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An interview with Larry Seaquist, candidate for WA State House of Representatives

01w Larry Seaquist

… We are going to have to opt out, and in my view…we are going to have to lawyer up, go into federal court, and sue the feds to remove the testing requirement, the whole ESSA…My view is that we should plan right now to opt out as a state and to go to federal court and sue the feds on the grounds (that) their own ESSA tells the states that they are to resume local control, but it (the state) can’t implement its own provisions. So I think we’re going to have to start by opting out as a state, now, and then go to court, and make that stick.

My co-editor, Carolyn Leith, and I are interviewing the OSPI candidates and this second interview is with Larry Seaquist.

The first interview we did was with Erin Jones. See An interview with Washington State Superintendent Candidate Erin Jones.

Recently Mr. Seaquist was asked to run for the State House of Representatives for the 26th District and decided to file but we decided that what Larry Seaquist had to say was substantive and of value during this campaign season. It is apparent he has given issues facing our state a great deal of thought and are worthy of review.

Mr. Seaquist is a retired Naval Captain who served as a State Representative for the 26th Legislative District for four terms. While in the House, he was the Chair for the House Committee on Higher Education.

Looking through his PDC, we could not find the usual corporate reform suspects and feel certain he is not beholden at this time to any Gates/Bezos/Nielson/ALEC/Walton/DFER/LEV/Stand for Children/TFA, Inc. related financial backers.

Mr. Seaquist developed the Apple Action Plan which includes restoring trust in educators, adding up “the full price of McCleary” which includes “A detailed accounting of exactly what state resources each district needs to fully deliver ample and basic education to their student population without local levies”, delivering education equity to all students and removing “intrusive laws and regulations”.

His full interview can be found here. I suggest, after looking at the following excerpts, that you take a moment to read through the transcript. I found his answers to be well thought out and deserve a careful read. I also thought Seaquist’s time in Olympia would have given him the knowledge and know-how to get things done for our state’s students.

We hope the best for Seaquist and he has our full support as a candidate for the 26th District.

To follow are excerpts from the interview.

Question:

In 2013 8.6% of Washington’s revenue came from the federal government. It included the acceptance in the past of programs such as No Child Left Behind where the money received from the federal government did not cover the total cost of its implementation. The state has also taken on the Common Core Standards, which is basically an unfunded mandate that is costing each district millions of dollars to implement….

As superintendent, what would you do to stop the legislators from voting for programs that cannot be adequately funded by the federal government or the state?

Seaquist:

The constitution says it is the paramount duty of the state to provide an ample education. That’s all of us. Politically, my view is that the way to make the legislature move is to mobilize the public. How do you do that? I believe you use this year’s OSPI campaign, make it the marquee race of the state. Get the whole state immersed in the questions like this one that revolve around our educational system. So that, after November, we not only have a new superintendent, but we have a state that is recommitted on a state-wide basis to moving forward.

Question:

Part of your action agenda is to cut local costs with a better budget and you propose adding consultation with districts at the front end. Would you please explain what your thinking is on that?

Seaquist:

…I walked in and asked Randy Dorn’s budget director, a very smart woman, how do you build your next year’s budget, your next fiscal budget. And she said, we take last year’s budget and ask Randy what he wants to do. Now I tell you, as a professional career budget guy, I am just stunned. This is not process. What I would do, and I would do this if I’m fortunate enough to be elected, the day after the election…I would immediately, in November, ask our ESDs around the state, to convene local budget hearings and let everyone show up and talk about budget priorities. And then rebuild that budget…now in the formal process, that the legislature goes through, for the governor to deliver a budget to the new legislature, OSPI sends over his budget proposals, argues with the governor’s staff, Office of Financial Management…they make the final decisions, and package the governor’s budget. So my second departure from that, I would do well in representing us inside that budget building process that happens in November and December, but I would also independently, because the superintendent is independently elected. I would independently deliver to the legislature the complete…McCleary, 100% with no levies required, budget to the legislature.

So my view is that the superintendent should not only play a more full…well-organized role inside the budget hearing process in Olympia, but then again, we can connect that back, to the public and to the education system.

One more point, hearing over just a week ago as we were all sitting on pins and needles waiting to see… a final budget deal, we didn’t know what was going to be inside that budget deal…

Dora, something that enrages me, is this back room budget making, where a couple of guys, one Republican Senator, one Democrat from the House, maybe somebody from the Governor’s office, make deals about what’s going to happen in a more than 30 billion dollar budget and then roll it out. What I would like to do, what you certainly can do, is to keep the public and the education system fully informed about what’s happening in Olympia, and make sure the Olympia legislators understand what those public views are. That’s an inherent part of being a legislator…legislators representing your constituents…in this case my constituents would be everybody in the state.

There is something, another very important change in the way I believe we should do budgets. This is a major proposal of mine. Right now, as you know, budgets are made on a two-year bi-annual basis, and the legislature’s timeline is always out of sync with the school district’s timeline. Here’s how we can fix that. You can have the legislature do their two-year budget, but have for the schools, the operative budget being the second year of the two-year budget. So that when the legislature finally in the late spring of the odd numbered year, delivers its new two year budget, the school districts have actually got what they have in front of them, the numbers that they can plan to start their own budget process.

Then how you get into the first year of the two-year biennium, you caseload it forward, and let the next legislature tweak that, we do that automatically anyway… What that would do is give every one of our districts enormous planning ability…You would not have teachers being fired, rehired, you would not have the legislature changing the deadline on how long you’re going to wait to tell your teachers that you’re going to pretend to fire them this year. Just imagine the savings in the effectiveness in your school district budgets and school district operations by doing it.

Now is that practical? You’re darn tootin’ it is! It’s practical. And, notice that on Republican trends, they use this phrase, “fund education first”. In part that’s a political slogan, but to the extent that there is some merit to that content, this does exactly that. And it allows the legislature to be a legislature with a two-year biennial budget, and it allows the districts to plan on where they’re going. The final thing I’m going to add to that is a six-year projection. I always liked the fact that the federal system, we plan budgets out six years. The Congress knew where we proposed to be… and giving us money for the first year…in the state’s case, the first biennium, that money is being enacted in that budget. But we all need to know where every district, where the whole system, is planning to go, in the next six years. School districts are big operations, and they need a better planning process.

Dora:

Okay, next question. There’s a person, Peyton Wolcott in Texas, who is helping school districts become more transparent with a check register online. So the public is aware of all the expenditures. Would you be willing as superintendent to do the same for expenditures made by OSPI?

Seaquist: Yeah, that’s an interesting…I hadn’t thought about…here’s what I had thought about. That sounds like a very interesting idea, and the answer is, my belief, all of this stuff should be made public. If the official can see it, the legislature can see it, then the public needs to be able to see it in real time. We’ve got computers, we’ve got websites, so there should be no mysteries in where money’s going. So as a general principle, I’m not familiar with the Texas check register technique, but as a general principle, I totally agree with you. And, as I suggested earlier, my view is that the superintendent OSPI needs to do a much better job of not just being transparent too, but making sure that you’re proactively providing everybody, all the educators, all the schools, and the public, with information about what’s going on.

That touches on something that’s really important, Dora …we have to get to 100% totally funding McCleary. That is not an option, that has to happen. That’s in the constitution, it’s in the court case… All we have to do is get the totals right, make sure where the border is, and double check those totals with the low-income minority kids. But to do that… if you are then going to turn to the taxpayers and say, I want you to save more money in this new arrangement, where rather than spending, voting on local levies, now your money is going to go to Olympia, and you can trust that it will come back. We need a system in which those taxpayers…both know where that money is, and they can see it coming back (with) …openness (and) transparency… we will have to create, a new level of public trust for the voters, taxpayers.

Question:

Getting back to unfunded mandates and SBAC and what the SBAC requirements are doing to our teachers and students, a school in the Bethel School District in Washington State punishes students who opt out of the SBAC test by taking away a student’s privilege to participate in orchestra or band. What do you think, what are your thoughts on school districts punishing students and families for opting out of the SBAC?

Seaquist:

…I’m in favor of the opt outs to be clear. In fact, the state… needs to opt out… right now.

It is perfectly clear, and I’m talking about the new ESSA. The new ESSA left us stuck with a federal testing requirement, and it left us stuck with the 95% participation rule.

… We are going to have to opt out, and in my view, Dora, we should, the superintendent, who by the way needs to hire some more lawyers, to work with both the Attorney General, who does the lawyering for the agencies and hire in a new internal law staff…we are going to have to lawyer up, go into federal court, and sue the feds to remove the testing requirement, the whole ESSA…My view is that we should plan right now to opt out as a state, and to go to federal court and sue the feds on the grounds (that) their own ESSA tells the states that they are to resume local control, but it (the state) can’t implement its own provisions. So I think we’re going to have to start by opting out as a state now and then go to court and make that stick.

Question:

The Common Core has an insidious way of creeping into school life with the SBAC testing, and is being used for admittance into AP programs, to receive a GED and soon to be a graduation requirement. The SBAC test has not been judged to be valid or reliable and there’s also an anticipated failure rate. What are your thoughts on requiring the students to “pass” the SBAC to graduate from high school or receive their GED? You’ve already answered that, but do you have anything to add?

Seaquist:

So how do we get out of the Common Core? And the problems with the Common Core are multiple. This idea that the 12th grader, or high school graduate, is essentially a twelve-story high building…we add up, piece by piece, kindergarten through 12th, we add all the little things to build a twelve-story building… Children are not like that…The whole central idea of Common Core, as an architecture of increasing skills to me, doesn’t make any sense. Obviously there are levels…teachers want to have standards, they want to be able to move students forward, but that architecture of Common Core itself…it looks at children as simply uniform buildings and you want every one of them to look alike.

The second thing is, there is no feedback. It’s not our standards, they were forced on us. We didn’t have any say in them and there’s no feedback loop. I was thinking, for example…if you get on an airplane, your pilot has got standards about how to take off, how to check in, but… if there’s something in those procedures and those checklist isn’t right, they fix it. They improve, they change the process. Nothing in Common Core can be fixed now. It’s simply frozen.

Year after year, we went from the WASL, the HSPE, we keep changing these things, and we have to take the step forward to our standards that are very high quality and managed by us, in a very careful way so we don’t drive these teachers, and their students, and their families crazy, with another whiplash. So, once again, I would turn to the educators and say, okay guys, move forward from the Common Core Standards, simplify those things, make sure they truly are at the altitude we could be at, that they are ours, simple, and adaptable, and let’s transition to that stage.

… (And) it’s statistically nonsense. Those numbers are absolutely meaningless…These teachers, every day, are doing tests, they’re measuring their kids, they’re adjusting, that’s what teachers do. Along the way they are generating a lot of information. Frankly, I believe that we could use big data analytics, and sampling…we could sample at random, we could sample schools with these drop-by exams once in a while that you couldn’t prepare for it…I would give a state-wide measurement stop, by analyzing the river of data that the teachers are already producing. Now we need to go back to teacher colleges… and make sure that we’re equipping our teachers with the analytic skills…I think there are ways to generate the metadata, without tying yourself on to… this crazy high-stakes testing that has done so much damage to our schools, and to our kids. And our teachers.

Question:

About the teacher shortage, how would you attract teachers back to the profession?

Seaquist:

I was thinking, if there was one thing that I would like to be known for, it would be that the climate around being a teacher had changed.

If we’ve got great teachers, we will have great results. And our teacher crisis is really, really serious. It’s more serious than the legislature is understanding. They didn’t bother to do anything.

As I travel around the state, and I have looked at this corp of…more than 80,000 teachers…we have all, our professional educators, all the counselors, we’ve got all of the people who do lunches and buses and maintenance. Those are educators too, all of those people. We’re not treating them as a corp of career professionals.

I went to SPEEA, the aircraft engineer’s union, and the Boeing engineer’s SPEEA does a very good job of not only being a union, but being a professional association, of looking at how many young engineers are we bringing on… are we doing things in our mid-career, people who are in their 30s and 40s staying really energized, fresh, updating themselves. When are people retiring?

We need to build the ability to manage our educators, the teachers and these other corps of education professionals, in a much more intelligent way. And so what I would do…is something where…at one of our colleges…we’ve got 22 teacher colleges in the state, have them combine and have a real center where that kind of analysis, that kind of questioning… We would interview, why did you leave? What could have made the difference? So a lot of much more thoughtful career management would help.

Yes, money is important. We are simply going to have to radically increase the amount of income…Is $35,000 for a starting teacher fair? The starting pay for a state trooper is $54,000, $19,000 higher, and our state troopers can’t hire people to do that… job, they can’t even survive at $54,000. So frankly, I say that no teacher should start at anything less than the starting pay of a state trooper, and that number has to go up.

…One more thing I’d like to mention…if we don’t have good teachers, if we don’t have high quality teachers, it doesn’t make any difference what else we’re doing. We have got to restore a sense of trust in our teachers. You do that with public affairs, by making sure, this is something OSPI can do, that we’re making sure the public understands the competence, the skills, the expertise, and the successes of our teachers, and that we restore that trust in being a teacher, in being a school counselor, in being a principal…that we’ve got not just admiration for, but trust in our educators.

Question:

Where do you stand on charter schools?

Seaquist:

I’m still in the same place I was when I voted against the charter school bill, I’m a “No”.

My expectation is that the governor’s action of letting that fix through will be quickly found by the court to be insufficient and that the court will confirm that the system set up in the state is unconstitutional and has to be stopped. My view is that the real answer for creativity, these charter school people are coming to us, saying, your schools are not giving my kids enough options…every teacher that I know, every class I’ve been in, those teachers are full of creative ideas. They are just overloaded with too many students, too many bookkeeping requirements, these unfunded mandates…you know, they are crushed by the workload…they have neither the resources to be creative, nor the time to do that. And if we fully fund McCleary, restore trust, the answer to the charter schools business is… our schools are perfectly creative. We’ve got lots of creative schools here. So I would not let the charter movement into the state and, by the way…we know darn well that there are big money forces behind some of these charter school moves, to try to actually move in and try to capture some of the revenue from our schools and this includes Pearson, all the testing. We have got to cut those budget relationships off and get those big corporate interests out of our schools.

So, my assumption is A, the court will find this summer that the fix was unconstitutional and that will be the end of charter schools. If it turns out that somehow the court allows the charter schools to move forward, then I will do two things, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected in November, I will follow the law. If the law says in the constitution that the court says it’s legal, then I will make sure that we’re following that law, and that we’re doing it in public. They’ll be no backroom deals, no clever ways of slipping money into charter school hands that is actually state money.

By the way, I’m enraged by the fix, they came up with, once again going to the lottery money and saying, okay, now we’ll put the lottery money over to charter schools. My constituents here, and I served in the legislature eight years, every constituent I’ve got is angry that the original deal, that lotteries are supposed to fund schools, the legislature keeps screwing around with it. And that is not going to set well with our voters, that once again, the legislature is playing footsie, with the lottery money. Now, if that’s the law, I’ll follow the law but A, I will go to that law staff and write a new bill and take it to the legislature, to get rid of charter schools in the state. If the court doesn’t do it, I will.

Here’s the fix that they (the state legislators) left us in. Because the legislature didn’t do their homework… year after year, it is now no longer possible to do the McCleary deal this year. None of the essential homework has been done. We haven’t fixed the teacher crisis, we haven’t even added up the total cost of McCleary. We haven’t removed the old regulations. We haven’t (completed) that list of things that we need to do, including career and tech ed kind of things, we haven’t done any of that and we urgently need to do that homework so… then we can climb the McCleary mountain and make this grand bargain where a lot more money is going to go into the state’s education system, that there will be no more local levies, that the local districts will be able to trust the legislature to deliver the money, the legislature will know that they have the money.

…We’ve got to do our homework, and we need to do that in public. So I invite you, and everybody else in this state who’s interested in these things…if you haven’t got other work lists, to look at my 12-point agenda. We all need to go to work.

…Don’t just wait for the next legislature. The paramount duty is ours and…this year’s election gives us the opportunity to act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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