The Poky Little Pundit

To pass or not to pass the levy: That’s not really a question.


I’ve been back to work as a high school teacher for one week, and I am TIRED. Teaching is HARD. In the past week, I have learned 150 names, I have read, studied, prepared and delivered lessons on Hamlet for AP Literature students, and I have provided 100 students with an overview on the Holocaust in preparation for studying Night (which I also had to read). I have also individually assessed the writing skills of all 150 students, and provided the majority with feedback. For this, I receive $120 a day.

teacher image

This has never happened in a single classroom ever, unless you have asked the question: Do you want a pizza party?

But wait! It gets better! Before I even had an opportunity to log on to my newly re-activated district email, I had a dozen strongly-worded parent emails crouching in my inbox like bombs. What could they possibly have to complain about, before I had taught even one lesson? Well, I took over during the final week of the first semester, so GRADES of course. It turns out that having cancer is no excuse for not having your grades updated a week ahead of schedule (and to be clear, my friend IS actually grading like a maniac while suffering the after-effects of chemotherapy). Truly my friend’s illness has impacted the life and education of 150 teenage souls, though I am doing my very best to minimize the impact. And this, dear reader, is the reason why teachers deserve respect and should be paid better. We are not monkeys. We are not easily replaced. We actually have value. Which these parents quickly found out when that meddlesome cancer got in the way of entering first semester grades.

Which is also why I start giggling when people innocently ask me whether or not we should vote to approve the latest school levy. It’s like asking if we should give food to a starving child. Or not kick sad puppies. Or pick up a screaming baby. Or make fun of Fox news. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help wondering why something like funding for schools is left up to taxpayers – many understandably ignorant of issues in schools. If passed, this levy will benefit over 50,000 students in the Seattle School District and will cost the average taxpayer about $13 a month.

Opposition statements, written by longtime activists Nick Esparza and Chris Jackins, are worth our careful reading and consideration as I reckon a large majority of voters feel like schools are mismanaging funds. We know, in fact, that they are. But I don’t think this means we punish school children for adult mistakes. It means we pass this levy and then, considering our taxes are paying for schools, we GET INVOLVED. How? Well, I am short on answers there. I don’t know. I’d like to know, though. And when I figure it out, I will certainly pass it on. In the meantime, I sure don’t want schools to get worse. I am going to assume you don’t either.

In a nutshell, and in my own colorful language:

Proposition 1 RENEWS the Operations Levy. By voting to keep this levy, you provide 26% of the current school budget. Without it, teachers’ jobs will be cut. Programs will be cut. The education of 50,000 children is in serious jeopardy. WE WANT TO RENEW THIS LEVY.

Proposition 2 RENEWS the Capital Levy. This one keeps actual school buildings safe for kids. Without it, a minor earthquake could kill a bunch of kids. Heating won’t be fixed, so kids will freeze. WE WANT TO RENEW THIS LEVY.

To read more, click here for Schools First Seattle’s perspective. And here for an excellent editorial in the Seattle Times on Sunday. And here for NPR’s take on the issue.

And while you read this blog post, I will be digging through Act I, Scene 3 of Hamlet with a group of obscenely clever 18-year-olds. Wish me luck, and pass those levies, so I can carry on edumacating our nation’s youth. (What have you done so far this morning?)

shakespeare meme 2

Oh, Kenneth. I hate your chin hair only slightly more than I hate your hyperbole.


9 thoughts on “To pass or not to pass the levy: That’s not really a question.

  1. Super amazing…starting to think union is holding you bAck.

  2. Is there another industry where those working in the private sector earn basically the same as those in the public sector? By no means am I saying this is a solution, but I find it interesting in education that teachers at private schools pretty much earn the same as those working in public schools. If I was running a school I would certainly focus primarily on paying teachers a lot of money. I don’t care what people say but a decent salary with a clear path to increasing that salary is going to attract and retain the best talent.

  3. Yes and no. One one hand I can see that I would want to handle teachers like any other profession and incentivize them somehow to retain the best and the brightest talent. On the other hand others often make the point (which I kind of agree with) that there are certain professions where you want people doing the job because they want to do the job, not because they are just in it for the money. Teaching is probably the best example of one of these career fields. Would you want your child’s teachers to be looking out for themselves or for their students?

  4. I see your point, but I think it is unfair to expect altruism of all teachers. We also have families and mortgages, and we are also motivated by rewards, monetary or otherwise. Personally, I would like my child’s teachers to have a tenable career which might increase their longevity and permanence in an institution! We are not looking out for ourselves when we ask for a fair wage. Try that same logic on doctors : Do we want to pay doctors less than $50,000 a year because we want them to be altruistically motivated to help their patients as people?

    • No way. If my life is on the line I want the doctor taking care of me to be someone who had to fight to get where she is in such a way that only the best survived to that point.

      Note that I also said “I kind of agree with” not “I believe with every ounce of my being that things should be this way.” The biggest part of my job right now is setting up a correct incentive program for our sales force. I firmly believe that correct incentives get the desired performance out of people. There are a few problems though when trying to apply this to teaching. 1, what are the correct incentives? It seems that anything effective would have to be based on such a long time horizon (years) that it would be both hard to measure and near impossible to implement. 2, unfortunately the majority of education in this country is publicly funded and sadly we don’t have a society that would be willing to pay higher taxes in order to improve our educational system (including paying teachers better).

      I should probably shut-up since I don’t have kids and haven’t been in public school for a couple of decades.

  5. I really appreciate your ideas here, and thanks for writing in. I have very little idea what it is like out in corporate America, and I think that could be part of the problem, right? I wish we COULD apply some of your knowledge base to what I do – but you are right…how on earth do you implement it, when taxpayers won’t cough up cash? 🙂

  6. Obviously there is no silver bullet, but I personally don’t agree that teachers should be in it for the love and not be expected to want to make a really good living out of it. On the subject of Gates, he started an institution in an industry that typically people worked in for the love not for the money and has created arguably the most successful organisation within that industry – charity. Everyone I know at the Gates Foundation is well paid, has clear career progression opportunities and is worked very hard. They may well be in it for the love of helping people, but paying them well does not mean they do a worse job or the incentives are not aligned.

    I absolutely agree though that finding the money to pay teachers is well is tough. People do not want to pay more in taxes, but then again there is so much waste in the system at the district, state and federal level that perhaps money could be redirected.

    Jeff – we can agree fully on one things. The skills, or lack thereof, of a certain Sounders midfield player.

  7. I remember when we were kids, and we wanted something new at our school. We had to go door-to-door, begging adults to vote for the levy. Most refused, because they couldn’t afford to pay for milk for their kids or they were on fixed incomes. I swore that when I became an “old person” I would never vote against something our schools needed. They were all young once, but now they were tightening purse strings on us.

    Somewhere along the line, governments started using school funding as a hammer to use against their political opponents who didn’t want to fund one thing or another. Did you ever notice the first things they threaten to cut, if they can’t meet the bills, are: military, social security, schools, firefighters, and police? We should start to have a healthy distrust of any politician who is so evil minded that he or she would such scare tactics on those who elected them to office. It’s all about getting more money for the government, so they can continue to gorge themselves and run up our debts. School levies should always be passed, because most spending by school systems is mandated by their state and federal governments. Most people fail to realize that school boards actually control a very small portion of their schools’ budgets. My husband served on a school board for years and realized early on that most of the money in the local budget had already been set aside to pay state or federal mandates. It’s inexcusable. We really don’t have much control over how our tax dollars are being spent. Now, government keeps demanding more and more, an ever higher debt ceiling, all the while demonizing those who try to get them to tighten their belts on spending. Where will it all end? They all want more power and control, which they are buying with our money. Isn’t it nice of us to make them government fat cats?

    My prayers go out to your dear friend, while she is fighting cancer and going through her treatments. I’m so happy you could help her out at this tough time, because she will at least know her students are in capable hands in her absence.

    I agree with you that we cannot pay a good teacher enough! They are truly gems in our children’s lives.

    As to Fox News, you may mock them all you want. They are the number one news network on TV, and at least someone is finally admitting there is another side to the ultra-liberal junk and opinions constantly expressed in most of our media. It’s free speech, and I for one think it’s about time we heard that other side.

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