The Washington State PTA and the Lack of Transparency

As I stated in a previous post, there was a proposal created by Stand for Children backed PTA members Chad Magendanz and Alison Meryweather that squeaked by the Legislative Assembly. Many of the participants have told me that the gap would have been wider if not for the efforts of many of the legislative representatives from different schools who do not want to see charter schools in our state.

This proposal came out of the blue, see Whoa! Where did that come from Washington State PTA?, and was a total surprise to many who are PTA members. When the material was sent out to all PTA legislative chairs and presidents of the different schools in the state, the proposal only provided a pro charter side and no information providing a balanced view of charter schools. The sad part was that the only reference given in this proposal were from the charter franchise websites of KIPP and Greendot  with a nod to Wikipedia whose charter school page is well-groomed by the moneyed advocates. Well investigated? Not by my standards.

Then, during the Legislative Assembly, there was no time provided to have a debate during the session breakouts regarding charter schools. Fortunately, at the last minute, some of the printed information regarding the facts about charter schools, created by Parents Across America members and teachers within the PTA, was approved by the Washington State PTA. That information was handed out in certain locations and times as prescribed by the Washington State PTA (WSPTA) during the legislative session. These efforts did make a difference and I believe were the reason for such a close vote.

As one person noted who participated, she saw about five African-Americans in the legislative assembly and as I noted in a previous post, going to this assembly is expensive and many members, if the school has a PTA, would not be able to attend due to the cost of child care, it was on a school holiday, meals, transportation and sleeping accommodations. Did this assembly adequately represent the 99%? I don’t think so. Was there enough of an opportunity to provide members of the assembly with adequate material on the subject of charter schools to make an informed decision? No.

Out of curiosity, many of us as parents and teachers wanted to know exactly what schools had been represented at this assembly which would help describe the demographic. This is important because one of the arguments given by the Issaquah suburbanites was that having charter schools was for the poor minorities (African America children). Were there enough minority communities adequately represented so that they could make the choice for themselves? We think not.

I sent an e-mail to Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Coordinator  and League of Education Voters, LEV, Activist who you will see marching to Olympia with her orders in hand to support the notion of charter schools in our state as our WSPTA lobbyist, and Bill Williams, the Executive Director of WSPTA requesting the following:

To PTA Staff,

We would like the information on what schools were represented at the Legislative Assembly that took place on October 14th and 15th of this year. If you have a comparative analysis of the percentage of schools that were represented at the assembly in terms of the number of schools in our state, that would be appreciated as well.

We will be awaiting your response.

Dora Taylor

And this is the response that I received from Bill Williams:

Ms. Taylor, thanks for your email.  All members of Washington State PTA for whom we had email addresses (about 72,000 email addresses) were notified about the issues that would be discussed at our Legislative Assembly, and approximately 8,000 members responded to an online survey regarding those issues.  Also, as I’m sure you know, every local unit had the opportunity to send delegates to the assembly. However, we do not release the kind of information that you requested.

Thank you for interest in Washington State PTA.

Bill

Bill Williams

Executive Director

Washington State PTA

2003 65th Ave. W

Tacoma WA 98466

253-565-2153 or 1-800-562-3804

OK. So, we have a non-profit organization who postures themselves as representing all children, parents and teachers in the state of Washington and they will not provide information on what schools were represented at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly. Why not? We were not asking for names of individuals, just schools. Where is the transparency? This is a non-profit organization and as such is expected to provide pertinent information if not to the general public, at least to its’ members. Why the big secret?

If you would like to know just who was represented at this assembly besides the folks from Issaquah and a small contingent from Seattle, please contact Bill Williams and request this information, actually, demand the information. Let’s ensure that the WSPTA represents all of us and not just the few.

Mr. Williams e-mail address is bwilliams@wastatepta.org.

Dora

17 comments

  1. As a matter of fact, rmm, with Gates giving the WSPTA $191,000 “to assist with technology communications infrastructure to push for key policies in Washington” that they would have enough tech savvy to produce a list of schools that participated in this legislative session.

    By the way, exactly what do you think is referred to when the Gates Foundation refers to “key policies in Washington”? We all know Gates’ push is for charter schools throughout the country. Much to ponder.

    Here is the link to the donation that was made to WSPTA: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Grants-2011/Pages/Washington-State-PTA-OPP1006490.aspx

  2. rmm,

    This isn’t fancy data that I am asking for, it’s just a list of schools that participated in this assembly. The WSPTA must have that information in one form or another.

    It’s like having a sign up sheet at any meeting. Everyone makes one of those. This can’t be rocket science.

    Dora

  3. If you have a list of schools which sent representatives, and you had a list of schools in the state with their respective FRL% & other demographics, and you did what is called an innner join in Structured Query Language, you’d get the intersection of those 2 data sets …

    I wonder how much those schools showing up are a sample which reflects the state?

    There a lot of reasons data isn’t available – people are genuinely busy and it isn’t easy to get, people haven’t a clue why you want it so they’re not gonna put effort into it, people know what you’re looking for and are being deliberately secretive and manipulative, a zillion other things.

    Given the phake “Democratic” processes – it is difficult not to wonder if ‘secretive and manipulative’ aren’t the drivers here.

    rmm

  4. Here is the response I received from Bill Williams when I asked about participation in the assembly…

    Good morning, Ms. XXXX. Washington State PTA is committed to a member driven advocacy agenda, and toward that end every one of our 143,000 members has the opportunity to propose legislative issues for consideration, and each of the 900 or so local PTA units and councils has the opportunity to participate in the Legislative Assembly. We do not compile the kind of analysis that you have asked for and in any event see no benefit to our releasing that information if we had it.
    Thanks for your interest in Washington State PTA.
    Bill

    I don’t think that transparency is a priority for the state PTA.

  5. I’m ready and willing to help on this because I was infuriated when I read through this post! However, I’ve got three precincts to complete in terms of getting out voting literature supporting the Seattle School Board challengers and have to get done between rains. Then will write this guy and demand the requested information. This response is unacceptable at best and we can’t let it stand!! Will help with PTSA analysis, etc.

  6. On the Charter Schools debate, I couldn’t attend the Legislative Assembly because I was visiting family in Connecticut. Considering how close the vote was, I am really disappointed that I couldn’t be there.

    Tacoma is one of those “underprivileged communities” people like to reference when they talk about charter schools and the importance of school choice. Except that we have had open enrollment (hence, school choice) in Tacoma since the early 70s, and we have at least five very successful innovative schools. (2 elementary Montessoris, an arts-based elementary, the Tacoma School of the Arts, and the Science and Math Institute) These schools have become successful whilst also being subject to full public oversight.

    Could we have more choice in Tacoma? Absolutely. Due to school closures we don’t currently have any very palatable school choice options for middle school, which is a huge problem. We need an innovative middle school, and we need innovative schools on the South end of town. But these are issues that can and will be addressed without bringing in private organizations to run our schools. Making charter schools legal will not actually directly address these issues.

    I am at a loss as to what charter schools would bring to the table in Tacoma, other than less oversight of public funds.

    1. We’ve discussed these issues before. Yes, we have school choice but the Tacoma School District doesn’t provide transportation if you enroll your child at a school out of your local catchment area. So, if you don’t have reliable transportation you don’t have a choice.

      Bryant Montessori has a waiting list and the other Montessori school has just started. Yes, I expect it to be successful but it is too early to call it a done deal and SAMI has not had a first graduating class. Same deal.

      Overall, the kids who are stuck at bad schools are still stuck at bad schools. Particularly if you live south of 6th avenue. School choice and a select few innovative schools and having charter schools outlawed hasn’t really changed anything in the lives of those kids. If anything, those schools are probably still populated largely by fairly well-off parents and kids from the North End and Northeast Tacoma.

      1. Greg,

        So what makes you think that charter schools will help when there is not enough money for transportation of students to the option schools in Tacoma right now? Trust me, the charter schools will not pay for transportation. In fact, the charter schools rely on district transportation to deliver the students to their schools.

        The issue is adequately funding the schools that we have. Charter schools will not address that probelm and in fact can exacerbate it. See https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/where-do-we-go-from-here-2/.

        Dora

      2. I agree with Dora. I agree that we need more choices and we need ways to transport kids to those choices, but allowing charter schools wouldn’t actually address this. Currently, you can make a request through No Child Left Behind to have your child transported to the school of your choice if your school is several steps into not meeting AYP. There isn’t enough room for students at the middle schools for this to be terribly meaningful right now, but it is a viable option for other grade levels.

        (And again, we can get this done without charter schools, we just need to push for it. If I saw Vibrant Schools saying “We need an innovative Tacoma Middle School” I could probably get behind that depending on what strings were attached)

  7. The “Vibrant Schools Tacoma” Coalition came to speak last night, at the Tacoma Council PTA (our all-city PTA organization.) The plan was that the Council would vote on whether or not to become a coalition member.

    After their presentation I asked: if your long-term goal is to reduce the achievement gap, why do the only items on your 9-point platform address teachers? Why nothing about early childhood education, parent/community involvement, school nutrition, school climate, curriculum, etc?

    All they could say was that they hadn’t had an opportunity to re-write their platform post-collective bargaining/strike. They suggested that we come to a meeting and participate in forming the new platform, but they couldn’t say when or where their meetings would be held.

    Several PTA members asked questions about their connection to Stand for Children, they insisted that Stand was just one member of the coalition and did not drive policy, but also admitted that their platform had been chosen from a list of items suggested in a report created by Stand (and a consulting firm employed by Stand.) They also admitted that their funding comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but said that nobody influenced what they wrote in their grant application.

    It was a very interesting conversation, and it all took place in front of four local legislators who were there for a forum. Ultimately, the PTA decided to table the issue for later review, and suggested that Vibrant Schools come back with a new platform, possibly one that does not single out teachers.

    I think that Vibrant Schools supporters have great motivations, but maybe they don’t realize some of the behind the scenes manipulations going on.

  8. It’s time for a thorough investigation of the state PTA. Start with the finances, is my advice. I worked for a few years to get the state PTA to care about military recruiting in high schools, and we eventually had a modest success, but then the powers overturned. The Issaquah branch is notoriously conservative.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s