Why am I Politically Active?

June 6, 2012

Why am I Politically Active?

By Michael Kerstetter                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            KEA Secretary Treasurer

I have always cared about politics.  I’m a child of the fifties and sixties and I took it seriously when our elected officials were declaring wars that I thought unnecessary while at the same time, they were breaking rules and laws established to keep politicians in line.  I have voted in every election held since 1971, the year I turned 21, the voting age at that time.  Over the years, I have tried to stay informed, even though at times it was difficult, due to the nature of the press seeming to support a status quo that was sometimes unsupportable.  I have encouraged others to be politically involved; family members and friends who needed to be cajoled (or worse) into wanting to vote and I’m sure at times I have convinced some to vote against whatever I was for, but I tried.  As time has passed, my views have remained relatively constant, though my rhetoric is less shrill and hopefully I come across sounding more reasoned than when I was young.   Still, the message must be stated:  You are in control of your destiny and what you do at the poll (now the mailbox) is important and counts.  The election of 2004 for Washington Governor is a perfect example:  At one point, Dino Rossi led Christine Gregoire by 261 votes, which was reduced to 42 by a machine recount.  After a hand recount it was found that Gregoire had won by 125 votes.  Your vote counted then and it may need to count even more loudly again.

Why am I politically active?  Because at this moment, we are staring at an extremely well-funded, aggressive privatization movement the likes of which has never been assembled, that is intent on taking away hard-fought and long-held rights that will affect every aspect of our employment if they prevail.  Collective bargaining is on the block.  Our health care has been under attack and will be again.  The curriculum we teach is under scrutiny and is about to be redefined by politicians.  Our wages, benefits, class sizes; seemingly everything is controlled by politicians.  You can affect this process in one very important way:  Find out who the candidates are that are really pro-education (not just the ones who say they are; they ALL claim that title) and work to see that they are elected.  Talk to friends, talk to associates, talk to people at the grocery store, at Little League, at soccer, at PTA.  Take an afternoon to find out when and where the doorbelling and phone bank campaigns are happening.  Volunteer.  This is worth your time.

Why am I politically active?  Because politics has always needed me and it has never needed me and you more than now.


I Am Politically Active Because I Care About Public Education

April 3, 2012

(Reprinted from eChalk; A Biweekly Update from Mary Lindquist, WEA President)

I watched every episode of West Wing. And Robert Redford’s The Candidate is one of my favorite movies. I even enjoyed The Election, an off-beat story about high-school ASB elections. In short, I am a political junkie.
I know not everyone shares this affliction, but I am dismayed to read that the average American spends seven minutes or less per week thinking about politics. And I while I love Washington Week on PBS, I know many of you are too busy with the demands of your jobs and family to spend as much time as I do.
Often I hear from members wondering why WEA is so involved in politics and how we make our decisions on which candidates to support.
The why is simple. Seventy-five percent of all our K-12 schools funding comes from the state. College funding and support for early learning is very dependent upon state funds. How teachers are evaluated, what kind of health care plans are offered, how many days students are in school and what credits they need to graduate from high school and how high college tuition can go are all influenced by the Legislature and other lawmakers.
The how is pretty straight forward. For statewide offices, a subcommittee of the WEA-PAC Management Board interviews the candidates and reviews the candidates’ answers to the questions. The entire PAC membership then acts on the sub-committee’s recommendation.
For legislative candidates, members through their UniServ offices conduct the candidates’ interviews. Teams are trained, use a common set of written questions and conduct face-to-face interviews. When there are vacant seats, these teams are asked to interview all of the viable candidates. Sometimes, when legislators have a pro-education record, we may choose to only interview that incumbent.
The interview team then makes a recommendation to the statewide WEA-PAC Management Board, composed of one member from each council, as well as one additional representative each from ESP, WEA-Retired, WEA Staff and Higher Education. When the PAC board acts, the recommendation becomes official.
Members of the local interview teams are chosen at the council level, often by the council president and/or PAC Board manager. Members interested in being involved — interviews will be occurring in the next month or two — should let their local presidents know.
We want our process to be open, fair and engaging for members and candidates. And we want to identify strong, pro-education, pro-educator and pro-student candidates.


Letter to a Senator

February 22, 2012

This is a letter sent by one of our KEA members to 30th Legislative District Senator Tracey J. Eide:

Senator Tracey, So many things are wrong about the so called “education reform” efforts.  I am too saddened and troubled to express it all here.  The latest, allowing students to vote on their teachers is a real error in judgment.  Collectively, politicians have hurt education the most, not bad teachers.  For example:  All the talk about bad teachers is sending a clearly negative message to our students.  Many are refusing to learn, and many, including parents, blame the teacher.  Politicians need to think about all the attacks on teachers and education that have occurred just while you have been in office:  evaluation, pay, healthcare, too much testing at the expensive of learning, pay, pay, so many left behind, loss of programs, overcrowding, loss of dignity, standardization at the expense of innovation, etc.

Politicians and a bad economy have forced the layoff of all the three year and less teachers, who with their degrees and expensive certificates and endorsements have moved on.  The message to college students is why go into a profession under attack; the best are not hiding, waiting to come under attack, the best are in the classrooms being impacted by poor decisions by the few in Olympia and DC.  Education is not about racing anywhere, it is about equity and the future of Washington and the USA.  Innovation is being lost, while standardization creates homogenization.

Politicians are generally educated people, but they do not understand who is in the overcrowded classroom.  They do not recognize those who are not like themselves.  Politicians do not relate to and do not get who they are impacting or empowering.  Among the many, I have a 15 year old girl who reads at the second grade level. Her mom “home schooled” her. She will not “meet standard” unless someone devotes years of intensive one on one help that we can no longer provide. Even if she learns to read at the sixth grade level, a remarkable feat in a short time frame, she will not meet standard and her teachers will be deemed a failure because she will get left behind, probably have a child and become a dependent of the state.  She is an angry person with few possibilities under the system put into place these past 12 years.

We now only graduate about 72%.  If five hundred start high school only about 360 will graduate.  Teachers should be empowered to fix what we know best, not politicians who have no real clue about the realities we face.  In every profession there will always be the few, but the continuous changes and attacks on our profession from Olympia are not helping and in fact hurt our efforts.  They distract teachers from teaching and make the public blame teachers and provide them with an excuse for their children not learning.  The idea that students know what is best for them in the classroom is a real mistake.  Students should never be given the power to decide who will teach.  The effort should be to attract better qualified people to be principals. All too often, principals lack classroom experience and subject matter knowledge, yet they are empowered to decide.  Teachers are never given enough time to prepare and even teachers have bad experiences and bad years.  We are people and we face death, divorce, and the effects of bad decisions. Offer early retirement and rehire as many of the recently laid off as possible.  Do not support “Teach for America.”  Generally they do not stay in the profession and it kills university teacher programs.

Do not support chartered schools.  The republican agenda several years ago began an attack on teachers and their unions because teachers generally vote democratic.  They appear to be making real headway in our state through school board elections, state legislator elections and whole cloth changes in law disguised as reform.  These are actually attacks on teachers, teacher unions, collective bargaining, healthcare, evaluations, and pay reduction.  It is easy to blame the teacher.  It has become too easy for the republican agenda to get laws passed that whittle away at democratic principles.  Remember it was teacher unions that empowered women to get the vote and make an impact.  I will stop here.  (name withheld by blog administrator)

Innovative Schools Already Exist Right Here in Kent!

January 21, 2012

Cindy Prescott, KEA Vice President, and Shirley Hickey, past KEA President and current KELA (Kent Educators for Legislative Accountability) Committee Chair, have teamed up to talk about innovative schools that already exist within the Kent School District:

Here in the Kent School District we have innovation all around us. Even as employees who knew about options available to students and parents, there are things we learned while researching the choices we offer in our school district.

The Kent Technology Academy (KTA) exists within Mill Creek Middle School. On their website, we read, “ . . . the heart of KTA is a group of creative, hard working teachers with a knowledgeable leader who have developed integrated lessons that allow more student choice, and encourage students to look more deeply and systematically at the topics in the curriculum. It works not only because of the teachers, but because the students also are expected to work harder than other students. Students are willing to do this because the learning is fun, the technology is fun and allows differentiation. . .”

Down the road, at the Kent Phoenix Academy (KPA), as members of the learning community, students are expected to “uphold the values of moral courage, honesty, integrity, respect, responsibility, and support the learning community.” KPA believes in a learning environment where “each student is known well, connections are made between learning and student goals. . .”  This school offers five high school programs to students, each having a different focus and approach from the traditional high school. Project based learning, service learning, and work with colleges and employers are all part of the five programs offered.

Further along the journey you’ll come to the Kent Mountain View Academy (KMVA). The KMVA is a “community partnership including students, families and the Kent School District to provide educational options and flexibility. . .” Third through sixth graders are purposefully grouped together, as well as seventh through twelfth graders so that students can maintain contact with their siblings.

In fact, at each of our schools in Kent we could find innovation and action research. We teach our students to achieve to standards. Because our students are so diverse we design instruction and strategies for reaching them that may look and sound different in various schools. This is our practice. There are those, including Bill Gates through his Gates Foundation, who are hiring data specialists to work on what is “needed” to change our practices.

Charter schools? Who needs them! We have innovation all around us.

Charters Now?

January 21, 2012

Connie Compton, KEA President, has some thoughts on Charter schools:

Our legislators and their constituents need to focus their energy and address the real problem in education in our state. Putting an issue on the table that Washington voters have already rejected three times distracts needed energy from solving the real problem.

Washington State has been cutting the education budget year after year. Education Week recently ranked Washington 42nd in per pupil spending ($9,329/pupil in WA versus the national average of $11,665/student) and 44th in state expenditures as a percent of state taxable resources.

We have less and less to meet the needs of our students. When I started in education over 30 years ago we had supply rooms with pencils, crayons and construction paper. We had textbooks and a wide variety of materials. As a special ed. teacher, I had a budget to purchase the unique materials my students might need to grow and learn. With the drastic budget cuts in our state, supply rooms are empty, textbooks are often out of date and special ed. teachers no longer have funds for basic materials and that’s just a start. Teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to make up the difference to supply their students with paper and pencils, and sometimes even coats and shoes.

And please don’t blame teacher salaries – Washington has consistently dropped down the list ranking states for teacher salaries. Our teachers are lower paid than all other states on the West Coast in spite of a high cost of living, particularly in the Puget Sound region. Last year the state legislature further cut teacher salaries by 1.9%. A handful of districts, including Kent, are paying the 1.9% out of other funds – however, before that Kent was the lowest paid district out of 22 in the Puget Sound region.

Charter Schools will take time and money to implement. They take funds away from true public schools that meet the needs of each and every student who walks through the door. Coming up with the staff to process applications, oversee charters, and the other related needs will cost our districts and state money. We need to work together to figure out how to fund what we have and not start anything new that we don’t have the money for.

If and when we solve our budget issues at both the state and local level and truly meet our state constitution’s requirement to amply fund public education, then we can begin to look at the valid research and statistics and learn from the experiences of other states. We can consider the many instances in which charters have been mismanaged and done more harm than good. We can look at the data regarding innovative schools that already exist in our state. Then we can then decide if this is really the best direction to go to meet the needs of the students of our state.

KEA Recommends School Board Candidates

October 20, 2011

KEA Recommends Candidates for Kent School Director Positions:

Larry Sims, Pos. 1 YES Open minded.  Willing to keep communication open.  Understands the need for priority in budget in the right place—class size.  Wants to know where the money is allocated.  Is aware about how much weight is applied to standardized testing.
Karen DeBruler, Pos. 2 YES Understands issues of classroom.  Understands workload.  Voted against the cuts budget.  Teacher of highly capable in Issaquah.
Leslie Hamada, Pos. 3 YES Not afraid to stand up and speak up.  Understands classroom realities.  PTA activist and single mom with successful grown children (one a teacher).  Passionate about support for all children.  Has worked on levy committees.  “Walks her talk” still.  Tutors at high risk schools during and after school.

KEA KELA (Kent Educators for Legislative Accountability) Team members interviewed each of the five candidates who filed for the three open
Kent school director positions. Being involved in the interview process is our way of recommending informed, reasonable pro-education
candidates. Vote!

The Day the Music Died

October 9, 2011

This comes to us from Laura Kexel, an Orchestra teacher in Kent and was published originally in the League of Education Voters Blog, edCored, as “The day the music died.”  (http://www.educationvoters.org/2011/10/06/edcored-the-day-the-music-died/)  Laura has given her permission to reprint her thoughts here.

I am an itinerant orchestra teacher. I am currently assigned to eight elementary schools teaching sixth grade beginning orchestra. When I was hired in 2007, I was assigned to five elementary schools teaching fifth and sixth grade orchestra. Every year that I have taught in the Kent School District, not only have elementary band and orchestra been on the chopping block, but the district has threatened to cut all elementary music to save money. Last year, fifth graders lost the chance to start in band and orchestra. The district is desperate for money, and our children are suffering.

I have a Masters Degree in Teaching, yet I spend only three hours a day in contact with students. I make enough money on mileage checks to pay three car payments in a school year.

Besides having to fight every year just to keep music alive in elementary schools, we have suffered some pretty devastating cuts. The district owns hundreds of band and orchestra instruments but has cut the repair and maintenance budget to ZERO. Would you buy a house and then never mow the lawn, vacuum, paint, etc.? They have a set maintenance fee for students to rent those instruments – $80 – but if a student has free or reduced lunch, the fee is reduced down, often to a mere $20. This $20 buys two strings (almost) or 1/2 of a new bow or 1/3 of a new case or almost none of a repair when needed for normal wear and tear issues.

Itinerant band and orchestra teachers used to get an allotment to spend on new music. Unlike math or science, we don’t have a set of textbooks that the district purchases and adopts every five to 10 years. Our books are purchased by the students themselves, and music is our textbook. We have to share that music, and now that we only teach beginning orchestra and band, we can’t use a great deal of what we have because it is beyond the skill level of the students. Our allotment was reduced to ZERO last year and has stayed the same.  No new music, despite the changing needs of our students. Are we supposed to write the music ourselves?

Every school principal has warned against making too many copies. Again, I don’t have a textbook curriculum. Everything I do is from a photocopy. I don’t always have time at every school to make copies for just that school, so sometimes I have to make all the copies I need for the week in one place. I try to spread that around evenly, but I’m not always successful. My schedule doesn’t allow me to be. I sincerely hope that I make it to the end of the year without getting cut off.

There are many more ways that budget cuts affect us and our students, but I have to stop here before I let all this wash over me. I need to keep positive despite the tough road ahead, and I can’t do that when I dwell on all the bad news. The bottom line is that I teach whoever shows up in my class, whatever their needs. I spend my weekends calling parents to make sure every student has an instrument. I make extra trips on my own time to the district warehouse and music stores to get supplies. I do all of this because someone has to do it, and it is important. I want what is best for my students, and I will do what is necessary to make that happen.

Sometimes You Gotta Stand Up

September 18, 2011

My name is Michael Kerstetter and I am the Secretary Treasurer of the KEA.  Last summer I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC, for the Save Our Schools march.  I went because I could and
because I felt it was the right thing to do.  This first thing I noticed was that there were probably less than 5000 people (my estimate) in attendance.  I’m relatively certain that you could find 5000 teachers within a short radius of Washington, DC; yet, the most well represented group was the Wisconsin Education Association.  Others were well represented; Boston had a large group, Texas had a bunch, and several other cities and states had relatively large numbers.  As a representative group for teachers however, it was not a large gathering although it was still exciting and invigorating to march on the White House.  Matt Damon is a rock star, BTW.  Here is a link to his speech from SOS, as well as links to the speeches made by Diane Ravitch and John Kuhn, a superintendent from Perrin, TX and a very dynamic speaker.


Wisconsin was there for obvious reasons.  They understand what it means to have their rights taken away, having just been through that, and they were ready and willing to stand with teachers from other states to ensure that this would not happen to them; to in fact, save our schools.  Others, apparently not so much, although I am very aware of the stresses and time constraints placed upon teachers.  I am one.  I understand.

On a personal note, I know that it is difficult to organize teachers to action, even small actions, because that is a good part of what I do.  I can always count on thirty to fifty people who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and do something for the benefit of the Association and I truly, sincerely thank and appreciate those people for what they do.  This is, however, an Association of about 1,700 members and generating interest in advocacy is sometimes agonizingly difficult.  Again, I understand why.

That brings me to my main point:  There is a level of activism that is necessary these days.  Teachers have to advocate for their own jobs and for their rights.  As we should have learned from Wisconsin,
it’s relatively easy to take rights away from people, and we should have learned from our own state that working conditions can be changed or eliminated by the vote of people who rarely, if ever, set foot in a classroom.  We have an election coming.  It is incumbent upon all of us that we do whatever we can to make certain that Washington does not become the next Wisconsin.  I don’t want to be an
alarmist, but we are one election away from that scenario.  Good people with good intentions allowed it to happen there and good people with good intentions need to stop it from happening here.  Be a part of the solution.

Thank you,
Michael Kerstetter
KEA Secretary Treasurer

KEA Bargaining Update September 2, 2011

September 4, 2011

Bargaining Team
Goal:  To strengthen the KEA contract in
the areas of working conditions, as well as compensation and benefits with the
ultimate goal to improve teaching and learning for the students of the Kent
School District.


A quorum of the membership of our association ratified a new
contract at the general membership meeting on August 30th. Key
components of the agreement include:

  • 1.9%
    – A stipend will be paid that makes up the difference between the 10/11 pay and
    the 11/12 pay for each cell reflecting both base pay and TRI pay. This will be
    re-negotiated for 12/13.
  • Late
    Arrival Days
    – nine 2-hour late arrival days for the next 2 years. 4 days
    teacher-directed and 5 days district-directed. KEA members in each building will
    decide which days are teacher days.
  • Goal
    Setting Model
    – language facilitates all elementary schools effectively
    moving to the goal setting model.
  • Civility
    – the workplace will be respectful and criticism will be made in
  • Audio
    & Visual Recordings – must be
    mutually agreed upon in writing by both parties.
  • Bereavement
    – 1 day for those not in immediate family / household (no longer required to
    use discretionary leave)
  • Discretionary
    Leave Roll
    Over – in order to
    reduce confusion, establishes a 3-week window ending June 10th to
    roll over one day.
  • Nurses
    & Psychologists
    – provides more autonomy over use of time to complete
    required work.
  • Meetings
    no meetings 5 school days before conferences.

In addition to the agreements above, KEA and the district
agreed to work together in collaborative committees to plan for future Learning
Collaboration Time and to define the role of department heads. KSD also agreed
to encourage a reduction in required meeting time.

Members in each building need to vote on the use of the late
arrival days for this year. Additionally all members are encouraged to track
required meetings, a practice imperative to improving KEA’s ability to make
significant headway around this issue.

Thank you to all KEA members for your support during this
bargain. Have a great school year!

KEA Bargaining Team

Connie Compton, KEA President

Cindy Prescott, 4th/5th
grade, Crestwood / KEA Vice President

Michael Kerstetter, Music,
Daniel / KEA Secretary Treasurer

Lisa Brackin-Johnson,
Language Arts, Mattson

Brian Thornton, Social
Studies, Meridian Middle

Emma Goliff, 1st
grade, Panther Lake

Ron Nauer, PE, Meeker

Rose Racicot, Occupational
Therapy / Assistive Technology

Sandra Goveia, KEA Uniserv

Tentative Agreement

August 25, 2011

Bargaining team goal: To strengthen the KEA contract in the areas of working conditions, compensation, and benefits to improve teaching, and learning for the students of the Kent School District.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Your KEA Bargaining Team is pleased to announce a tentative agreement has been reached. We look forward to sharing the details with you at the general membership meeting.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Please be advised that the calendar is part of the tentative agreement and provides that KEA members will attend the district workshop days on Aug. 29 and 30. The “floating” classroom prep day (7.5 hours including your 30 minute lunch) can be worked any time between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31.

On a personal note, I hope all KEA members will take a minute to thank your representatives on the bargaining team. They have put in many long, volunteer hours, including a 14-hour day yesterday. They were committed, thoughtful and intentional as they worked for the good of the entire membership.                                                                                                                          Connie

General Membership Meeting                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Aug. 30, 2011, 5-7 p.m., Kentwood High School
This is your opportunity to ask questions and vote on the tentative agreement                       

KEA Bargaining Team                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Connie Compton, KEA President
Cindy Prescott, 4th/5th grade, Crestwood / KEA Vice President
Michael Kerstetter, Music, Daniel / KEA Secretary Treasurer
Lisa Brackin-Johnson, Language Arts, Mattson
Brian Thornton, Social Studies, Meridian Middle
Emma Goliff, 1st grade, Panther Lake                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Ron Nauer, Science, Meeker                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Rose Racicot, Occupational Therapy/Assistive Technology
Sandra Goveia, KEA Uniserv Representative