Archive for the ‘Superintendent Vargas’ Category

Report from the KSD Budget Hearing

April 12, 2011

At the KSD Budget Hearing on March 29th, Superintendent Vargas and Business Officer Richard Stedrey reviewed the budget and proposed reductions using a worst case scenario forecast.

Audience members expressed a high level of concern regarding the budget survey process and proposed cuts, including the long-term impact of many of the cuts.  The speakers included parents, students, educators and community members. Participants raised a wide range of questions and suggested alternatives. Concerns regarding PE and Music and maintaining K-4 class size were frequently addressed. Many speakers noted the connection between Music and PE and increased academic performance. One elementary student raised $15 at a garage sale to save the PE program and a middle school student said, “Music is my life.”

Kent Education Association Vice-President Connie Compton addressed the School Board and recognized the challenges of the school district budget. She continued, “As the education professionals who work with your students every day in the classrooms across the district, we feel it is absolutely imperative that we be an integral part of the conversation. We respectfully ask the board to invite us to the table to honestly and openly discuss possible alternatives to navigate these troubled economic waters while continuing to provide a high quality and well-rounded education to each and every one of our students. Together we can find a way to reduce the budget while minimizing the impact on our students.”

Audience questions included:

  • What is the end-goal driving budget decisions?
  • What are the priorities and values of our community?
  • Have decisions already been made?
  • Why are Elementary PE and Music being considered?
  • Why do administrators earn top pay for our region, but teachers are at the bottom?
  • Why are neighboring districts able to balance their budgets without impacting classrooms?
  • Why do the Auburn and Tahoma districts have better trust with their communities?
  • Will cutting the middle In-School Suspension program limit discipline options and have unintended consequences?
  • Is PE mandated by the state?
  • Is eliminating PE a contractual issue?

Suggestions for alternative budget reductions or raising revenue:

  • Make cuts that do not impact students.
  • Reduce salary at the top.
  • Run a supplemental levy to raise $3.7 million dollars.
  • 10 summer furlough days for administrators.
  • Cut administrative travel.
  • Freeze administrative pay.
  • Eliminate outside consultants.
  • Delay new curriculum purchases.
  • Use alternative transportation for high school students.
  • Freeze standardized testing.
  • Continue tuition-based full-day kindergarten programs.

The district has responded to some of these issues on the district website. KEA looks forward to responses to the remaining questions and concerns.  As well, we hope that we will be invited to discuss options with the school board.


Budget Survey?

March 26, 2011

This was forwarded to me by Connie Compton, KEA Vice President, who wanted members to be able to see what she did when she tried to fill out the KSD Budget Survey.  This was sent to the school board and Dr. Vargas.  I apologize that the chart didn’t transfer over as well as intended.  It came as an excel doc and was difficult to format.

I just attempted to complete the Budget Survey. I am disappointed and frustrated. I am unable to make the choices that I think best serve the needs of our students because the limited choices offered force me to cut certificated staff. This survey does not allow us to keep cuts away from our students and the classroom. Because the survey gives such limited options and does not present the full list of options developed by the school district or allow me to make my own suggestions and yet requires a specific point total, I am unable to use the online tool to give my input. Therefore, I am sending my input directly to you.

The students attending school in the Kent District School District today or entering kindergarten next fall only get once chance for their education. We need to provide a well-rounded education that meets the needs of all students. Cutting the Elementary PE and Music programs does not reach this end. As a 30-year veteran special education teacher, I know that school can be challenging and even frustrating for many students. PE and Music can be the positive in their school day. Other students find their passions starting in the elementary PE and Music programs, which leads to their connection to high school, their social group, and even their college path or their careers. Research clearly ties physical health and music to academic achievement. Likewise, research supports smaller class size at the elementary level. Teachers across our district will tell you that they are already stretched to their limits. Increasing class size and cutting elementary planning time will seriously impact the learning of our students.

Ideally, I believe that a supplemental levy should be put to the voters. This would increase funding by approximately $3.7 million, which would cut the need to reduce the budget by more than half. However, it is possible to reduce the budget without directly impacting classrooms or running a supplemental levy. Please refer to the attached spreadsheet (printed below) with my recommendations to reduce expenditures.

Thank you,
Connie Compton
Elementary Special Education Teacher,
KEA Vice-President,
Community Member & Voter, and Parent of 2 KSD Graduates

2011/2012 Budget Reductions for Consideration  
Central Office Budget Reductions as planned 2,762,032.00  
Energy Savings 592,568.00  
Mid-Day Kindergarten Transportation 127,400.00  
Reduce One Assistant Principal per High School               Rationale: Three Assistant Principals (or 2 and a Dean of Students) aligns with most high schools of similar size in our area. 542,388.00  
Middle School In-School Suspension 173,527.00  
Principal’s Travel Fund Carryover 248,951.00  
10 Furlough Days for Superintendent and Chiefs               Rationale: As KSD Certificated Staff are paid less than those in 22 surrounding districts, it is reasonable to reduce pay for administrators to a similar level. Furlough days can be taken in the summer without impact to the student school year. 76,020.00  
10 Furlough Days for District Management                        Rationale:  See above 323,560.00  
Return 11 TOSAs/Coaches/Facilitators to the classroom. Rationale: The professionals working in the trenches will agree that teachers in the classroom keeping class size low and programs intact will prove to be of the most value in student achievement. These staff can fill open positions in the schools. (Estimated savings based on the average cost per certificated staff of $80,963, although potential savings could be higher as most staff in these positions are typically higher paid staff). 890,593.00  
Cut “Travel” from the Budget                                                Rationale:  Priorities. Elementary PE and Music should be valued over administrator travel. 330,000.00  
Total Reduction 6,067,039.00  

Come on, KSD, you can do better than that…

February 22, 2011

A question was sent to me by a member asking why KSD withheld the new math teaching manuals (Math Expressions) from elementary teachers who could not or chose not to attend summer trainings.  Good question.  Teachers were then instructed to use their old resources and skills to come up with lessons for math until they could attend trainings late in September.  This teacher went on to say that she felt responsible for getting her students started on the new curriculum, so she borrowed a teammate’s manual and had an hour a day with it to plan lessons for her students which was not enough time.  In the end, she got trained on the new curriculum and received her own materials by October, but what was the message that she got from all this?  She felt that she was being punished because she couldn’t take the training in the summer.  When I first heard about this plan last year, that was the first thing that came to my mind, too.  Is there any other idea that explains why the district either couldn’t have moved the trainings up closer to the first of the year or supplied the materials so that teachers could at least frame their lessons with the new curriculum in mind?  Come on, KSD, you can do better than that.

This really brings to mind a bigger picture concerning curriculum and program adoptions and roll-outs that has been an issue in district for many years.  We have all seen curriculums and programs come in that were touted as the “new, next best thing,” and were talked up vociferously for a year, maybe two, and then just went away.  Some of those programs and curricula were good; some were not as good, but frequently, there seems to be something about the way they are presented that causes initial problems that are never overcome and the demise is apparent even as the program is implemented.  Sometimes it seems to be funding that is a problem; other times it is a lack of person-power to enable success.  Other times, buy-in doesn’t happen or combinations of reasons occur; we have seen all of these.  The bottom line is that we initiate and then drop many programs that are not given a reasonable chance to succeed.  I see this as a problem with the TI (or MTI or RTI or whatever it’s called at your building) implementation.  This could work really well.  I have talked to many teachers who see the potential.  I’ve talked to teachers who say that they are seeing the benefits, but it is taking many more hours per week to see those gains.  That becomes a workload issue.  KEA made the point last year that we need members on all adoption committees to take a look at any new curriculum to examine it from a contractual basis; issues of time and workload need to be viewed as a part of any adoption.  KSD agreed, and we put people on committees, but we still have problems.  It always feels like there is such a rush to implement that important details get ignored or covered up and then you wind up with the district “punishing” people who won’t get on board by doing things like withholding materials from teachers.  Come on, KSD, you can do better than that.

Community Budget Forum Well Attended, School Board Absent

June 2, 2010

Approximately 100 parents, community members, union members, and others concerned about the current Kent School District budget and recent layoffs attended the Community Budget Forum tonight at Daniel Elementary School.   Based upon those who stood when asked, about half the audience were members of KEA and other employee unions in the Kent School District, while the other half were parents, community group representatives, and community members. 

The Forum presented detailed information about the Kent School District’s budget, spending patterns, and comparisons to other districts in the region.  Additionally, a Question &Answer session provided further insight into the state of finances in Kent.  The presentation was given by Andrea Hardy, a budget analyst and expert on school district budgets for the Washington Education Association.  Multiple guests of honor attended, including representatives from several community groups and State Senator Claudia Kauffman of the 47th District.   Those in attendance were asked to contact the School Board to raise questions or voice their opinions to the Board, so that the KSD’s budget priorities will be changed to put kids first in Kent.

Conspicuously absent from the presentation was the KSD School Board and Superintendent Vargas, who were invited to the meeting previously, but declined to come!  Ironically, the Board and Dr. Vargas decided instead to meet with the Citizens’ Budget Review Committee for a work session.  Members of the CBRC had offered to postpone or cancel their meeting in order to hear what Ms. Hardy had to say, but District administrators insisted that they meet elsewhere as scheduled.  This was a shame, since many important questions and relevant comments were made at the Budget Forum that the Board and Dr. Vargas should have been in attendance to hear.  

Pictures and additional details about the Budget Forum will be posted in the next few days on this blog.  The slides from Ms. Hardy’s presentation will also be made available on the Kent Education Association website soon.  Keep checking back with this blog for updates, and forward this information to anyone you know that cares about kids in this community.

Budget Crisis – KEA’s Call To Action

April 19, 2010


Budget Crisis – KEA’s Call To Action


The KSD School Board is meeting on Wednesday to make budget decisions.

Any layoff will make every member’s job harder.
Any layoff makes each member’s job vulnerable.

To all members:

·      Wear black to school on Wednesday.

Attend the school board meeting on Wednesday 4/21/10.

o  Arrive at 6:15 for a rally outside
o  Attend the meeting at 7:00
o  Wear black
o  Bring your rain gear – it’s raining and the rainy day fund needs to be spent.

 The absence of our members implies consent. Be at KSD on Wednesday at 6:15.

Lisa Brackin Johnson
Kent Education Association

What Are KSD’s Budget Priorities?

April 18, 2010

When we asked this question last year, parents and community members stood behind Kent teachers in responding that KSD’s top priority should be students and supporting learning in the classroom.

Nevertheless, KSD is pursuing a course that will negatively impact our children by cutting elementary staff positions: Librarians who provide key literacy support; counselors who provide support emotional health and coordinate services; intervention specialists who support struggling learners and coaches who help teachers implement best practices.

Yes, KSD is surveying the community about these potential cuts. The catch? To submit your survey, your answers must accumulate at least 60 “points”. Reducing elementary staff, such as librarians, counselors and specialists, is the only way to accumulate these points. This does not truly allow the community to establish district priorities.

Does KSD have other options? Absolutely. In the last five years, KSD has had as much as $15 million more in its “rainy day fund” than the school board policy calls for. Last year, KEA forecast a KSD “rainy day fund” of $22 million, while KSD asserted that the fund balance would not exceed $17 million. At year end, it was $22.6 million. This year, KEA forecasts KSD will end the year with a “rainy day fund” of $21.7 million.

KSD has maintained a fund balance between three and six times the budgeted level and well over the board policy of 5%. What’s more, they spend just 90% of what they budget to spend in the classroom and about half of what they budget on purchased services (hired consultants, attorneys and other outside contractors). Just setting the budget for the actual expenditures would reduce the budget significantly and potentially eliminate the need for cuts.

Families must sometimes dip into savings to cover expenses. If necessary, the Kent school district should do the same.

During a budget crisis, staff members agree that support in and for the classroom should trump new programs and trainings with consultants.

We believe that the number one priority of the Kent School District should be the students. We urge the district and community members to keep cuts as far away from students as possible to ensure that our children continue to have the opportunity for a quality education.

2/22/2010 KEA Links: District Ignores New Contract

March 8, 2010


Class size and caseload were cornerstone issues in bargaining, and gained national and international attention during the KEA strike last fall.  Considerable progress was made on these issues, and Association members looked forward to being able to better serve students as a result.  It quickly became evident, however, that the district had no intention of keeping their word, honoring the contract, and meeting the needs of staff and children. 

Within three weeks of the ratification of the new contract and the end of the strike, reports started coming in from various KEA Reps that there was no sign of implementation of the new caseload language in Special Ed and ELL classes.  It also quickly became clear that the district had not posted enough openings for teachers and paras in order to provide adequate staffing to fulfill the terms of the new contract.  KEA requested caseload and para support data from the district on October 9th, and met considerable resistance. KEA has reiterated the request several times over the weeks and months that followed. 

The district began sending some information a month later, and though it is incomplete and not entirely accurate, it confirms that there are many unaddressed overloads, including overloads that exceed the scope discussed in bargaining.  The district has refused to provide accurate comprehensive information showing whether the base level of para support has been provided to each teacher, and KEA knows that this is one of the several points at which the contract has not been fulfilled.

How bad is it?  In some classes, there may just be one or two extra students, or a few too few para hours per day.  In others, no para support has been provided at all.  In some, more than twice the number of students has been assigned to a teacher.  In three elementary schools, more than 200 students are served by just one ELL teacher, despite a contractual guideline of 1:90.

Association leaders have not been silent about the district’s disregard for the contract, our members, and students.  There have been a number of meetings with upper administration.  Some of these have helped to pry loose a little more data, but none have resulted in effective relief or compliance with the contract.  Having found no resolution through discussion, KEA filed a grievance. 


The advantage of having this new caseload language in the contract is that it can be enforced.  KEA filed a grievance in late October at the level “Step 2—Superintendent.”  Dr. Vargas did not participate in the meeting, and instead appointed one of his bureaucrats to act in his stead; in this case, Larry Miner was appointed to act on behalf of the non-participating superintendent.  KEA presented contract language, data wrested from the district, information gathered by members and KEA Reps, and supporting logic.  At the first meeting in the grievance process on November 19th, the district, represented by Chuck Lind, was unprepared to explain the district’s position, so a Step 2 Part 2 grievance meeting had to be scheduled, by which the district created further delay of almost two months.  At the second meeting on January 13th, former prosecutor Lind, accompanied by Dr. Rieger and Kim Halley, offered a weak exposition of “management rights,” claiming that the administration’s decisions to deny adequate para support and to overload classes best serves the needs of students.  Mr. Miner “shockingly” agreed with his fellow administrators, and sent the Association a 6-page decision which is at odds with the language of the contract, the rules of contract interpretation, and bargaining history.  Mr. Miner’s decision was due on January 25th, but was not sent to the Association until February 8th.

 We are now at the mid-point of the current school year, and each passing day sees students denied the support they should receive, and places an excessive burden on KEA members.  KEA notified the district that it will appeal the grievance to binding arbitration, a process in which an independent neutral labor relations expert holds a formal hearing and determines whether the contract has been violated, and what should be the remedy.  This process can take months to complete.  There are currently seven KEA grievances awaiting arbitration hearings.


The Association asked Dr. Vargas to agree to an expedited process so the matter can be resolved quickly.  Larry Miner quickly informed us that Dr. Vargas does not want to use the accelerated process.  This means, of course, that the district prefers to drag out the process as long as possible so that they can continue to violate the contract and avoid spending the money necessary to hire enough staff. 


Technical processes such as arbitration often result in contract compliance.  KEA has won all three of its arbitrations over the past few years and compelled the district to honor language about involuntary transfer, contracting out our work to private agencies, and the district’s invention of goal setting forms that are contrary to the process and criteria of the contract.  We are reasonably sure that we will be successful in this arbitration as well… eventually.  We have a strong position, based on the new contract language, but arbitration is a slow and sometimes uncertain undertaking.

Even more effective than arbitration is the influence exercised by educators, parents, and the community.  KEA members have been speaking out about this topic at school board meetings. Although one school board member recently commented that changes should not be expected overnight, KEA has been more than patient as student needs continue to go unaddressed. Requests for relief for multiple classes in overload throughout the district over a period of half of the school year are a far cry from instant change.  KEA members have met with a newspaper reporter and told their stories. Information is being shared with parents and community groups. Talk with your building rep about how you can be involved to support your colleagues and your students!

OK, We’ve Got The Money From The Voters– But How Will We Use It?

February 11, 2010

Through a strong partnership between the various employees of KSD, as well as community groups, PTA’s, and the like, it looks as though the two levies for Kent will pass.  Fears abounded that if the Levies failed, 20% of our budget would dry up, leading to drastic cuts to KSD programs.  Luckily, this seems to be unfounded, as the levies seem to be passing with solid majorities.  One would hope that this stands as an example of how the KSD, in working with its employees and the community, can accomplish great things.

Now the question is, what will be done with the money? 

As KEA made plain during the strike last Fall, KSD has a long history of overbudgeting and underspending.  KSD also spends more money on Administrators, while spending less in the classroom on teachers and support staff than other neighboring districts– which led to the cry of, “Stack ’em deep, and teach ’em cheap!” during the strike.  Based on how the District has continued since the strike under the leadership of Dr. Vargas, it looks like it is business as usual.  While the District continues to cry poverty out of one side of its mouth, it continues to spend with abandon on new and costly programs whose efficacy has yet to be determined.  To be specific, KSD has taken to hastily adopting several new curriculum programs, including the new “Language!” program for SPED and struggling students.  Based on early reports about how implementation of this new program from SPED and ELL teachers, it sounds like huge changes in the way KSD operates are afoot.  However, little to no input has been sought from the teachers who will actually have to make the program work.  KSD prefers the Nike motto in dealing with their employees, “Just Do It!”

While KEA does not, in priciple, argue against the new programs at this point, one wonders how KSD can spend so much money on a new program and the countless dollars it will take to tweak, adjust, and completely overhaul current classrooms without consulting teachers.  Has the District truly tried to see what the programs will actually mean in the trenches for the people who actually work with the kids?  Are there not countless other programs that have been haphazardly introduced, hastily adopted, and quickly abandoned, which might still be useful– especially   if teachers were given real and meaningful time and support to implement them?  By way of example, this blogger remembers how Thinking Maps was introduced as “the next big program” about 8 years ago to save our struggling students and encourage critical thinking.  Now the program is nowhere to be found.  Was that program a failure, or did it simply lose its luster as the exciting new program?  Instead of spending money on new programs, could the experienced teachers instead be encouraged and supported to implement and improve existing programs better?  Could additional teachers and support staff be hired with that money, so that class sizes were reasonable in Kent?  What impact would that have on learning:  if class sizes were small enough for teachers to make meaningful relationships with their students and give much-needed time to planning lessons and assessing student work?

Unfortunately, KSD seems enamored with being on the, “cutting edge,” whether it be with new technology or new curriculum.  “New” must mean “good.”   Teachers’ relationships with their students are hard to show in a photo op or graph on a chart to show to the School Board or print in the local newspaper.  (Despite the fact is that overwhelming evidence suggests that teacher-student relationships are the #1 factor in improving student achievement and preventing drop-outs.)  I guess teachers just aren’t sexy enough to compete with sparkling new laptops or “experts” who are flown in from as far away as New Zealand and paid thousands of dollars to teach the latest curriculum to a group of overworked and undersupported teachers.   KSD’s top administrators seem baffled when teachers are reluctant to beam at the idea of taking on yet another new initiative.  Instead of efficiency, they approach the issues of the District, especially the so-called “achievement gap,” by throwing as many programs at the wall as possible, and then wait to see what sticks. 

Watching TV on SuperBowl Sunday, I was fascinated by a new show, Undercover Boss, which showed an executive of Waste Management Corp. secretly working in entry-level tasks such as garbage collection or cleaning porta-potties.   This executive, whose decisions for cost cutting and efficiency goals had affected thousands of employees, was shocked at how many of the decisions he made had unintended and negative consequences for his employees on the front lines.  He vowed at the end of the show to use his experiences to change the way he approaches his job.  It made me wonder: would a top KSD administrator be willing to take over an elementary special ed class, middle school ELL class, or high school blended honors class, and then change their behaviors as a result.  Probably not.  It might muss up their hair.

If you can remember a program that was hastily adopted and quickly abandoned by KSD in the past, feel free to share your stories by commenting on this blog entry.

Dr Vargas Ignores Teacher Workload

February 7, 2010

The following was sent from a member of the Crestwood Elementary staff.  We believe it is illustrative of the current relationship between KSD’s Superintendent Dr. Lee Vargas and the teachers and staff of Kent:

Well, the meeting at Crestwood on Friday morning with our new superintendent was VERY interesting. First of all, the day before the meeting, our KEA Rep sent the staff the KSD Action Plan, including what the district plans for SpEd inclusion, ELL push in, and Tiered intervention. From that discussion we found out that KEA wouldn’t even know about what was coming down the pike, but for their attendance at board meetings. The staff was shocked and upset.

The meeting began.  He talked for about 10 minutes about why we have to fix the achievement gap. Then he took questions. Our KEA Rep’s question was, “In the Preliminary Action Plan that the school board has already approved, you want to implement SpEd inclusion, ELL push-in, and Tiered Intervention in the core classroom. Since workload was arguably the most important issue in our recent strike, how do you plan to implement these changes without further impacting our workload?”

And he was off to the races, telling what these programs were and why they were good. He NEVER touched the issue of workload. He proceeded to not answer anyone else’s question, either. The other questions were about what kind of support we could expect in the classroom next year, about Crestwood’s difficulty with projections (when we learned our principal has the figures and hasn’t shared them with us), ELL programs looking different from building to building and about the perception of the parents of kids who are at the top end about including children who need much help without the support, so their children go by the wayside. He honestly didn’t answer any question that was asked.

The meeting went right up to the bell. Some that could, stayed after. The whole building was buzzing afterward and the entire day long! NO ONE was impressed with him – all saw through his circular talk. I am feeling like feelings of dissatisfaction among staff are right under the surface. It makes me feel hopeful that KEA can organize in response to this Action Plan.