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    Fed up with Olympia: Can smaller class sizes make the ballot?

    The Legislature can't agree on how to fully fund public education. A new initiative campaign is trying to sidestepping all that.

    Sometimes, Desi Saylors has to keep an eye on 32 middle schoolers with 16 scalpels. Sometimes those 32 seventh and eighth graders have 16 lit bunsen burners along with 16 bottles of hydrochloric acid.

    Saylors teaches life and earth sciences at Komachin Middle School in Lacey. She teaches five classes of 32 kids a day — a total of 160 students daily. Teaching sometimes takes a back seat to making sure no gets sliced, stabbed, burned or worse.

    The key, she says, is to build one-to-one rapport with kids.

    "It's tricky because you have to have rapport to keep track of them," she said. "... Without trust and rapport, you can't teach teenagers." Keeping track of students becomes less of a problem, allowing Saylors to focus more on teaching, when her class size drops to 24 students instead of 32.

    And that is why Saylors is a committee member of the statewide Class Size Count organization, announced Monday in Seattle — a signature drive to put Initiative 1351 on the November ballot. The initiative, which mirrors two failed legislative bills, would shrink class sizes in Washington public schools.

    This school year, K-3 classes in non-poverty schools had an average of 25.3 students for every teacher. Initiative 1351 would require that all K-3 class sizes shrink to just 17 students by 2019. In grades 4-12, non-poverty class sizes currently hover around 27 or 28 students. Under 1351, class sizes in grades 4-12 would be set at 25 students for each teacher. The Initiative does not address where the money to fund smaller class sizes would come from.

    Earlier this year, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, and Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, introduced these same class size caps as twin bills to address the teacher-student ratios envisioned in the Washington Supreme Court's 2012 McCleary Decision. Neither bill made it beyond the committee stage.

    The McCleary Decision, which found that the state wasn't adequately funding public K-12 education, ruled that Washington must reduce teacher-to-student ratios in grades K-3, increase instructional hours in high schools and make some other improvements by mid-2019. Those class size caps were based on the findings of a bipartisan "Quality Education Council" assembled under a 2009 law, which set targets for teacher-to-student ratios: One teacher for every 17 students in grades K-3.

    During this year's legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative Democrats pushed unsuccessfully for more McCleary funding. Republicans, whose biggest weapon is the largely-Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, contended that the Supreme Court does not have the legal right to tell the Legislature how to allocate money. The size of state government, the coalition argued, should not be grown with new tax revenue. Instead, they insisted, social services should be trimmed.

    So far, the state government is lagging on funding a steady McCleary timetable. Putting in place all of the Supreme Court's recommendations will cost an estimated $4 to $4.5 billion between 2013 and 2019. The Legislature has so far appropriated roughly $1 billion for McCleary work — a figure that was carved out of the most recent state budget. Between 2015 and 2019, the Legislature will need to appropriate an additional $3 billion to $3.5 billion.

    Unhappy with the legislative program, the Supreme Court has given the Legislature until April 30 to present a catch-up plan. So far, Republicans and Democrats in Olympia have shown no public movement towards a joint plan.

    Supporters of Initiative 1351 say that's exactly why they're taking things into their own hands. "We're trying to put pressure on the Legislature to comply with the Supreme Court," said Mary Howes, campaign manager for Class Size Counts. "... In short, that is why we're taking this directly to the people."

    "One way we as people can affect the Legislature is to pass an initiative," explained 1531 supporter David Perez, the Seattle parent of a newborn daughter. 

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    Posted Tue, Apr 8, 8:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    This ignores the fact that there are teachers who would not provide a better educational product with 10 students, let alone 30, and some who teach 30 and above do very well.
    There are many variables in the educational process, and pouring more money into the process doesn't address what may be systemic problems. Such as mainstreaming huge numbers of what has become known as "special ed" students while knowing the teacher has to focus most of his/her time on the lowest capable student(s). And believe it or not teaching students have 80 or more home languages costs a lot of money.

    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    So we shouldn't do something that works most of the time because it doesn't work all of the time? Is this the paradigm you use for all of your decisions?


    Posted Tue, Apr 8, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Absolutely regarding the challenges of special ed and the range of native languages. Ask any teacher if they could do a better job with 20 students rather than 32 - I volunteer at a middle school and those teachers are saints given the demands put on them by wacko parents and administrators.

    While we talk a good talk, we're neck and neck with Mississippi in ranking of our school funding. Nice.


    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 10:13 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Census Bureau doesn't support your allegations, care to provide a source that gives validity to your claim. The Feds show that Washington State is 14th in educational expenditures with around 12 billion dollars and Mississippi is 32nd with around 4.5 billion dollars. Read it here: http://www2.census.gov/govs/school/10f33pub.pdf

    The really good news is that our graduation rate was 76% at the last census and Mississippi's was 75%, the bad news we paid twice the price for that single percentage point difference and yet the WEA whines that more money will help. Read the graduation rates here:

    As for money buying higher graduation rates, check out the District of Columbia rankings. Taint' so and as you said, nice.


    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    Do not confuse average spending per student with the spending on a typical student. There are some students - students with disabilities, English language learners, and students living in poverty - who cost more to educate. Sometimes much, much more. The costs of educating these students skews the average spending per student and pulls it away from the spending for a typical student.

    And yes, money can buy higher graduation rates if it is spent towards that goal. It can be spent on credit recovery, on support classes, on summer school, on before- and after-school tutoring and homework support, and on mentoring. Not every dollar is dedicated to boosting high school graduation rates so the simplistic views that there should be some direct relationship between spending and graduation rates is not only wrong, it's silly.


    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm not confused, you are. I provided a source that debunks the popular myth that we're running neck and neck with Mississippi on educational spending. If you think the federal government has made errors, by all means, petition the government to make it read the way you'd like to be. I'm sure they'll listen to you.

    It's silly to think if you spend twice as much on our educational system than Mississippi does theirs and only achieve a single percentage point difference in a graduation rate that's oaky. Right now according to the feds Mississippi is getting a bigger bang for their education dollars then we are. It's also, silly to think your laundry list of woes is somehow unique to Washington, I'm quite sure that Mississippi has students with the very same woes, maybe even more. The big difference in the two systems, ours cost billions more, and there isn't a shred of evidence that supports the notion we do a vastly better job because we spend more money.


    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 10:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    Or when you don't ignore the regional cost differences - also readily available. Tool eyes.



    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 9:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    You'd do better to exam the Census data for the total cost of education in Washington and Mississippi. The bottom line, we in Washington State spend around 12 billion dollars on our educational system. What your link shows is how much waste there is in this state, if you think that there is a 7 billion dollar regional difference between WA and MS, lay off the bong.

    Education is a system with lots of moving parts, trying to isolate only those items that support your beliefs is disingenuous. No matter how you squirm and wiggle, Mississippi still spends less then half of that amount to achieve virtually the same results. Your efforts would be better directed to identifying where the waste is and then working to reduce it or re-directing to those programs you support.

    I'm quite sure we could reduce class size without requiring another nickel of tax payers money. We could even reward those teachers that arise above mediocrity, there won't be many but those that do, should be paid accordingly.


    Posted Tue, Apr 8, 1:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    C'mon, "pouring more money into the process" won't help? Our state doesn't even fund to the NATIONAL average. We have the 4th largest class size in the country. I'll go out on a limb and say, yes, money would help. (And, to note, the states that spend the most do have the best test scores. Go figure.)

    And that disparaging "known as special ed students?" Apparently, you have never had a child with challenges. Not everyone is that lucky but those of us who do have a child like that cherish that child and want he or she to have a good education.

    I can't speak for all districts but Seattle Schools is working towards more "mainstreaming" of Sped students.

    Yes, ELL students do cost more but that is the cost of being a free and open country.


    Posted Tue, Apr 8, 5:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    I thought there was already a law on the books that limited class size (ignored of course). As I recall it also resulted from an initiative. I hope someone can either confirm or dispose of that idea but, in the meantime, without some source of funding Initiative 1351 is just symbolic. Require the legislature fund education first. That might help.


    Posted Tue, Apr 8, 6:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    What I was referring to was Initiative 728 (2000) which passed with a 70+%
    approval. The Initiative, at least in theory, required smaller class sizes "on average".


    Posted Tue, Apr 8, 6:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    What I was referring to was Initiative 728 (2000) which passed with a 70+%
    approval. The Initiative, at least in theory, required smaller class sizes "on average".


    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    728 did not install a class size cap in any way. Instead, it instructed the legislature to send money to school districts that could be used to a) hire more teachers (reducing class size), b) pay for teacher training, or/and c) pay for before and after school programs. It was up to local school districts to decide based on needs.


    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    I think you are right about the cap but the text of the ballot did list reducing class size as the primary intent. The quote below is from the ballot:

    This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

    “ Shall school districts reduce class sizes, extend learning programs, expand teacher training, and construct facilities, funded by lottery proceeds, existing property taxes, and budget reserves? ”


    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 7:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    I think many voters believed 728 was installing a limit on class size, absolutely. It didn't, of course, which was a defense against opponents claiming there would be a teacher shortage if it did.


    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

    It would be up to the local school districts to decide how to spend I-728 money - if the state legislature had not cut the I-728 money.


    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    It is, of course, true that there exist teachers who will never be good, no matter how small the class size, and also teachers who will be phenomenal no matter how large. They are outliers who should not be used to set policy.

    The same can be said about anything. There are people who will never be good drivers even if the speed limit is 20, and people who will never crash, even if the speed limit is 100. But they are the outliers and we don't make our speed limit decisions on those few people. We set the speed limit at a point where the most people will drive well and have safe outcomes.

    The best class size is one that creates successful outcomes for the most students. Even the best teachers who can teach huge classrooms are better with smaller class sizes- they want it, too!

    And to do that, you have to hire teachers, which costs money.


    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    I agree, teachers deserve a decent salary package, with benefits.

    In your school district, what does a teacher with say 5 years experience, earn annually including the specific benefit package and how many work days per year do they have? (Not counting time working at home, since most of our employers do not us for that time either.)

    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 7:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    How do you feel about the actual content of the article and my comment, which is class size, not salary? Nice try, though.


    Posted Sat, Apr 12, 5:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    Can't answer the query about class size without knowing what teachers make, in total, inclusive with the $$ value of benefits.

    Nice dodge, though.

    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 9:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    ". There are people who will never be good drivers even if the speed limit is 20"

    Maybe they shouldn't be given driving licenses then?


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 4:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    Yup. And you also don't base the speed limit on their skill. If we did, no one would be allowed to drive. The point is don't base general policy on outliers.


    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 10:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    Here's the current school year pay scale. http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/pub/per/salallocschedule.pdf

    Not exactly getting rich. Yea - summers off. Right. Having a teacher as a partner it generally goes like this -- in school 7:15 - 6:30 (meetings, parents, administrators, prepare for next day) 2-3 hrs work in the evening, at least 10 hrs on the weekend. Spring and Winter Break - catch up on sleep and grading. Summer? Have to be in two weeks after kids and one week before - take a class or two, meet with teammates to plan the year - maybe 3 weeks off at most.

    From my work with teachers they would be very happy with the same pay but cut their class load by a third.


    Posted Tue, Apr 15, 3:11 a.m. Inappropriate

    Generally speaking, the state allocates funding to individual districts. Each district (with a locally elected school boards) is then given a fair amount of discretion (including negotiating collective bargaining agreements). While that is the state schedule, what teachers are actually paid varies a fair amount by district. Some pay the floor set by the schedule, others pay above the schedule.

    Posted Wed, Apr 9, 11:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    The salary chart doesn't answer these questions:

    * How many days per year do teachers work, counting in-service days and other meeting days?

    * How many paid holidays do teacher get per year?

    * What is the retirement $$$ contributions made to teachers retirement accounts?

    * What medical, dental, vision insurance do teachers have, and does that cover family members, at what cost to teacher?

    * What other teacher expenses get reimbursed or covered?

    * How many days of paid vacation does a teacher with 5 years experience get per year?

    I do not have enough information to consider voting for or against a raise in teacher pay. The benefit package question needs to be answered.

    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 8:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    "I do not have enough information to consider voting for or against a raise in teacher pay."

    The initiative is not about a raise in teacher pay, so you don't need that information.


    Posted Sat, Apr 12, 5:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    Coolpapa, there is no way I would vote before knowing all the facts, and teacher pay + benefits value is a criteria on my list that matters.

    To vote for an initiative to require smaller class sizes means we'll need more teachers. I need to know before my vote, what exactly teachers salaries + the benefit $$ value is.

    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    Dude. This isn't about teacher pay - it's about reduced class size.

    But, I'll bite, and give you what I know about my teaching partner.

    She pays about $135 a month for her share of medical - to put me on her plan would be unaffordable.

    Teacher's expenses? Are you kidding? We shell out about $500 a year on supplies for her classroom that the district can't afford.

    Under the current TRs plan, which is a defined benefit program that you contribute to- for a teacher with about 30 yrs experience and a highest salary of $58k they would end up with about $2k a month for retirement. You also should note that unless you worked in the private world (as my partner) before being a teacher your SS is much reduced in this formula . There also is a 401k portion with no match.

    Vacation days? Like none - you get sick days that you can use for yourself, kids, parents, and death in the family. Work every weekend, on the breaks, and most of the summer - yea, it's paradise. I work in a pretty busy job and could not fathom giving up the amount of personal life that my partner does for teaching. There's a bumper sticker I saw - "I support my wife's habit - she's a teacher"

    WTF do you think the teachers are doing on in-service days when the kids are not in school? Meeting and planning with their team, grading, meeting with parents, meeting with administrators, working on the budget, taking a class so they can upgrade their lessons.

    The idea that teachers just get a rhythm after a couple years and teach the same this is idiotic - maybe if you are a lousy gym teacher. All the teachers I know spend the summer tweaking there curriculum, meeting with other teachers to develop new ideas, and taking classes to learn more so they can apply new lessons.

    Some other curious facts: their contract says they work 6 hours a day! That's rich - double it. The district holds back a portion of your pay and meddles it out over the summer - like you can't manage your own money?

    I don't really think the public knows how long and hard teachers work every year. If it's such a cush deal, why aren't folks flocking to it?


    Posted Sat, Apr 12, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    I am not a teacher, but earn about what the top teachers earn, but without the "teacher bennies". I am a small business owner.

    I pay nearly $550 for medical/dental insurance, for myself only.
    I pay my own retirement contributions, no one matches.
    I work nearly every holiday, except Thanksgiving (1-day) Christmas and New Years.
    I get no contribution for vacation pay, sick leave or anything like that.
    I work 12 full months per year. I often work at home, nights or weekends too.

    I'll bet there are more small business owners in Washington State, just like me who think teachers really are very, very decently paid when the value of medical, dental, retirement, time off for bereavement, illness, vacations and a summer holiday of 5 or more weeks in addition to the other numerous school days/weeks off are factored into the total $$$ value of teacher pay/bennies.

    I actually don't think most teachers understand how long and how hard the legions of small business owners in this State of Washington work every year.

    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    Actually, folks are flocking to it - there is a vast oversupply of elementary teachers http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/18/oversupply-elementary-education/1917569/



    Posted Thu, Apr 10, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    I doubt reducing class size will help since WA Districts rush to adopt, and refuse to dump in face of all the evidence, every edu-fad that can be cooked up. This State is now a net importer of STEM workers. Additionally, with the exception of a few upper middle class enclaves, the school environment is highly anti-intellectual.


    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    I love unsubstantiated claims :)


    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    Where's The Math vs. Seattle Public Schools, for one. The District spent our tax $ on fighting for retaining a math program very much disliked, and shown to have the most adverse effects on students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

    Net Importer of STEM workers - WA State produces few STEM workers:




    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    That's even better. Post a couple random links to somehow validate "....since WA Districts rust to adopt, and refuse to dump (sic) in the face of all the evidence, every edu-fad...blah, blah, blah"


    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 2:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    Rather than posting links to a business breakfast meeting you might try more academic assessments- like this one that actually says we are producing more STEM workers than there are jobs.



    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 2:36 p.m. Inappropriate

    CIS is anti-immigration. The comparison is for the US as a whole, not State by State. We are talking about Washington State's ability to produce workers for jobs in Washington State. If you don't care for my info, at least provide rebuttal info on the same point.


    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Treker, I have first hand experience with both "look-and-say" reading as well as discovery math. There are many sources for the data on lack of STEM skilled homegrown workers. The inability to listen to these voices are why so many kids within the SPS boundaries go private. Of course, your knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss any criticism of public education whatsover.

    I did not criticise teachers - yet again, no one can dare question the public school. The attitude is shut up and pay up. Then you wonder why its so hard to get sufficient funding?

    So show us the facts - how much are teachers spending out of their own pockets - one anecdote is not sufficient. And provide real stas on the actual number of hours teachers work.


    Posted Fri, Apr 11, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    Don't hold your breath. BTW nicely stated.


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    Likewise so us some facts - not assertions.

    I'm not sure what "first hand experience" means - I'd be more apt to listen to an opinion if it were backed up with any facts, citations, reports, or well, something. Otherwise it's another internets opinion.

    I'm not clear on what exactly you want regarding teachers spending their own money - I can only tell you what I see in the two schools where I volunteer - one a K-8 the other a high school. And as far as teachers spending time working afterschool, weekends, and on breaks? You obviously have no affiliation with any public school. What? Do you think teachers are keeping records of this stuff?

    Dude - ask the Brookings Institution to do a study or something.


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 9:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    One final real world example (not imagined) - the Seattle schools are out on break this week - here's my partner's schedule -

    today all day at school meeting with administrators, special education, and parents for 4 kids with special needs - after the meetings the teams will get together and draft out plans and assignments. 10 hr day

    Tuesday - meet with teammates regarding upcoming camp logistics, put together information for parents, make assignments, go through safety lists and all camp equipment. Email parents who were met with the day before. 8-9 hr day. Update "The Source" online grading/lesson plan/scheduler for kids and parents. Fill out for upcoming quarter.

    Wednesday - start grading 125 papers to give reasonable input you need about 20 minutes or so per paper - you do the math. Make several parent phone calls in the evening. 8 - 9 hrs

    Thursday - more grading. Meet with a parent regarding a difficult student; single parent, limited resources - emotional development issues. 9 hrs

    Friday - more grading 9 hr day. Meet with administration on annual performance review.

    Saturday - grading (with my help)8 hrs

    Sunday - finish grading, prep for Monday classes - 9hr

    Yep - another relating spring break for those teachers!


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

    As usual, the topic is getting off track a bit. The original article is about class size - I don't think there's much argument that small class sizes would help and that in WA we have an odd way of funding our classrooms. Then again, people do want accountability.

    Urban schools do have quite the chore however - I work in my kids school in the central district one day a week and I have to say - I never realized the workload that teachers and administrators have. Holy crap - I could not do it! And yea - I'll be in the school Wednesday as usual helping out because the teachers will be there as well.

    We don't get adequate funding and depend on our annual fundraiser/auction to bring in money - shoot - these funds pay half the salary of our librarian who otherwise would be working half time. We also raise funds for science supplies, library books, and art materials - we depend on two local artists for art class since this was cut out 5 years ago.

    North end schools generally have better demographics and make more money on their fundraisers than we do - but without this extra money we would be worse off. And yes, yes, yes -- I see teachers on all levels forking out their own funds so they can get materials to raise the caliber of their lessons.

    One instance - Seattle schools used to fund a science program with the UW (two positions) where UW developed general lesson plans and hands on science workshops for the kids - the Seattle staffers would give workshops to the teachers and help them learn the variety of "kits" of materials available.

    No more - the program has been cut. So the district science teachers are keeping it alive by meeting and networking and resupplying the kits with their own funds. Each school has their own limit on how much they can reimburse teachers - usually around $150 a year. I specifically know that at least a dozen science teachers around the district are forking out more than this just on this one program.

    While I go to school board meetings and try and put some time in the issues I find that giving time to the teachers themselves is an immediate need I can fill.


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    Whoa ` first sentence - meant that yes, smaller class sizes WOULD help. Need more coffee.


    Posted Mon, Apr 14, 5:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    Was wondering about that - thanks


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