Monday, April 28, 2014

The Superintendent SPEAKS (sort of)

This was sent to all district employees from Superintendent Gary Cohn a couple of days after the bond vote and when it really looked like it wasn't going to pass again.  My commentary is in red.  

Dear Colleague:

With only ten ballots remaining to be counted at the elections office, the published results yesterday afternoon were higher than the day before, but still less than 60 percent. As of the announcement yesterday, we had 58.58 percent approval for the bond – an impressive majority and enough to elect the officials who guide our nation and state, but not enough to build schools for students.

Thank goodness this still requires a 60% super majority.  Bond votes obligate local taxpayers to 20 years of taxes and can have consequences on the local economy in the future.  We want these long-term obligations to be thoughtfully passed with that knowledge. This isn't a tax that will go away in a few years - it's a long-term obligation and it should NOT be easy for a district to pass without solid numbers and reasons for asking the taxpayers to pay the district's debt for 20 years. The PTA and others are lobbying to get the law changed to a simple majority, but hopefully the taxpayers will fight that.  You want to tie me to 20 years of your debt, it's not going to be easy....  

This morning I am sharing with you the spirit of the response our Board of Directors President Pam LeSesne gave the media who called her when yesterday’s election results were posted. I share her sentiments, as I also share our collective and dauntless resolve to continue this work on behalf of our students.

“In our classrooms, students learn about the value and power of our Democracy. The election result is not what the board or the district hoped for. However, it is our voter’s answer, and we respect it.

The rest of the letter doesn't sound like it....

“Voters said no to our request for funding to build schools for more students. While the voters said no, the district cannot say no to the families moving here and to the hundreds and hundreds of students who will enter our classrooms in the next decade.

DRAMA ALERT!!!!  This is not a decade-long failure.  They get to ask again in February.  

“Voters said no to technology that will help students build skills they will need for their futures. Without that technology infrastructure, our students will not be as competitive in their careers and higher education. “Our challenge now is, without these resources, how to respond to the real needs of children in Everett Public Schools.

I don't believe what they're saying and they shouldn't either.  No one said "No" to kids. They said "no" to an administration and board who puts themselves first. It's shameful to keep using children as pawns this way. How about you ASK the voters why they said "no" instead of making sweeping assumptions that present a false idea that voters said "no" to punish the students? How many of those projects could your $28 million have said "yes" to?  

“The board and district’s next step is to consider what options we have for accommodating the hundreds of students who will be coming to our district over the next decade and in what ways we can ensure the best possible educational technology access for students.

DRAMA ALERT 2.0!!!!  This is not a decade-long failure.  They get to ask again in February.  
“Until the board is able to convene and discuss tonight’s results and set future direction, the district must put these capital projects on hold. “School districts can put bonds and levies on the ballot just twice a year – that is state law. If the board decides to ask voters again for some or all of this construction funding, the soonest that election could occur is February 2015.”

There is no one to blame but themselves. They could have waited until August to put this on the ballot again - Ferndale, Lynden and others around the state are waiting.  There was no hurry and, by doing what they did, THEY have delayed the projects, NOT the voters. 

If they had put it on the August ballot after some thoughtful changes and listening to more than those who will vote for anything you attach a photo of a wide-eyed child to, they may have well passed it and could have accessed money by the Fall. Instead, they listened to those who voted "yes" the first time and just warmed it up and rammed it through again.  Now, they can't ask again until early 2015 and so, rather than projects being delayed just a few months, they are potentially delayed up to a year.  But, it was their decision to put it on the ballot again so fast, not anyone else's. They must own that fact.  

As President LeSesne says, the board must convene to consider options, and that is a process that will take time and certainly more than a few discussions. We will begin preparing for the board some options for the timing and staging of educational technology. We will gather options for reconsidering how we focus operational funds and capital funds – and how and if we continue with any projects on the drawing board. This is going to take time, and I will keep in touch with you along the way as we consider some difficult decisions.

Voters across the state, in districts large and small turned down capital bond requests. As of Thursday evening, only two out of 12 April 22 school issues were passing. Lakewood School District to the north of us had gleaned 60.05 percent. Reardan-Edwall School District in Lincoln County earned an impressive 66.25 percent approval. (Actually, what I'm reading is that this bond FAILED.  It straddles two counties and while Lincoln County voters heartily approved it with 66.25%, Spokane County voters rejected it in numbers that kept it from passing.  It only got 54.93% approval)

The other district Thursday results were:

  • Pioneer,59.53%
  • Highland,58.90%
  • Everett,58.58%
  • Bridgeport,53.06%
  • Lake Washington,52.39%
  • Tenino,52.27%
  • WallaWalla,52.17%
  • Oakesdale,48.93%
  • Sequim, 43.61%
  • Dayton, 27.73%

All but Lake Washington and Everett are small districts in remote or rural areas that are still economically depressed or have small tax bases.  None of these are "news" or even comparable. In fact, Pioneer District is on its SEVENTH try to pass their bond.  Dayton is so tiny that it has ONE high school with 240 kids. The fact that these bonds didn't pass isn't unusual.  It often takes several tries in small communities. 

Thank you for your work on behalf of students, and please remember that 58.58 percent speaks loudly about the majority support your work and our students have from this community.

The law says you need more than a simple majority to pass a bond. Maybe it's time to reach past that "majority" and find out why the 42% voted against it.  Given that Everett hasn't had a bond failure in 18 years and hasn't had a DOUBLE bond failure in 39, there might be a need assess the actual reason why rather than making assumptions or crowing about "majority support". That kind of talk doesn't exactly start winning over the 42% who will surely be voting again in February 2015.  

Warm Regards,