What was to be a forum presented by the League of Women Voters and the Seattle PTA with some of our state representatives there to field questions on funding for public schools quickly turned into a rally when a teacher from Nathan Hale High School brought down the house while talking about the SBAC and its unfairness to students and families. At the end of his speech, parents started chanting “Opt out, opt out, opt out!” and stomping their feet. Soon, the entire gymnasium exploded with excitement as the chant caught on and everyone was on their feet clapping, stamping and demanding in one voice to refuse the test.

Sally Soriano (former Seattle Public Schools’ Board Member) was there and took notes as one teacher after another astutely articulated their concerns.

Representative Gerry Pollett attended the event also and showed himself to be a voice of the people.

To follow are Sally Soriano’s field notes about the forum that quickly turned into a rally.

My Notes from the WEA/SEA Legislative Forum • Sat. 3/21/15, 10AM – Nathan Hale High School

Panel: Sen. Jeanne Khol-Welles (36th); Rep. Gael Tarleton (36th); Rep. Strom Peterson (21st); Sen. Rosemary McAuiffle (1st); Rep. Frank Chopp (43rd); Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (43rd); Rep. Jessyn Farrell (46th); Rep. Gerry Pollet (46th); Sen. David Frockt (46th)

Smaller Class Size

-Social Studies teacher in Shoreline. It’s time to reduce class size in WA State as we’re 47th in the nation. Last year educators in this state didn’t feel comfortable without a petition in our hands. We collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and smaller class size is now the law.

-5th grade science teacher at Olympic View. Last year I had 29 students. I’m a veteran teacher and skilled at my profession but with 29 students it was not possible to reach every student. Our charge as teachers is to reach every student. In talking with other educators, I’ve been finding out that 29 students is not even the largest class size. This year I have 22 students. The difference of 7 fewer students has made a drastic change in my teaching. Now I can sit down with students on a one on one basis. I have to do less prep time and can focus on better instruction.

-Frockt (46th) Response: I’ve been working with the WEA on a timeline to start implementing smaller class size beginning with low income students at the elementary level. Then we’ll move to the middle school level and then add nurses. I think we will be able to get there. We have to work with the court and with new revenue. It is my commitment to fund McCleary.

-Khol-Wells (36th) Response: I agree with Sen Frockt; I am former teacher but we also have to work with the Senate majority.


-SEA Comment: WA is 47th when comes to class size; also is 42nd when comes to compensation.

-I teach in Edmonds; my husband teaches in Everett. When I talk with people about the reality of being a teacher I warn people — don’t ever marry a teacher! We live very modestly and have over $700 a month in student loans. My sister has no degree and just took a job for $70,000/yr with a $10,000 bonus. We are a healthy family but have medical bills. We continually make medical decisions on the basis of having no money. This winter we had to put off getting the brakes fixed on our car. Every few months my Grandma takes me to the store to stalk up our cupboards. We cannot afford violin lessons for our child and wonder how we are going to pay for two children to go to college when we haven’t even paid for our own college. Legislators must understand how important it is to retain quality people. They have to make this system work for teachers.

-I love working to support teachers. I wear many hats. I’m a special ed teacher and parent educator in Northshore. I work at Moreland Elementary School. I’ve worked part-time doing home repair and painting. I was in the Naval Reserves. I’ve been a fine art photographer. I need medical benefits. I make $16.00 an hour and my gross pay is at $1,700 a month with take-home pay of $1,200 a month. I am a single woman and am lucky that I own my home. Still I don’t cover my expenses with my take-home pay. I will have to continue working as long as my health holds out. We are not compensated equitably. I should be making $9,000 more each year. I guess this is what I’m donating to the state. I’m continually using up my retirement savings. My situation is the norm. I’m here to ask you to do something to fund educators. We have to be able to survive in this economy.

-SEA Question to panel: COLA is still not enough, would you support competitive wages as recommended by your own task force? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Local flexibility, local districts negotiate with teachers? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to Chopp: Please comment on the COLA, Speaker Chopp, as you play crucial role in the House?

-Chopp (43rd) Answer: I am a community organizer who happens to be Speaker of the House. I support raising COLAs; my brother and two sisters are teachers so our get-togethers sound like a WEA union meeting.

-Rep. Peterson Answer: We have to honor the COLA deal we have made as honoring these promises is exactly what we have to do to maintain the safety net.

-From an Audience Shout Out: When?: Answer: This year; How? Answer: Revenue packages; Capital gains; Cap and Trade

Salary and Benefits

-I’m a parapro at Stevens Elementary. I am doing the work I love and I’m lucky to have a place to live inside Seattle as I have landlords who appreciate my teaching and therefore give me a good deal on rent. If I did not have this relationship, I could not live here. I have neighbors who are also educators at Stevens and we all live pay check to pay check. We never have money at end of the month. There is no retirement and healthcare costs are rising. Inslee raised healthcare by $200 which is a minimal raise as it barely covers anything. I’m thinking that I’ll have to reconsider whether I can do the work I love. What does this say about how we are valued?

-SEA Question to panel: The decrease in healthcare has impacted teachers; $786 per month since 2011. Most educators are taking home less pay every year. Do you support increasing teachers to the same level as state employees? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Do you oppose the state takeover of our healthcare system? Everyone on panel answers YES (except Tarelton, she didn’t know anything about a takeover)

-Tarleton (36th) Answers: I’m in support of teachers getting healthcare funding that keeps up with the cost of healthcare.

-Walkinshaw (43rd) Answers:  My mom was a teacher and my dad was on my mom’s healthcare plan. As a kid growing up I know what family finances are like. Kids know when families are budgeting and there has been a huge change over the last 20 years. It is essential to be fighting on this issue.

Student Testing

-I’m a Nathan Hale Teacher (loud applause). We teach students to be citizens, to be honorable, skillful citizens. After studying the research and using a broad-based input process with students, parents, teachers, we came to the conclusion that the SBAC was of no benefit. Since then, Dr. Larry Nyland stated we could be guilty of misconduct if we refuse to give the SBAC. We will be fired and could never again be able to teach in Washington State. Fortunately there is a large parent movement and a large student movement. The state and city and school board must listen to these protests against this unreliable test. All across the country parents and students are protesting against these tests — NY, NJ, PA and TX and California just decided to postpone Common Core testing for the next year. I think the federal government is more likely to listen to the public’s opinion about these tests because it is an election year. (standing ovation)

-I’m a Graham Hill elementary special ed teacher and also the parent of a student at Ballard High School. I have already opted my teenager out of the SBAC. I have been the testing coordinator at Graham Hill for nine years. During that time I have seen the required amount of assessment given to students increase and increase. There is no longer enough time each day for the important instruction in the classroom. There is no time for in-depth teaching. Students have to spend an enormous amount of time on their homework and this is actually content they should have been learning in school but don’t have the time because of testing. Students average 2.5 hours for each of the district mandated tests and now the SBAC will take 8 hours. Most all of this testing has nothing to do with what the kids are working on. What happens is, through the testing, you end up telling little kids that they are dumb. What am I suppose to do with this data from all these tests? I know that when I send the results to the district they just all fall into a black hole. As you all know, when you test your students the testing is timely, it is related to your curriculum and is relevant. Your tests are individualized for your students. Students realize these tests are created for them. Your tests then inform your curriculum. Students are not guinea pigs; teachers are not guinea pigs. These other tests are created by people who are more concerned about students as a number and making money off of these students. (standing ovation)

-I’m from Lake Washington School District. I just administered the SBAC. Students were looking to me with fright, trying to figure out what was going on. All I could say was: “I will not be able to help you.” These tests are taking way too much time and there is no research that shows they improve student learning. I think it is premature to be giving these tests now and it will just lead to a real narrowing of the curriculum. We must make sure how we measure our students — we must use a just process. Who is going to be the voice for our kids? Who will do what’s right for our kids? (standing ovation)

-SEA Question to panel: Do you support removing high stakes testing as grade requirement?  Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Will you work with us to limit tests? Everyone on panel answers YES

-Jessyn Farrell (46th): There is so much energy in this room! I have a 6-year old and 4-month old. When I walk into my 6 year olds classroom, I think to myself what amazing things are happening here in spite of what the Legislature is doing. I’m learning about this just the way you are. My 6 year old had a day off a while back. What did we do? We played testing. Thank you Nathan Hale. We need to and want to be your partners.

-Gerry Pollet (46th): Thank you Nathan Hale. When we were here in October I urged students to go to their parents and talk with them about boycotting SBAC. As a parent I am disturbed by what Seattle Schools are doing. I received a letter from Superintendent Nyland who states parents can “refuse” the test. He has it wrong. I have a right. It is a legitimate option for my child to not take the test. It is not a refusal! I have a legal and moral option. Our kids are not guinea pigs. (standing ovation)

-Khol-Wells (36th) — I’ve always opposed using student test scores for teacher evaluations. I would have voted against SB 5748 again this year but there was an amendment offered which was exactly what the SEA has supported. Evaluations would not be based on test scores but on assessment data and it would be up to each district what assessment data would be used. I care a lot about getting back the $40M. I have always been opposed to “high stakes” testing and I am not the enemy. I have repeatedly talked about the horrible nature of “high stakes” testing. My granddaughter is a high achiever; I was a 4th grade teacher. We know our students are achieving well and we know what we want.

-Frockt (46th): I’ve heard you loud and clear about how we use the tests and the proliferation of tests. I voted for SB 5748 for one reason. I wanted to try to restore NCLB and services to low income kids. I’ve worked with Governor Inslee crafting a waiver based on the statement of Arnie Duncan. I’ve asked Inslee to re-double his efforts. By adopting the amendment which would allow multiple measures, I was hoping this would be the right direction for public policy.

-McAuliffe (1st): When we brought it in, the wording was “may use”; not “must use.”

Fully Funding Education

-SEA Comment: We remain focused on the importance of fully funding education.

-President Northshore School District. This is the paramount duty of the State and McCleary has reaffirmed this and the State Supreme Court is now holding the Legislature in contempt. Through various initiatives, such as I-728, funding for education has become a shell game. No fair revenue has been added.

-SEA Question to panel: Do you agree full funding and smaller class size? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Should there be competitive professional wages? Everyone on panel answers YES

-Seattle PTSA lobbyist. I have a second grader and classrooms in Seattle are bursting at the seams. We need to build more school buildings. In Seattle, we have kids in 6,000 portables. In order to meet K-3 we need 350 more classrooms. Kids need quality learning environments. We have to invest in our buildings.

-SEA Question to panel: Will you work to make sure in this biennium there is full funding for K-3 classroom construction; we need 5,000 new classrooms at a renovation cost of $40M? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Will you support fixing the formula for building classrooms? Everyone on panel answers YES

-League of Women Voters. We know state funds are central to many programs. Where is the money going to come from? Will it be sufficient?

-SEA Question to Chopp: What can we expect this year and how can we work together? We have 84,000 educators across the state (Chopp adds: and 1 million students across the state).

-Chopp Answers: First we have to improve our tax system. Leaders in Apple Health have already learned this with $1.4B in new revenue. The problem is with the Republican dominated Senate. People in this room and throughout the state have contacted me about the bad Senate bill SR 5748 regarding teacher evaluation and testing. I’ve received 1,300 emails opposed and zero email in favor.

From the field,

-Sally Soriano