Thursday, October 28, 2010

Board directors, superintendent show disrespect to teachers, union

By Laurie H. Rogers


You think you’ve heard everything. You think public education is as weak as it can be. Then, you go to another school board meeting, and it goes wrong in an entirely new way.

On Oct. 13, the teachers union and a few hundred teachers and staff members went to a Spokane Public Schools board meeting to protest administrative salary increases. I wasn’t there; I was at home, teaching math to my daughter. I’m homeschooling her in math this year, as I did two years ago, because central-office administrators keep interfering with, micromanaging, and basically destroying Spokane’s K-12 math instruction.

On Oct. 13, the teachers and staff filled up the central-office boardroom and spilled out into the hall. Accounts of their protest of the salary increases indicated that – despite the large crowd – they remained respectful and polite. After they finished speaking, they left. An SEA representative stayed behind.

At the Oct. 27 board meeting, that SEA representative recounted to the board some of the things she had heard on the evening of Oct. 13, after the teachers, staff and media had left. According to the representative, three board directors and the superintendent had a lot to say about the teachers and the union leadership. As I listened to the representative tell her story, my mouth dropped open. If the comments she cited had been said about me, I would classify them as untrue, unkind, inappropriate, unprofessional, and even childish.

After the SEA representative chastised the superintendent and three board directors for these comments, no one from the board or district issued any sort of explanation, contradiction or apology; they just moved on.

Having been an education advocate for four years, I feel her pain. From district emails I’ve gotten through FOIA requests, and also based on comments from people who work for the district, I know I’ve been criticized, mocked and undermined – not to my face, where I could challenge the statements and answer the charges – but behind my back. This type of behavior is unprofessional and cowardly. It speaks volumes about how much administrators value and respect the teachers and staff who care about the children, parents who try to be involved, and taxpayers who foot the bill.

Speaking of taxpayers, let’s discuss those administrative raises.

I wasn’t expecting administrators to get a raise this year. The salaries of most administrators are either more than $100,000 or hover in the near vicinity. One hundred and forty-six administrators (not including the superintendent) will make a combined total this year of $13,875,860 in base pay – an average of $95,040 each. More to the point, a number of them should be fired, especially in the execrable Department of Teaching & Learning.

Spokane has a 28.7% cohort dropout rate, a dropout problem in middle school, a drop of about 2,500 full-time equivalent students over the last eight years, and a 38.9% pass rate on the 10th grade math test (a test that required just 56.9% to pass). Four high schools have a 100% remediation rate in math at SCC. Most of the graduates who test into remedial math at SCC or SFCC test into elementary algebra or below – about half of those fail or withdraw early. Few students seem to know any grammar. In the 2008 district survey of families that left Spokane Public Schools, parents did NOT tend to complain about teachers; a full third said, however, that they left the school district because of the curriculum.

Teachers are not at fault, and they aren’t why I pulled my daughter out of two math classes. I pulled her out because of the weak curriculum and because of the refusal of central-office administrators to allow the teachers to teach. Administrators micromanage the teachers, call their professionalism and quality into question, undermine and discredit their concerns, set them up for failure, and then blame them. Caught in the middle are the students, most of whom will graduate (or drop out) without the skills they need for postsecondary life. There are excellent teachers in this district who want to teach my daughter math and grammar. But there is a barrier between us, and that barrier is the district administration.

Meanwhile, the constant administrator refrain is that we have a “problem in Spokane with quality teaching.” We also hear that there is no money for tutoring, no money for smaller classes, no money for libraries, Pratt Elementary School, office supplies, extracurricular activities, or custodial staff. No money, no money, no money. The superintendent said she supports the federal Race to the Top Initiative because she’s “desperate” for money. This district has cut teaching and staff positions to save on costs. And yet, there is this money for administrative raises.

I’ve heard the “reasons” for these raises:
  1. Administrators have to earn more than their principals.
    • Says who? (Oh, right. The administrators.)
    • District administrators are the ones who negotiate the principals’ salaries. And the principals’ raises led to administrator raises. Can you say “conflict of interest”?
  2. The central office supposedly does more with fewer people.
    • For the school year 2010-2011, the district has 3 more administrators and will spend nearly $700,000 more on administrator salaries than it did two years ago.
  3. This extra taxpayer money will encourage administrators to begin making data-driven decisions.
    • Making data-driven decisions is already their job, albeit one they refuse to do.
    • Why would anyone give rewards to people who refuse to do their job, in the hope that the reward will somehow convince them to start doing it?
    • Rather than trying to convince administrators to do their job, how about if we start firing them when they don’t?
I sat in the Oct. 27 school board “Community Outreach,” trying to convince a board director that Spokane’s K-8 math curricula – which have been criticized across the country since their development, which I have criticized for four years, which have no supporting data behind them, and which have produced an entire generation of students who lack arithmetic skills – are flawed. He’s been on the board since 1996. I don’t have the sense that he gets it.

Then, I sat in the Oct. 27 board meeting, listening to the head of the district’s Department of Teaching & Learning make little sense as she attempted to explain how the district “knows” when our students do have sufficient math skills. That administrator received a bump in pay this summer of $6,337, bringing her annual base pay to $129,299.

Absolutely Un...Be...Lievable.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October 2010). "Board directors, superintendent show disrespect to teachers, union." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

A version of this commentary was published in The Spokesman-Review on Nov. 6, 2010, under the heading "Schools' pay too high at the top." See this link:

This commentary also was published on on Oct. 31, 2010. See this link:

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