January 05, 2007
Eliminating accountability ... for the children!

One of the Democrats priority bills in the new legislative session is Amending the Constitution to provide for a simple majority of voters voting to authorize a school levy. Not that 60% is that tough of a hurdle for levy measures, which are typically decided in low-turnout special elections. For example, in February 2004, 7 King County school districts all passed their levies, with YES winning a thundering 20% - 25% of registered voters. Some mandate.

The simple majority would benefit school officials in cases like this one, where a measure is supported by only 18% of registered voters. Lowering the threshhold for passage would make it nearly impossible for voters to hold districts accountable for poor performance. But the government school monopolists and Democrats want you to believe that protecting waste, incompetence and defalcation is for the children!

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at January 05, 2007 11:08 AM | Email This
1. I'd be content if our new all-mail-balloting overlords sent _all_ possible ballots out, including the tiny elections. As opposed to just the major elections, which has been the status quo.

Posted by: Al on January 5, 2007 11:09 AM
2. Quit sneaking levies in on "special" elections and I am perfectly fine with a 50% majority.

Someone needs to write an initiative.

Posted by: eric on January 5, 2007 11:28 AM
3. or better yet..... fund education at the state level and fund it fully. You would think that after decades of state, county and city governments being run by democrats this wouldn't be an issue (at least if you listen to their campaign propaganda).

Posted by: eric on January 5, 2007 11:31 AM
4. The argument here is based on BS logic - the notion that the stay at home voters can be arbitrarily assigned to the 'support' or 'oppose' column.

If we're going to play that game, why not then go further and count the number of eligible voters who are not registered?

The simple reality is that if you don't show up to vote, you waived your right to be in support or against a candidate or issue. If you are eligible but don't register, you've also waived your rights.

It's not that hard to show up for a 'special' election. These are not secrets and I believe we shouldn't have to spend a ton of taxpayer dollars to promote or advertise an election. It should be the citizen's obligation to get informed and stay informed about the time, manner and place of the democratic process.

Posted by: kevin on January 5, 2007 11:58 AM
5. I'm with Eric. I'd gladly exchange the 60% requirement for a requirement that all school bonds will be decided at the general election in even-numbered years. No more do-overs--the district either makes its case, or doesn't, and lives with the result for the next biennium.

Posted by: Kirk Parker on January 5, 2007 12:01 PM
6. Those of us without children are getting tired of paying for an education system that produces an inferior product whose quality is further diminished by parents who could give a rip about their kids' educations.

For what we pay to send kids to public school, we could almost cover tuition at a private school.

Posted by: Libertarian on January 5, 2007 12:08 PM
7. I'd support a simple majority IF only property owners got to vote.

Posted by: Seabecker on January 5, 2007 12:12 PM
8. What this state needs is a constitional ammendment to require any tax increase of any sort must be passed by 50.1% of all legally registered voters...not just those who vote. That means if you have 100 legally registered voters, any tax increase will require 51 legally cast votes. Or even more radical, only property owners can vote on property tax increases...not renters nor those who don't own taxable property can vote in said elections. That will bring sanity to part of this states tax problems.

Posted by: Allan Rothlisberg on January 5, 2007 12:47 PM
9. Funding Education at the state level would solve the problem... but then they won't be able to fund their 'pet projects'.

They know that essential things like schools and Medic services have a very good chance of passing as a special tax (Levy) - much better then some of their stupid (but expensive) pet projects do.

I'll go with 50% if it was in a regular election and also funded Charter Schools.

Charter schools and competition will fix the public schools far better (and faster) then any of the throw-money-down-the-union-pit 'Class Size Reduction' crap they have been feeding us over the past 40 years.

How large are the classes in those countries who regularly kick our asses in edication?

Posted by: CrazyFool in Lynnwood on January 5, 2007 12:51 PM
10. Doesn't a consittuional amendment need to be ratified by 2/3 majority of voters? If so will they put it up to vote in a special election?

Posted by: TrueSoldier on January 5, 2007 12:57 PM
11. I am a Seattle schools parent and a big supporter of public education. I am also a frequent critic of the district.

I am urging people to vote YES on the operating levy and NO on the capital bond (school construction) measure. The operating levy is 23% of the budget and so, is vital. But the capital bond measure is a flawed list.

The worst example is that in the last levy election voters approved $16.7M to renovate a building. This has now morphed into building 2 separate schools at a cost of about $80M+. What will the district end up with? A preK-8 school (new building) with an already existing elementary in its backyard with a 200-seat re-entry high school (new building)and down the road about a mile? Another K-8, chronicallly underenrolled with erratic WASL scores. This is not a good use of taxpayer money.

I could go on but I am saddened by the deception, waste and lack of accountability. This hurts public schools and the worst of it is that the buildings that need renovation most are not the ones on the list.

Posted by: westello on January 5, 2007 01:20 PM
12. Amending the state constitution to eliminate the "supermajority" requirement for school district maintenance and operations levies will simply make it easier for the state to avoid providing adequate funding for a uniform system of public schools.

If it's easier to pass local levies, the districts with hefty tax bases (typically along the I-5 corridor) will find that they can keep their tax dollars in their own neighborhoods -- and let the devil take the rest of the school districts.

For years, we've heard from the "paramount duty of the state" folks; yet, there seems to be no satisfaction of their demand for more state school funding.

I think it's because legislators in the districts where a big chunk of the revenue would be collected don't want to see that revenue "exported" to the other districts.

Why not just amend the constitution to eliminate the state's obligation to provide adequate funding for a uniform system of schools for all children in the state?

Posted by: Micajah on January 5, 2007 01:29 PM
13. "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders..." Washington State Constitution, Article IX, Sec.1(a).

Sorry, Stefan, but as much as I agree with you on most things, on this one you're wrong. Removing the 60% supermajority does not open the floodgates to fiscal mismanagement. If you have fiscal mismanagement at the district level then you will have it regardless of any levy approval requirements.

For you to go on and say "Lowering the threshhold for passage would make it nearly impossible for voters to hold districts accountable for poor performance" is misdirection of the highest order. I would think that you, of all people, would understand that this kind of accountability happens every November at the ballot box. If you think the school board is not properly stewarding the funds then VOTE THEM OUT!

eric@3 has it spot on...let's do away with the levies all together and force the Legislature and the Governor to do the job that the state constitution dictates them to do...to "make ample provision for the education of all children..."

Oh, and regarding seabeckers' comment..."I'd support a simple majority IF only property owners got to vote." This is an insult in that it assumes that only the actual owners of real propety pay the property tax. Well, I can guarantee you that I am paying my share of property tax in my rent check each month.

And by the way, don't get me wrong, supermajorities can be good...like on gas taxes...transit projects...viaduct replacements...legislative and gubernatorial pay increases...

Just not on education.

Posted by: TamaNekoChan on January 5, 2007 01:32 PM
14. Come on Tama, everytime I vote in a school levy, I sit back and think of the kids and their needs, not mine. I have voted against school levies, but I have had a hard time for everyone I voted against. The supermajority is needed on this one. Have you ever seen a school levy get less than 50%? I thought not.

And Tama, whether you realize it or not, the school districts are run by paid professional liberals that want to spend and spend on admin instead of in the classrooms. About the only thing the officials have a say on is the new Supt., so "the vote them out of office" doesn't really solve anything.

Posted by: swatter on January 5, 2007 01:54 PM
15. The legislature can't change this, they can only put it on the ballot for the voters to decide. So I say sure, pass this proposed constitutional change in the legislature, and let the people of the state decide if they want to lower the threshold required to pass levies (or bonds for that matter.)

I've seen too many school districts suffer (like Battle Ground in Clark County) because their levies failed, so I would be inclined to vote yes on this. But there's nothing wrong with letting the people decide if they want to change the supermajority requirement.

Posted by: Randy Mueller on January 5, 2007 01:57 PM
16. The thundering 20-25% did not win. The silent 75-80% of registered voters lost. Exercise your right to a vote and you might actually have a voice.

Posted by: Bob on January 5, 2007 02:10 PM
17. What #8 refers to is a super majority to pass property tax increases...by including the no votes of those who choose not to vote....An ammendment will codify this process so spendthrift politicians and educrats can't waste tax money as they do now.

Posted by: Allan Rothlisberg on January 5, 2007 02:20 PM
18. sijmple majority? how about attached to that is a requirement for indep. performance audits & MANDATORY implementing the recommendations. anyone elected or appointed that failed audits is FIRED/removed. period. remaining bene's/salaries forfeited due to mismanagement.

Posted by: jimmie-howya-doin on January 5, 2007 02:54 PM
19. No on the 50% for a different reason. The state legislature would use it as a reason for the state to reduce their already low spending on education by telling the local districts that they could raise more in property taxes. They would soon follow this 50% simple majority with a raising of the levy lids and all of a sudden the rich districts get richer and the poorer districts get poorer.

Maybe they can make a compromise where if a school district has a double levy failure, they can reduce the passage rate to 55% or something like that.

Posted by: Doug on January 5, 2007 03:00 PM
20. Tama, you are correct in that fiscal mismanagement at the district level and up will exist regardless of any levy approval requirements. Howerver, a lower bar on levy approval would make it much easier to patch up the mismanagement. If on the other hand, the levy is harder to pass year after year, the mismanagement simply cannot continue on. Why is this so hard to see?

Posted by: C. Oh on January 5, 2007 03:05 PM
21. Anyone got a stat on what percentage of school levies in this state fail? I bet it's not very many.

Posted by: Palouse on January 5, 2007 03:28 PM
22. When I think about how this state's politicians use school levies, I'm reminded of that old National Lampoon magazine cover with the picture of the dog with a gun to it's head.

(Caption: "Buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog.")

Unfortunately, in this case it's "raise your taxes or your kids will suffer."

In Washington state, we get the "right" to vote additional funds for things government should be paying for already such as education, simple things like fingerprinting (last election) and ambulances.

All the things that are less clear-cut and probably not priority never come up for a vote.

When are Washington (and especially Seattle) voters going to get tired of politicians that hold childrens education hostage while funding all the stupid pet projects and porkbarrel spending?

Posted by: johnny on January 5, 2007 04:00 PM
23. 1 My suggestion is to keep the 60% majority as is
2 Listed below is the past levy results per Simple Majority (the folks who want 50% to pass)
3 Listed below is the 22 senators who are sponsoring the bill.
It difficult to quickly tell which cities they represent.
Though I do recoginize Kohl-Welles and Jacobsen from Seattle
Senators Eide, McAuliffe, Weinstein, Jacobsen, Shin, Kohl-Welles, Pridemore, Fairley, Spanel, Rockefeller, Berkey, Rasmussen, Kastama, Keiser, Poulsen, Hatfield, Tom, Prentice, Haugen, Regala, Franklin, Brown

Posted by: Green Lake Mark on January 5, 2007 04:13 PM
24. We can argue all we want about how we ought to fund education in this state, but there is little argument about its importance. When business and labor, non-profits, and churches all agree on something, it's clear that we need to act. We currently rank 33rd in the nation in educational spending per student--behind Kansas and West Virginia among other states not exactly known for their stellar school systems. If we expect to maintain our position as a locus of business innovation and a magnet for emerging biosciences, we have to be willing to fund education. Currently, the supermajority requirement for educational levies is the single greatest obstacle to that goal. It's time to bring it in line with the majority requirement we have on levies for other community services like police, fire, etc.

Posted by: Ryan on January 5, 2007 04:22 PM
25. I am so tired of hearing that "we rank x out of 50 in spending per child" argument to justify raising taxes. So many studys show that while there is obviously some correlation between spending and quality, it stops working at some point. ('http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=13160' and 'http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:PUVi5RPi-hwJ:www.house.gov/ed_workforce/press/press107/alec41701.htm+study+dollars+per+student&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=14' and also 'http://www.effwa.org/main/page.php?number=107' for several quickly googled examples.) And I can't find it now so I don't know if it's accurate (maybe someone else knows where?) but I've heard several times that WA has the least amount of money actually reach the classroom per student of any state.

Posted by: mykela on January 5, 2007 05:09 PM
26. Swatter@14: While your statement "the school districts are run by paid professional liberals that want to spend and spend on admin instead of in the classrooms" may be a given in Seattle, I doubt that such an all encompassing statement would apply to every district in Washington.

And yes, you are partly correct...the board hires the Superintendant. But the board also creates the policies that control every aspect of how the district is run, including the creation and implementation of the district budget. Therefore, if you want a school district that will pinch a penny until Lincoln screams, elect fiscal conservatives. The district cannot spend a penny without board approval.

C.Oh@20: Sorry, but I don't buy it. It is my experience that a Levy is a lot more likely to fail due to voter apathy than to fiscal mismanagement. And I say again that where you have fiscal mismanagement the mismanagement will occur whether the levy qualifier is 50% + 1, 60%, or 99%.

Want to see what 60% can do to schools? Does anyone remember when the Issaquah schools went 7 years without passing a levy?

Posted by: TamaNekoChan on January 5, 2007 05:12 PM
27. More More More More More More

The Tax happy Democraps

More More More More More More

Bring it on you tax happy suckers!

It's all they ever think about!

Posted by: GS on January 5, 2007 05:42 PM
28. I have been very involved in levy and bond campaigns in the Highline District. There were some chronic complainers who would always complain about waste fraud and mismanagement, but when one of them got elected, she didn't do a darn thing to identify any real waste fraud mismanagement. My challenge to people is get specific. Now, one person did, when talking about Seattle. Those are legimate comments deserving attention.

The money has to come from somewhere. Education does cost money. Personally I'm glad there're some local funds because then it is a lot easier to get involved in allocating where the funds go, by being involved in PTSA, or by being involved in getting good people elected to the school board.

It is utterly ridiculuous that rail, stadiums, and lots of other things all require only 50% (or even less) and schools require 60%.

I hope supermajority is repealed. But ultimately it will be up to the voters to decide whether a depression-era law should be repealed or not.

Posted by: Stuart Jenner on January 5, 2007 05:45 PM
29. I'll admit I usually vote no on levies, because the plan is pretty bad. Show me a good plan for the use of the money, get back to the basics of teaching and leave the useless diversity training to parents who should be teaching their children morale values at home and put a guarantee that if things do not improve in a certain amount of time (say 5 years) the super and board members will resign and I will gladly vote for a school levy.

Ryan @ #24 did you know that DC spends more money per child than any other state and yet they rate very low on the graduation rate compared to other states?

Posted by: TrueSoldier on January 5, 2007 06:06 PM
30. Amen, Stuart...

Posted by: TamaNekoChan on January 5, 2007 06:40 PM
31. There is way too much pork in the public education system. Accountabiliity does not exist there, but there are still valid improvements needed. Thanks to the Democrat/Socialist controlled NEA (WEA), public education funding (not to mention cirriculuum) has spun out of control.

I will vote No on all levies, unless I see the pork sufficiently weeded out and witness a change in direction of the local schools. They will have to earn it, by stopping the promotion of the gay and secular progressive agenda. Unless more people stand up and take notice, it will be more of the same mediocre product in education - where the US now ranks in the lower third of all developed countries of the world. Wake up and smell the reality !!

Posted by: KS on January 5, 2007 08:21 PM
32. TrueSoldier, do you have any kids in public school? I have three, and mine spend their days studying math, reading, literature, history, geography and science and music. My children have never had "diversity training," whatever that is. Compared to when I was in school, the curriculum is better (except for the garbage math curriculum forced on the district because of the garbage math WASL), discipline is tighter, and graduation standards are much higher.

I don't support supermajority requirements because I don't think that 41% of citizens should be able to tell 59% of citizens what to do. If people don't care enough about the issues on the ballot to vote, I could not care less about what they thought about the issue. It's so easy to vote in this state that there is no excuse for failing to vote in an election other than laziness or apathy.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on January 6, 2007 08:02 AM
33. #32 ThreeDimen

Sorry, but what TrueSoldier is saying is quite and backed up by many studies. We spend & spend, then get nothing back for it. I have had kids in school and not seen what your talking about. Plus I teach fire safety & CPR in high school and let me tell you it's a free for all in way to many class rooms.

Posted by: Army Medic/Vet on January 6, 2007 09:02 AM
34. 3D, It's funny that you should mention that 41% should tell the 59% what to do. I live in East King County where 1 County Council persons vote ment I lost reasonable use control of 65% of my land. I guess it's all about who's politically powerful at the time right? The minority rights should be ignored if the majority can put it to a vote. I guess you look forward to voting on gay marriage state wide right? If the State Supreme court says it's OK, it must be right. No need to protest or voice your opinion on anything, the system knows best. No safeguards are necessary afterall we have had the same group in charge of State, County and Local Government for the last 20 years and look at all the progress they have made. This must be what utopia looks like.

Posted by: Huh? on January 6, 2007 10:01 AM
35. I've also been in dozens and dozens of classrooms and have never, ever seen anything approaching a "free for all." Not saying you didn't see it, but to cast all public school classrooms as anarchy-filled places where no substantive learning takes place (other than hours and hours of lectures about PC garbage) is simply untrue.

And this attitude is what makes me despair for my party's future in this state. We will never, ever win on a platform of "Public Schools are EVIL places that should be defunded."

You all can sit in your ivory towers bragging about how you always vote against school levies, but the only thing that says to hundreds of thousands of suburban voters like myself is, "I want your child to lose his band, basketball and debate programs." You can say how you hope to spark reform, trim pork, etc., but for the majority of voters in this state, arguing against passing levies is an argument for destroying Friday Night football and orchestra concerts.

This is a major reason why the Republican party in this state is losing the suburbs.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on January 6, 2007 10:18 AM
36. Huh? you are completely off-base in what I think. Judging by how gay marriage fares in most popular votes I'd probably be happy with how a state-wide referendum on that issue would turn out, I voted yes on 933, and I think Kelo is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in my lifetime. I just don't think that it should be easier to build a football stadium that enriches a group of millionaire owners and millionaire players than it is to build an elementary school.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on January 6, 2007 10:33 AM
37. Bring back Corporal Punishment.....You'd increase student achievement dramatically without raising a dime in taxes.

Posted by: Doug on January 6, 2007 10:42 AM
38. ThreeDimen: I'd trade, any day, band, basketball, debate, Friday night football and orchestra concerts for a few students who could actually read, spell, write coherently, and do simple arithmetic.

Posted by: katomar on January 6, 2007 12:49 PM
39. Lovely. I'll let you explain to the student whose worked his butt off for 13 years to get into West Point why it was all for naught, because he can't compete against the kids who went to schools that offered sports and extracurricular activities. I'll let you explain to the girl (and her parents) who has spent hundreds of hours practicing and thousands of dollars on instruments and private lessons why she can't get that music scholarship to PLU because her school district had to eliminate band.

Besides, that's obviously not the choice you're being offered. Eliminating music, for instance, would probably lower math scores because music instruction tends to raise math scores. How would eliminating football -- and the accompanying requirement of a minimum GPA for participation -- help any kid write better?

And again -- apparently there is a myth amongst some that the public schools aren't teaching kids anything. Certainly they're not without problems, but my high school freshman is expected to analyze novels, for instance, at a level I honestly never had to until I got to college. I'm sure there are some lousy public schools out there, but to say that all students are graduating unable to do simple arithmetic, for example, is utterly ridiculous.

As I said upthread, until some in our party stop viewing public schools as the enemy we'll continue to lose ground in this state -- that's a guarantee.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on January 6, 2007 04:28 PM
40. Thank you ThreeDimen for standing up for what you believe. I agree with you completely.

Posted by: Jenphil on January 6, 2007 10:16 PM
41. 3D, I do not believe that anyone thinks the public school system is evil, but I must point out that if the public schools were sooooo good at educating our children then why is it that elected officials (from both parties) send their children to private schools? I also do not believe that throwing money into a bottomless pit is the answer. Take a look a some states that spend less money per child and yet have better results. Even Bill Gates mentioned that Texas schools spend less money per child and expect more results out of their students and get them and most people know that Texas is also well known for their sports programs. This shows that you can spend less money, get results and still have the after school programs you talk about. I think the problem is twofold. First their is allot of waste of funds in school. Do we really need to spend tax dollars on teaching our children how to put condoms on a cucumber (that money could be spent of the after school programs you talked about). Secondly, Parents need to take more responsibility in their children's education. This is a huge problem. The good teachers will tell you if they could have just one thing it would be more parent involvement. Too many parents have come to expect the school to do all the work and they have no responsibility for their childs education and that is wrong. Thirdly, we need to stop paying schools by attendance and start paying schools by results. Why should we pay a school for a child who shows up everyday, but graduates without the ability to read. WHere is the accountability? If we just had more accountability over what the money was spent on, more parent involvement, and change the way the schools are paid I think we could turn public education around.

Posted by: TrueSoldier on January 7, 2007 09:12 AM
42. I do agree with a lot of what you're saying (parental involvement certainly is important) and I am not claiming public schools are perfect.

I've spent a lot of time in and around the public schools (see my first paragraph about parent involvement) and I guess I've seen some waste, and have come across a few lousy employees, but it pales in comparison to the waste and deadwood I saw when I worked for Boeing, for instance. My kids also attend school in a district that has a very low per student administrative cost, so there is probably more waste in other places.

But I just don't understand is this reflexive "no student who graduates from a public school can do basic arithmetic" and "I automatically vote against every school levy." They could literally fire every administrative employee in my kids' school district (I guess paychecks, supplies and buildings would just float down from heaven) and it still wouldn't cover even half of the money provided by the local levy.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on January 7, 2007 11:44 AM
43. 3D, I do not think most people automatically vote against a school levy. Like I said in a previous post I will gladly vote for a school levy when they show me a good plan. I can not speak for your district or any other, but the last attempt at a levy in the district in which my children attend wanted a school levy passed and all the levy said was they needed more money for "operating costs". That was all it said. It did not break down where the money would go or how it would be spent and left absouloutely no room for accountability. Why would I vote for that? I have told the school district this at the PTSA meeting and they drowned me out with cries that I do not care about my children's education. I told them, and most parents in attendence agreed, that if they would propse a levy that broke down where the money would be spent, how it would actually help our schools and how the school board and school administration would be held accountable then I would gladly vote for the levy. Their response was the ty pical, "You should be ashamed of yourself, because this levy is for the children!" This does not work for me, so until I see an actual school levy with a reasonable plan then I will continue to help out in my own way. What I have been doing is gettting some extra supplies to the classrooms of my children (which it seems most classrooms lack nowadays)and I take the time to sit down with my children and help them understand their homework so they can do it. My children are lucky to have teachers that care about teaching and encourage them to challenge themselves. I will say that the principle of the school also voted down the levy. She said that the extra money would be nice to have, but with the way the levy was worded she doubted the schools in the district would see much of this money. SHe told me after the PTSA meeting that from what she has seen in her 25+ years is that when they say "operating costs" most of the money goes to cover higher school board salaries and more ammenties for the school board's offices.

Posted by: TrueSoldier on January 7, 2007 12:10 PM
44. Wow. I guess I should be happy with our district. During levy times our district administrators go to people's houses and show the detailed plans and answer any and all questions people have.

I've also seen the district try to implement cost savings and have the parents scream so they've had to reinstitute things.

Posted by: ThreeDimen on January 7, 2007 12:28 PM
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