to the last minute on contract negotiations, and some districts are already seeing strikes. Kent and Sedro Woolley unions have voted to strike. Compensation is a factor in all cases.
Bellingham teachers are not asking for an out-right raise this year, but they are asking for compensation in the form of time.
“It’s not so much about money this time… because there isnt’ a whole lot,” Potter said. “This is the most modest economic proposal BEA has ever laid out on the table in a decade.”
I should be hearing back from the Bellingham School District about their side here shortly.
The Lynden School District is negotiating with the Lynden Educators Association today, so if they reach an impasse, I’ll update you here. Blaine and Ferndale reached tentative agreements late last week and will have their contracts ratified this week. The other Whatcom County school districts are not negotiating contracts this year.
The future of education funding in Washington State is about to start taking baby steps towards drastic change.
On Monday, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools trial against the state starts in King County Superior Court. This case is the one where NEWS, which includes more than 70 school districts and other groups, is arguing the state is not living up to its “paramount duty” to “make ample provisions for the education of all children,” as stated in the state constitution.
The trial is expected to take six weeks. But during that time, the Quality Education Council, headed by state Superintendent Randy Dorn, will start work on developing a new definition of “basic education” and how to fund it.
During the last legislative session, a bill was passed to create this 13-member council to look at education funding and give a report to the Legislature by January 1. The report will include recommendations on: issues that need action in 2010, an early learning program for at-risk students, implentation schedule of new funding and basic education program, a statewide teacher mentoring program and phasing-in a new transportation funding formula that starts no later than Sept. 1, 2013.
Things are about to get interesting!