FEEL GOOD FRIDAY: Highline School Bond…and US!

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From our sister site The Waterland Blog:

by Dave Markwell

For the past few weeks, opinions about the Highline school district bond have dominated the comment sections of our local media outlets. Vast and varied opinions exist. Some have inspired me and some have troubled me. All have made me feel something. This is good and is the reason I am writing this letter.

While I have some specific ideas about specific elements of the bond, I also see representative challenges comparable to the larger ones our country faces. My hope is that if we can unravel and understand and come together as a community dealing with a school bond, there may be some hope for our country to do the same.

In the U.S., a very obvious division exists. However, as obvious and palpable as it seems, I think it is also mostly phony. I believe that people are a lot closer, ideologically, than they are vastly different. We all care about our kids and our communities. We care about our families and friends and other citizens of the world, too. We have many important things in common. I think our dialogue betrays this fact. The news media certainly betrays this fact. I think if we lead with the presumption that the other party cares as we do, actual communication can occur. Better ideas will be constructed and problems can be solved, instead of the loud, yet impotent, process of finger-pointing and hollering that moves us nowhere. We NEED movement and we need to come together to get anywhere. We need to “lower our voices and elevate our arguments” to be effective in any way. If nothing else, I hope this school district bond exercise can teach us some lessons…Ok, that soapbox moment is over, but, please think about it.

Here are some specific items of interest to me:

First, anonymous posters bug me. I don’t get it. Each week, I write a little column. My name and photo accompany the header to my words. I claim them. By doing so, I understand very clearly that I need to choose my words carefully. The words that make the page are words that I respect enough to share. Many others words do not make the page. People unwilling to claim their words, to me, implies that they do not respect their own words enough to claim them, therefore, my respect for them is diminished, as well. It is too easy to speak unkindly while sitting in a dank basement, wearing pajama bottoms and drinking a warm diet Mountain Dew, which is how I imagine anonymous posters live. Come out of the basement and live with the rest of us. We need your perspectives and ideas to be taken seriously. Get serious about them. With this in mind, I applaud those folks who publish their names and own their words: Jerry Guite, Don Wasson, P Willoughby, the Castronovers and others, I thank you for making me think and I respect your opinions, even though I happen to disagree with them.

Next, the argument against administrative pay confounds me. I believe we NEED to PAY MORE for talented staff folks. I don’t want the JV team leading our school district. I want the varsity!! I want the blue chip squad!! These people deserve to be paid well! I believe we have some fantastic leaders. I have spoken with many of them and, more than their impressive resumes, they have impressive passion for their jobs. This cannot be faked. They care. They are not perfect. They are perfectly human and I have seen great humanity in their commitment to the immensely difficult task trying to educate a complicated community of students.

Our challenges are as unique as our population. Economic, social and cultural issues confront educators and policy makers every step of the way. Clear, best answers don’t exist. We need folks willing to examine new ways of thinking to face these challenges. We need innovators and explorers driven to find solutions. I think we have them. Pay them. Paying teachers more is a “no duh”, too. We need to elevate the entire culture surrounding education. We need to attract the best people to do the most important jobs in the world. Money helps achieve this.

Third, Des Moines Elementary moving will not end Des Moines. To be clear, I do not want Des Moines Elementary to move. I live in the surrounding neighborhood. My kids have both gone there. In fact, my dad went there in the 50’s. It is a neighborhood institution and truly does connect our families. However, it is an inadequate facility and if over-crowding will only further burden the already over-burdened infrastructure, then move it. I have no concerns about a developer stealing this land from the citizens. I see much potential for some cool community use which could actually expand its capacity to bond our little city. We, the citizens, OWN these properties and have absolute sanction over their use. This is why I am not afraid of the ghosts in the closet of some backdoor developer deal. To me, that’s just silly talk. The people will not allow it.

Lastly, win or lose, I hope this bond issue brings us together. If it passes, I hope the opponents will not waver in their commitment to ensure a high-functioning, fiscally responsible school district. We need these voices always. If the bond fails, I hope that both sides can get together and fix the problems with it. A real opportunity exists for collaboration and cooperation to create something that works for everyone. We care about the same things.

I understand that legitimate financial concerns exist for some folks and if this bond is excessively burdensome, I support your vote against it. If you are just mad at the government, because it has largely failed us and you feel violated and this is the one place where you feel like you might be able to exert your constitutional right to have some say-so and gain a sense of control by saying-so, please pick a different arena for your revolution. This is too important. This bond will help our kids and our communities. Thanks.

– Dave Markwell
Parkside Elementary
Pacific Middle School
Mt. Rainier High School -1987

[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who just published his first book called “A Feel Good Life” (buy it on Amazon here). Dave also extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, you can “friend” Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]

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12 Responses to “FEEL GOOD FRIDAY: Highline School Bond…and US!”
  1. Loren says:

    Need more money for ESL classes. Or is it now going to be SSL classes?

    • p Willoughby says:

      Editor Dave,

      I read your article, “Highline School Bond and us.” And, I read it again. And then I thought about your theme. Finally, I thought, David believes what he writes about and he sincere.

      Then I thought Dave lives in a nice world. I will take it. I would welcome and be grateful for having a fine man in my world and believe the human race is better for him. Then I thought he must have some great parents who gave him a warm loving upbringing.

      After a minute or so, I thought Dave’s description was a bit idyllic and I was curious about events going on in my world that certainly are missing from Dave’s view.

      So I wondered what his understanding of the consortium made up from educators, the teacher’s union, and the Highline Citizens for Schools is and whether, in his view, the consortium is good, bad or indifferent for our community.

      Here is my life: Highline Citizen’s for Schools is a Political Action Committee pure and simple. It is not a part of the School District and indeed if they collude in any way with the District, has violated the law. PACs exist to promote a political purpose to affect politics – in this instance the bond. However, they may not use any resources belonging to citizens who own the District.

      Moreover I thought, doesn’t Dave’s world understand the PAC is created for the union and District employees, many who don’t live and pay taxes here, so they may promote elections intended to skirt the restrictions of law. In Dave’s world, don’t they understand that school districts are ethically and legally bound by law from promoting elections because they must serve all the community?

      It is clear. Read the Public Disclosure Reports of contributors to Highline Citizen’s for Schools (PAC). In Dave’s world, isn’t he curious that the PAC raises $143,000, and climbing, to suffocate the people of this community with Robo calls to their homes, endless pamphlets with their message of doom if people don’t comply, and the constant barrage of telephone calls to your homes? Wouldn’t Dave’s world allow people to peaceably decide what they need for their schools? In Dave’s world of trust and working together, there is no need for PACs or dishonest resolutions used against the people.

      Most of all, in Dave’s world, is there is no room for people like me that faithfully study the issues and genuinely believe the consortium, Highline citizens for Schools-District-union, is destroying our education system with costs that rise exponentially, and their jobs?

      Here is an observation. Unions, real unions, must compete in the market with their employers. The market regulates the duo because both need the profit to stay in business. Public employee unions such as teachers have no market that regulates them. Therefore, they must control the politics that elect and control School boards, state and federal politicians. Then they can impose their will free of the regulating action a market provides. Moreover, if their employer isn’t faithful to its duty, for example, Administrations protect their citizens from unions by driving a hard bargain negotiating contracts with their employees. If they collude in bargaining then there is no protection for citizens. Only the limits of the law can inhibit exploitation of our people.

      Then I remembered in my world the words from the Public Disclosure Commission:
      “…If the agency distributes more than this jurisdiction-wide single publication, the agency must be able to demonstrate to the PDC that this conduct is normal and regular for that agency.”

      I thought, surely that information is in Dave’s world, did he miss it? And why can’t he see the deluge of emptying the storage cabinets at schools to send political material out from the District by computer, district employees, using database systems et al, all to stamp out our dissent. Answer this, in your world, is that why we pay $700,000 a year for a Public Relations department campaign. Think about it, $700,000. Who is directing this expenditure? Are they in Dave’s world? They certainly are not in mine.

      Lastly, I pondered and thought. Was Dave’s world at the Hazel Valley School Board meeting a few years ago? My world was. A bond issue was roiling like today and there was one dissenting School board member. The consortium had the vote already but Director Santie dissented. The teacher’s Union leader and the Highline citizens for Schools put out a call for the members to attend the Board Meeting and they did, like dogs forming a pack.

      At the Meeting, the union and the president of the PAC were set up to face the Board of Directors while union members milled about. Looking around the room, it was obvious the meeting was packed with union members ready for the show. The Board officially called the meeting to order. Very quickly, the meeting transformed from official meeting to one that facilitated ridiculing Director Santie in an attempt to bully her vote from her. I waited long enough to see the official meeting was a setup; I stood and shouted, “Move the agenda.” A teacher next to me enjoying the spectacle of their show said, “Sit down! This is a public meeting.” I rejoined, “This isn’t a public meeting, it is a lynching!” The crowd was on its feet, a woman to my far right shook her hand at the tormentors shouting, “You leave her alone.”

      Director Santie had previously announced she would leave early. She excused herself and traveled off the stage and toward the exit. Three of us came together intersecting Director Santie near the exit. We met, Santie, me, and an apologetic Superintendent Mac Geehan. Mac Geehan said, “I am sorry, I have never seen that before in my life.” I made sure Santie was alright then I escorted her to her car for her protection. The following publication of letters to the editor in the local paper displayed a letter that read, “I don’t know what was going on at the meeting but in this community we don’t do that. Mrs. Santie has a right to her vote and be treated in a civilized way.” My world!
      I still have the tape recorded at that meeting. Maybe I will play it again so everyone knows how a mob sounds.

      Dave, why would I get together in your world with people who believe it is OK to deceive and extort money from ordinary people. Our people try to live as best they can yet the consortium exploits them? Have they no shame? They sell us four pillars of gibberish for their benefit when what we want is one. It is called education.

      You are welcome in my world to talk about our mutual desire for our communities best interests but leave the miscreants at the dump. I don’t intend to join with people that I have no respect for to create anything. I will damn this kind of exploitation preying upon the least of us to my death.
      Thanks for listening.

  2. Pat Jackson says:

    It is understandable that anonymous posters may bother readers. I assume that it is not safe for certain individuals to post their names, otherwise they would. Please think about that and respect their perspective.

    • Dave Markwell says:

      Thank you, Pat. I agree. Some folks may have legitimate concerns about speaking freely regarding some of these issues. And I did consider that and I do respect their perspectives. I think, however, that these folks are in the minority of anonymous posters. And I also believe that it is possible to communicate one’s message clearly without some of the venom and vitriol that accompanies many unclaimed posts. So, if someone has these concerns, perhaps a different choices of words could prevent any potential repercussions. For the most part, though, I think people hide behind anonymity and say things they wouldn’t say otherwise. These are the people I take issue with, because they contribute nothing to solving anything…

    • Lee Moyer says:

      I disagree. Why should anyone expressing an opinion fear retaliation, other than maybe a whistle blower situation? Most use phoney names for the same reason the anarchists use masks in a legitimate protest – so they can destroy and not get caught. They have little constructive to offer. Some just seem to be on a hate filled campaign against individuals they disagree with.
      I agree with Dave, it they don’t think their comments are worth claiming, why should we think them worth considering?

      • jimmy says:

        Yeah I agree I have my fare share of arguments with the anonymous commenters on here from what I can tell it’s 2 or 3 people that just have nothing else better to do with there time but make a name and try to upset someone I even gotten in arguments over solutions of fixing the issues

      • Anonymous Respondent says:

        We fear retaliation because we may be HSD employees or a spouse of one, parents of scholarship worthy students, PTA members, local business owners, etc who could reasonably expect our facts, valid questions and opinions to be held against us by the proponents. We are credible sources.

      • Burien Mom says:

        Please do not assume that all teachers are in favor of this bond. Many, many teachers are not. We are overtaxed community members, just like you. Most of the school district contributors to Highline Citizens for Schools are in fact administrators- many of whom do not live in this district.
        Additionally, please do not fault people for not using their real names. Like “Anonymous” said, they may be HSD employees or family members of HSD employees. Please do not call out these people unless you have actually worked in this school district, where there is a real and pervasive fear of speaking out and subsequent retaliation.
        I question why the district needs $385 million dollars. I question the priorities of the projects. After reading the bond, I question what the projects will actually be, because it’s not clear.
        I question why Des Moines Elementary is, according to Dave, inadequate with an overburdened infrastucture, unfit for students, but can be used for some “cool community use”. Really? And do you REALLY think we have a say over the use of these buildings? I , for one, do not think the board/superintendent were listening very well at the community meetings prior to this bond. I definitely didn’t read any mention of the dissenting voices in the literature sent out by the district.
        Finally, this bond has definitely set up neighbor against neighbor. And the sad fact is that it is our own legislature to whom our anger should be directed- and our outdated, dysfunctional tax system that allows companies such as Microsoft to have huge tax breaks, while the lower property valuations of our district and districts with similar demographics result in a gross disadvantage for our students.

  3. Loren says:

    Thank you Pat, it is kind of similar to why non democrats here don’t put bumper stickers on their cars declaring their political belief. Getting keyed by angry liberals is no fun.

  4. Laura and John Castronover says:

    Dave Markwell, thank you for your letter, opinions are welcomed and appreciated. This bond as it is written will not help the majority of our children and families in our community. In fact it is dividing our community neighbor against neighbor. Board President Michael Spear even alluded to “the loss of trust within the community” toward the Highline School District, which still exists even today.

    The Highline School District Board (HSDB) indicated there was broad community involvement with the decision to go forward with this $385 Million Dollar Bond. This is based on surveys received from approximately 1,500 people. We have over 62,500 voters in the Highline community. I attended a district bond meeting with 10 salaried Highline School District administrators present, that’s over a million dollars in salary for only 4 parents in attendance. The Zenith community was not even notified of plans of a school being developed in their greenbelt forest. In our doorbelling in opposition to the bond, we met a couple who just purchased their home in the Zenith neighborhood with their backyard deck facing the tree lined park, which was the deciding factor to buy their home. They knew nothing about a mega warehouse school being built in their backyard until we notified them. Needless to say they were furious. With a approximately $700,000.00 in the HSDB public relations, I think they could of done a better job to get the whole district involved, as a 60% increase in school bond taxes will affect us all for decades.

    You indicate that there is legitimate financial concerns that exist for some folks? Well those some folks are the majority of us. In fact, 75% of our kids are on reduced or free meal programs. Some families are moving in together just to make ends meet, whether it is seniors moving in with their children or children moving back with their parents. Sure when you look at something on the outside and you are told it is an investment for our children and community, our first thought is we are all for it. However if you look into what’s inside of the wording of that investment and what it is going take to get it, this is where the division lies. $385 million dollars is a lot of money, the maximum a school district can ask for at one time. What is alarming, is we are already paying on two bonds until 2026 and the work will not be done after this proposed bond. There will be more bonds to follow in the near future.

    HSDB indicates that there is overcrowding and used Cedarhurst elementary as an example. They have over 760 students and this is a newly built school, I may add. How is building a 600+ student mega warehouse elementary school in the south end of Highline going help this? Currently we have 412 students in Des Moines Elementary. A lot of them are indistrict and out of district transfers including Federal Way District. Next year they are forcing our eleven year olds to middle school. This will still not alleviate the overcrowding at Cedarhurst, unless they bus our five year olds clear across our district.

    Des Moines Elementary is the heart of Des Moines it is the glue that binds our community together. We get to enjoy a walkable neighborhood as a elementary school should be. Did you not enjoy walking with your children to the Wesley Homes Retirement Center on Halloween? Or how about the walk to the Beach in June? Being in safe walking distance to the Park, Field House, library and small businesses gives us a sense of community involvement and will all be gone with the move of Des Moines Elementary to Zenith. The Building Evaluation Report on Des Moines Elementary states it would take around 6 million dollars to repair its deficiencies, that is a lot better than 52+ million for relocating and building from the ground up. Isn’t this something to be looked into even if your are for the bond? If it is all about the prime real estate of Des Moines Elementary, we will not have a say on what goes there. Did we have a say in the sale and gutting of the Landmark Event? Did we have a say in having pot for sale in Des Moines?

    As for the use of anonymous names, we cannot speak for everyone however, you would not believe how many people are in fear of retaliation. A lot of school district workers were told to be ‘quiet don’t say nothing’. As for paying for a Varsity team, sure absolutely we need quality people in these positions. As for having 37 varsity chief and officers on the team telling the teachers how to play the game, haven’t we passed the point of becoming top heavy and excessive? In the amount we pay, we should expect winning results, not a 4 out of 10 lowest of average academic rating.

    Bottom line, our kids education and academics success comes first. We feel this bond is too expensive for the majority of our community and has nothing to do with education. This bond should be rejected and rewritten with provisions in place for accountability and oversight, then we will know that our hard earned tax dollars are being spent for the legitimate cost of improving conditions for all of our students. If you haven’t voted already, Vote No on Proposition 1 and let your No Vote be Counted.

    Laura and John Castronover
    Des Moines WA

  5. johnt says:

    admin pay is not in line with what they do.and double dipping is even worse.when they retire they should stay retired.not claiming retirement and coming back part time and taking jobs of maybe students leaving school.the system is corrupt and needs to be fixed.do you think susan enfield is going to care about highline when she moves on like she has other places.

  6. Mary says:

    HSD doesn’t even follow their own policies.
    How can we ever think they are trustworthy
    with almost 400 million dollars? This bond
    needs to be rewritten and resubmitted.

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