Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Tacoma School District


Economic crisis is a poor time for political pettiness

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Last week, U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and other Republican leaders devoted themselves to quarreling with the White House about the timing of a presidential address to Congress.

The monumental question: Wednesday? Or Thursday?

Closer to home, the Tacoma Education Association continued its campaign to exaggerate the size of the school district’s rainy day fund and grab as much of it as possible.

Some people apparently have more pressing concerns than the economic hurricane that may be bearing down on the nation, the state and local governments – including the Tacoma School District.

Given the darkening skies, politicians, unions, employers ought to be collaborating anxiously on plans to survive the next couple of years. Not perpetuating old disputes that strike most people as petty and self-serving. Read more »


Lame-duck school board shouldn’t rush to hire next chief

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Tacoma School Superintendent Art Jarvis has announced that he’s retiring, but he’ll stick around until the end of the school year.

Carla Santorno

So why is the school board apparently fast-tracking selection of his replacement? On Sept. 7 it will publicly interview the sole in-house candidate, Deputy Superintendent Carla Santorno, and decide the next day whether to hire her or keep searching.

Two of the board members who will make that decision are lame ducks. If they hired Santorno, not they but their successors would have to work with her.

The current five-person board is guaranteed to have two new faces in early December – a 40 percent turnover in membership with the departure of incumbents Jim Dugan and Kim Golding. There’s no good reason why the interview with Santorno – and the decision whether to hire her – can’t wait for their replacements to be seated.

The four candidates for the two board positions, who will face off in the Nov. 8 general election (if current vote trends continue and the results certified Wednesday), are Dexter Gordon and Scott Heinze for Position 3 and Karen Vialle and Kim Washington for Position 5.

Read more »


Tacoma schools must open on time next week

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Tacoma School District has long enjoyed a rare degree of community support, as evidenced by successful levies and generous construction funding.

That bond must not be broken lightly – and a potential teachers strike next week threatens to do just that.

Let’s be clear about what led to the tense showdown between Tacoma’s school administrators and teachers.

This isn’t a matter of greedy teachers or callous school officials. A stark conflict was built into their contract talks from the start. District leaders and the Tacoma Education Association are at odds because the Legislature was forced to cut funding for the state’s public schools last spring.

Had the district received money enough to maintain a healthy-sized staff and strong programs – and give teachers the money and small classes they want, everyone would have walked away smiling before now.

Nor are lawmakers the culprits. They were dealt a losing hand by the distressed economy, which forced brutal cuts throughout state government, schools and colleges. The core issue in Tacoma is the core issue everywhere else: The money just ain’t there.
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Tacoma schools should let public in on talks

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Exactly how far apart are the Tacoma School District and its teachers union on the issues most likely to create an impasse in contract negotiations?

Apparently, not even they know.

That should rattle anyone who is counting on school to begin as scheduled Sept. 1.
The parties have met 20 times over two months, and yet – according to the union’s characterization of the sessions – have not broached such topics as wages, evaluations, professional development and class size.

You know, the contract’s minor details.
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Are all those teacher training days untouchable?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Funding for public education is a precious and increasingly scarce – especially in Tacoma, whose school system faces an estimated $13 million shortfall next year.

That’s why everything the school district spends money on must be questioned, including programs embedded in union contracts – especially teacher training.

As The News Tribune’s Debbie Cafazzo reported Sunday, Tacoma Public Schools expects to spend $7.3 million on professional development in its 2011-2012 budget, $6 million of it for teachers.

Most of that money would be spent compensating teachers – at 1.25 times their normal pay – for seven days worth of training offered outside school hours. These “optional days” are provided by the district as part of its agreement with the Tacoma Educators Association.
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Districts must protect instruction above all else

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Closing a public school is an excruciating experience for everyone – students, parents, teachers, school boards and administrators.

That’s especially true for a comprehensive high school like Tacoma’s Foss, whose distinguished academic programs draw students from the entire city.

But even Foss’ most ardent supporters ought to hold their fire until Tacoma School Superintendent Art Jarvis can clarify the impacts of not closing Foss and several small elementary schools.

As he points out, mothballing Foss would save a full $2 million of the $5 million that must be carved out of the school district’s spending next year. The temporary closure of some elementary schools would likewise achieve major savings on administration and overhead.

Tacomans must understand the alternatives, and the administration itself doesn’t have them worked out yet. It is crunching the numbers to determine how that $5 million funding gap might be filled without closing schools.

More money could no doubt be squeezed out of the administrative budget, though Jarvis says he’s already done that repeatedly in recent years. Getting all the way to $5 million could require wholesale layoffs of teachers and expansion of class sizes, and perhaps the elimination of precious electives and extracurricular programs.
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Tacoma has yet to win its math war

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

There’s one good thing about the dismal state of math education in Tacoma’s schools: No one seems happy with the status quo.

Three years ago, the district took emergency measures and spent $1 million on Saxon Math textbooks to supplement the controversial “reform” math curriculum adopted several years earlier. The reform curriculum hadn’t proven successful, but neither has Saxon: It was quickly pulled from the high schools and doesn’t seem to have helped much in the lower grades.

Once again, the school district administration is pushing for new books, this time from Prentice Hall, at a cost of $350,000. This looks promising: Prentice Hall splits the differences between the reform and Saxon materials, and its texts have won good reviews in Tacoma’s high schools. The school board decided Thursday to spend a few weeks reviewing the administration’s request, which is simple due diligence.

Tacoma’s textbook dilemmas reflect a decades-old national argument sometimes described as “the math wars.”
American schoolchildren in general under-perform in math, which is alarming in light of the subject’s increasing importance in the job market and the technology-intensive world economy. Kids who don’t acquire working knowledge of math are shut out of nearly all of the best-paying professions before they get started in life.

As it happens, Latino, black and low-income children badly lag their white, Asian and more affluent peers in math performance. So teaching the subject successfully is a matter of social equity as well as individual success.
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Tacoma stands to benefit from school shakeup

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

A “dash for cash?” Perhaps. But the Tacoma School District’s plan to overhaul its poorly performing middle schools may be just the kind of radical change students need.

What is certain is that the status quo isn’t working. The children who attend Hunt, Giaudrone, Stewart and Jason Lee consistently score as groups in the bottom 5 percent statewide.

Poor performance in middle school is a good predictor of failure in high school and beyond. Doing more of the same won’t get those kids where they need to be.

Read more »