January 30, 2004

A big bloggy welcome to Matt Rosenberg, a Seattle freelance journalist who just launched his own blog -- Rosenblog. Matt's bi-weekly op-ed column in the Seattle Times raises the bar for local print columnists. Rosenblog should also raise the bar for the blogosphere in Seattle and beyond.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:33 PM
I'm in the P-I and the Times and on TV!

Both the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times quoted me today in their respective stories about the Seattle school levy.

From the Seattle Times story, by Sanjay Bhatt:

If the levies are approved, owners of a $336,000 home — the average residence value in Seattle last year — would see their total schools-tax bill rise from about $830 this year to $865 in 2005, $880 in 2006 and $899 in 2007. These figures factor in the assumed 6 percent annual increase in property values and include a previously approved new-school construction levy.

Some campaign mailers state prominently that the levies "renew existing ones and yes votes will NOT lead to homeowners paying more!"

Stefan Sharkansky, 40, who wants to send his preschooler to public school, calls this "marketing spin" and misleading. He plans to vote against both levies.

"I was originally going to support the levy," the Green Lake resident said. "And I just wanted a simple question answered, which was how much was this going to cost me as a taxpayer. I tried to get an answer to that and it was very, very difficult."

Goos said the campaign stands by its mailings, including the language Sharkansky criticizes.

"That's his interpretation," she said. "I interpret that to mean the rate at which I'm going to be taxed is not going to increase."

It takes a very special kind of person to keep insisting that an increase from $830 to $865 is not an increase.

From the P-I article, by Deborah Bach:

A Seattle Public Schools brochure characterizes the levies as renewals of existing ones and estimates that the tax rate for the levies will steadily decrease over the next few years, assuming that property values increase 6 percent a year. ... The brochure doesn't mention that the capital levy on the ballot is $28 million more than the last one approved by voters, in 1998.

"Let's be honest about it," said Sharkansky, who plans to vote no on both levies. "It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth to say it's a renewal when it's an increase."

The P-I also quotes a school official:
John Vacchiery, the district's director of facilities planning and enrollment, said the capital levy increase can be chalked up to inflation.
I should point out that the capital levy rose by 18.7%, while the local Consumer Price Index rose by 15.8% from Dec. 1997 to Dec. 2003., while Seattle school enrollment declined by 1.5% in the same period, from 47,457 to 46,730. So it's fair to say that capital spending is growing faster than justified by inflation and enrollment.

Neither report captured all the nuances of my position on the levy, which I express more fully here, but both reporters quoted me accurately and in the right context. I appreciate that they included my perspective in their stories.

I also just gave an interview on the same subject to KIRO-TV's Essex Porter. The segment should air on this evening's Channel 7 Eyewitness News sometime between 5-6.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:32 PM
It has to end...

Colin Powell, Nov. 19, 2001:

The Palestinian leadership must make a 100 percent effort to end violence and to end terror. There must be real results, not just words and declarations. Terrorists must be stopped before they act. The Palestinian leadership must arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts.
Colin Powell, April 17, 2002
In my meetings with Chairman Arafat I made it clear that he and the Palestinian Authority could no longer equivocate. They must decide as the rest of the world has decided that terrorism must end. Chairman Arafat must take that message to his people. He must follow through with instructions to his security forces. He must act to arrest and prosecute terrorists, disrupt terrorist financing, dismantle terrorist infrastructure and stop incitement.
Colin Powell, August 21, 2003
I call on Chairman Arafat to work with Prime Minister Abbas and to make available to Prime Minister Abbas those security elements that are under his control so that they can allow progress to be made on the roadmap; end terror, end this violence that just results in the further repetition of the cycle that we've seen so often. It has to end.
Colin Powell, January 29, 2004
I once again implore the Palestinian leaders, and especially Prime Minister Abu Alaa, to do everything in his power, everything in their power, to ostracize these terrorists, to go after them, and to deal with this terrorist activity.
Colin Powell, February 18, 2004
There is now a new Prime Minister, Abu Alaa. We're encouraging him to do more in the area of security to end terrorist attacks.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 29, 2004
Mad How Disease

The Howard Dean campaign is on the verge of collapse

Howard Dean will not air ads in any of the seven states holding elections next week, officials said Thursday, a risky strategy that puts him at a distinct disadvantage with high-spending rivals for the Democratic nomination.

With his money and momentum depleted, Dean decided to save his ad money for the Feb. 7 elections in Michigan and Washington state and, 10 days later, the primary in Wisconsin, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It sounds like he's downsizing his ambitions to being appointed Mayor of the Day in Ann Arbor, Seattle and/or Madison.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 04:23 PM
Vote No on the Seattle School Levy

After weighing the issue for several weeks, I've decided to vote against Seattle's $516 million School Levies which are on the ballot Tuesday, Feb. 3.

In general, I support public education. I attended public schools and I plan to send my son to public school for at least part of his education. Even though I have a number of concerns about Seattle schools, and the new School Board in particular, I've been inclined to support the school levy, because at the end of the day, school kids would benefit if it passes and lose if it fails.

But I've reached a point where I'm so disappointed with the School District, the School Board and the state's education establishment that I'm not going to vote to keep supporting this institution with my money at this time. The School District is largely unaccountable to taxpayers, and as crude and imperfect a message as rejecting a levy might be, this is one of the few ways I have to send the message that I am disappointed.

Here are the final straws that turned me off (in chronological order) --

1. The state House of Representatives voted to lower the levy approval threshhold from 60% to simple majority, a step toward making it even harder for voters to hold School Districts accountable.

2. The School District decided to maintain the "weighted student formula", which sends larger amounts of money to schools with low-income or non-native English speakers, even though it has also learned that this weighted funding does not produce positive results.

3. Most disturbingly, I discovered after trying to understand the cost of the levy to taxpayers, that the School District and levy promoters have consistently underplayed and misstated its actual cost. See the post below for an in-depth analysis. This is no way to persuade people to vote for a $516 million tax increase. They owe it to the voters to explain the costs in a clear and straightforward fashion and also explain why the benefits are worth the costs. This has not been done. I have little reason to believe that the School District will be any more straightforward with the public once the taxes have been collected.

4. Finally, the School Board is siding with the Teamsters' Union in its labor dispute with a local dairy. This action has absolutely nothing to do with their mandate to oversee the school system. It erases any confidence I might have had left that these board members even take their responsibilities seriously, let alone have the wherewithal to execute them properly.

I suspect that the levy will pass after all, because (a) the levy was so poorly explained to the public that few people have any clue how much it will actually cost them, (b) Seattle people have a tradition of voting to raise their neighbors' taxes at the drop of a hat (c) children are naturally sympathetic and this is sold as a "for the children" measure (even though the employee groups have the biggest financial stake) (d) the pro-levy forces have a well-oiled get-out-the-vote operation (e) it's late in the game and there is no organized opposition.

Voting NO on the levy will only have symbolic impact. But it's a symbolic message that deserves to be sent.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:01 AM
Seattle School Levy: How much does it really cost?

As I've considered whether or not to vote for Seattle's $516 million six-year school levies, I posed a simple and obvious question: How will this affect my own property taxes?

I finally managed to come up with a reasonable estimate (If both levies pass the total cost over the life of both levies will be roughly $4,400 more than if neither levy passes), but it was extremely difficult to find all of the information I needed to reach this answer. Unfortunately, all of the readily available public information about the levy has been either incomplete, unclear, inaccurate and in some cases even false and misleading. This includes the official ballot pamphlet, official levy campaign materials, public statements from School District officials, and news reports in both the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The most inaccurate information of all came from the highly-regarded non-partisan ballot measure analysts at the Municipal League.

The most commonly repeated and incorrect claims were along the lines that the levies were (I paraphrase) "not a new tax, but renewal of an expiring levy and property taxes will not change"; and that the cost to property tax owners would be $1.54 per thousand dollars of assessed value in 2005, which rate would decline to $1.46 in 2007.

What does it really cost?

I now calculate that the actual cost of the two levies in 2005 alone is up to $1.64 (per thousand) of 2004 assessed value (the most recent assessment); that the total 2005 school tax would, in all likelihood, represent an increase over the 2004 school tax both to the taxpayers at large and to individual property owners; that the total amount of tax raised would continue to grow through 2007, and individual taxpayers would most likely face not a declining tax rate, but increasing taxes through 2007.

My analysis suggests that the official text of ballot measure is both incomplete and misleading and that School District officials have misstated the financial impact of the levies to the taxpayers.

How do the levies impact property owners?

There are two parts to understanding how the levies affect taxpaying property owners:
(a) how the total tax revenue is calculated
(b) how the revenue burden is apportioned to individual property owners

The Washington property tax levies are different from more familiar taxes (e.g. sales tax) where the tax rate is fixed by law and the generated revenue is unknown until the time of collection. With a levy, the total revenue is fixed by law and the tax rate is unknown until the time of collection.

In Seattle's case, there are several distinct school levies that need to be understood.

1) "BEX II", capital levy approved in 2001 for a total of $398 million, which collects $66.33 million per year from 2002-2007. This is unaffected by this year's ballot proposals.
2) "BTA I", capital levy approved in 1998 for a total of $150 million, collects $25 million per year from 1999-2004
3) "BTA II", capital levy on the 2004 ballot for $178 million, would collect $29.66 million per year from 2005-2010
4) "EP&O (2001)", operating levy approved in 2001 and expires in 2004. Authorized a maximum of $101 million, $114 million and $123 million in 2002-2004 respectively. The actual revenue collected each year was subject to overriding state maximums ("levy authority"), and was approximately $93.1 million, $99.3 million, and $104.8 million respectively.
5) "EP&O (2004)", operating levy on the 2004 ballot to authorize a maximum of $108.5 million, $112.5 million and $117 million for 2005-2007 respectively. The actual revenue to be collected is a function of both enrollment and a combination of state and federal budgeting and is as yet unknowable. This amount has historically increased each year. An official at the state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which oversees the levy authority limits, told me he has no information to suggest that Seattle's levy authority won't continue to increase. [Shortly after I posted this article, a Seattle School District official e-mailed to tell me that the District actually expects the levy authority to decline from 2004 to 2005, although the levy still authorizes the higher amounts. See the UPDATE below for more]

Putting these various numbers together, we get the following levy revenues:
2003: (BEX II + BTA I + EP&O 2001) = $190.7 million
2004: (BEX II + BTA I + EP&O 2001) = $196.2 million, of which $129.8 million is attributable to the expiring levies.

If neither proposed levy passes, the school tax for 2005-2007 would be limited to BEX II, or $66.33 million.
If BTA II passes, it would not merely "replace" BTA I, as the School District asserts, but raise it by $4.66 million a year.
If EP&O 2004 passes, the most reasonable estimate is that it would at least maintain and probably increase the 2004 annual operating revenue of $104.8 million. i.e. if both levies pass (focusing only on the proposed levies and leaving BEX II out of further discussion),
2005: (BTA II +EP&O 2004) = $134.5 - $138.2 million
2006: (BTA II +EP&O 2004) = $134.5 - $142.2 million
2007: (BTA II +EP&O 2004) = $134.5 - $146.7 million

How is this tax burden apportioned?

The levy tax is shared proportionally by all non-exempt property owners within the boundaries of the school district. There are two types of property: "Real Property" (real estate), and "Personal Property" (not exactly what most people think of as "personal", but certain capital assets owned by businesses). Some Real Property is exempt from school taxes -- tax-exempt institutions along with some individuals, e.g. low-income senior citizens. [These seniors still get to vote to raise everybody else's property taxes. That's quite an improvement over "Taxation without Representation" -- it's "Representation without Taxation"!]

For example, in 2003, the last year for which published data is available, Seattle's Total Real Property was assessed at $76.0 billion and Total Personal Property at $4.8 billion. Net of exemptions, the total assessed value of taxable property was $79.6 billion [the latter number is unpublished, and was explained to me by an official at the King County Assessor's Office]. Combined with the 2003 school tax revenue of $190.7 million above, this produces an ad valorem levy rate of $2.39 per thousand. [This is the $2.39 number that has been bandied about without proper context in various published articles about the levy]. For example, a house with a 2003 assessed value of $324,000 would have paid $774.36 in school levy taxes in 2003.

The 2004 aggregate assessed valuation is $84.4 billion, of which $83.16 billion is non-exempt. [These as yet unpublished numbers also courtesy of the county assessor's office].
This gives us a total school levy ad valorem rate for 2004 of $2.36, with the expiring levies contributing:
$104.8 + $25 million = $129.8 million/$83.16 billion = $1.56 per thousand.

Given the uncertainty in both future revenues and future assessed valuations, it is impossible to know precisely how much school tax would be owed on a given property in a future year, although there are a few ways to estimate the future tax. The official texts of the ballot propositions claim to provide "approximate" ad valorem rates. However, these are not really approximations, but projections that are based on unstated assumptions. These projections are further misleading in that they imply that a voter's future tax will decline, when in fact the tax is most likely to increase.

The ballot statement does the following without explanation: It starts with a 2004 aggregate assessed value of $84.6 billion, and assumes that this value will increase by 6% to $89.7 billion in 2005. (I gather that the $84.6 billion number is a preliminary estimate of the $84.4 figure given above, as such it is suspect, because it is not adjusted for exemptions). Thus the proposed amounts of $108.5 million and $29.66 million lead to the stated ad valorem rates of $1.21 and $0.33 respectively. Similarly, the aggregate assessed property value is projected to increase by 6% a year through 2010, which produces, for example, the stated rates of $1.16 and $0.30 for 2007. But since none of these assumptions or the methodology is explained, how can any reasonable voter be expected to interpret this for their own situation, and figure out what they're actually going to have to pay? In my view, this is inadequate disclosure for a $516 million tax increase.

A more meaningful and realistic way to explain the cost of the tax to an individual is in terms of the most recent assessed home values (i.e. for 2004), which have already been calculated and are available from the county. Independent of the growth in the aggregate assessed valuation, the share of an average property relative to the whole should be relatively predictable over short periods of time. The change in the aggregate value is a function of: (1) change in the value of Personal Property, (2) change in values of existing Real Property, (3) addition of New Construction (remodels, new building and newly developed land) into the tax base. Looking at recent years, the value of Personal Property has been slowing falling to about 5% of the aggregate, while New Construction represents about 1.5% growth in real property each year. In other words, regardless of changes in assessed values, the average existing property should roughly maintain its share of the pie from one year to the next, shrinking only by at most about 1.5% a year to accommodate New Construction.

Getting an answer (finally)

Recall from above that in 2004 a property pays $1.56 per thousand for the two expiring levies. An average mid-sized property with a 2004 assessed value of $350,000 would thus pay $546.25 for the expiring levies. Let's see what this property would pay in 2005, and assuming average appreciation and that the sum of all New Construction added about 1.5% to the aggregate taxable base. If 2005's levy revenue were the same as 2004, the property's 2005 tax would then be about $546.00/1.015 or $537.9. But the collected revenue from the "replacement levies" is expected to increase by a minimum of $4.66 million to $134.5 million (a 3.6% increase), or a maximum of $8.4 million to $138.2 million (a 6.4% increase). i.e. the "replacement" levy tax in 2005 should from a low of $557.53 ($546.25*1.036/1.015) or $1.59 (per thousand of 2004 assessed value), a 2% increase over the 2004 tax, to a high of ($546.25*1.064/1.015) = $572.87, or $1.64 (per thousand of 2004 assessed value), a 5% increase over the 2004 tax.

Contrary to the school district illustrations that show the tax rate declining, as long as Seattle's state levy authority continues to rise (as it is expected to), the levy will permit the school district to collect an increasing amount of revenue from the taxpayers. As long as the levy authority continues to rise faster than the growth in the tax base from new construction f(as it has done historically), an existing homeowner will continue to face a rising tax from this levy.

This is very different from what the School District and levy promoters have been telling us. If they can't be trusted to explain the tax correctly before it is approved, why should they be trusted to be any more straightforward with the voters after the tax is approved?

How did I figure all this out?
It wasn't easy. I had to spend several hours poring over documents, running spreadsheets and speaking with various officials at the King County Assessor's Office, the Seattle School District, and the state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. If that's what it takes to understand a ballot measure, then something in this process is obviously broken.

UPDATE: At the time I posted the article, I hadn't yet received an answer from the School District about their projections for future levy authority. A School District official e-mailed shortly after I posted this article, and indicated that they are in fact expecting the collected revenue to fall dramatically from $104.8 million in 2004 to $97.6 million in 2005, then increasing to $99.6 in 2006 and $101.6 in 2007. If this is indeed what happens, then total revenues and individual taxes would, in fact, be smaller under the new levies than under the expiring levies. On the other hand, this is not consistent with what the OSPI official told me and I haven't seen this seemingly important issue mentioned elsewhere. So, if true -- why hasn't this been reported? This begs for further investigation. And in any event, the levy would still authorize the collection of the higher amounts should state conditions permit.

The Muni League Lays an Egg

The Municipal League of King County ("The Muni League") is a venerated local institution, a non-partisan civic organization which rates candidates and evaluates ballot measures. It describes its role as follows:

Each year, the Municipal League's ballot issues committee interviews experts and delves deeply into the intricacies of statewide and local ballot issues to assess the likely impacts of each measure.
This is how the Muni League explained the levies before recommending a "yes" vote on both:
"Together, the levies will cost $2.39 per thousand of assessed property value. For a median-priced home valued at $350,000, a homeowner would pay $833 per year. The levies replace existing operating and capital levies which were approved in 2001 and 1998 respectively."
All they did was regurgitate (incorrectly) a School District campaign brochure. They reported that the annual cost of the proposed levies as much higher than it actually is, but also failed to notice that it is a rising tax and an increase over the expiring levies. Some deep delving. I'm forwarding this note to the Muni League's leadership and I hope they will revise their analysis.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 28, 2004
Education Quagmire

Matt Rosenberg in today's Seattle Times has an update on charter schools:

Instead of creating public charter schools in Washington, critics argue, just give today's public schools the freedom and flexibility that make charters so attractive to supporters.
I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, the most important part of that freedom and flexibility entails emancipating all of the employees from the labor unions, which is also the last thing that any of those same charter school critics would be willing to accept.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:54 PM
Don't send any help, then

The Palestinian Authority could collapse unless there is urgent extra international aid to relieve the plight of the Palestinian people, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 08:41 PM
Blair: 1, BBC: 0, BBC fans: -1

So Tony Blair was vindicated and the BBC inculpated in the David Kelly scandal:

The chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation resigned Wednesday and the broadcaster apologized for some of its reporting on the buildup to the war in Iraq after it was lambasted in an inquiry by a senior judge.

The inquiry by Lord Hutton criticized journalist Andrew Gilligan, the BBC's management and its supervisory board of governors, for a radio report saying the government "sexed up" intelligence in a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

Hutton said the BBC report was unfounded.

Recall what some of our favorite drooling loony-leftie columnists wrote about the scandal last year. Robert Scheer, July 24, 2003
in England, Kelly's death and the unraveling justifications for war have created a governmental crisis and prompted calls for Blair to resign ... Remember, the BBC was not taking the safe route that so many news organizations prefer. Yet, time and again, they have been proved right with each new revelation of half-truths, outright lies and data manipulation on the part of the coalition's leaders-in-chief. ... Last week in his speech, Blair smugly claimed the favorable judgment of future historians, but it is the BBC that history will celebrate for its pursuit of truth
The Seattle Times' Floyd McKay, November 26, 2003
When we were in Britain in August, there was a huge furor over Blair's government "outing" a weapons expert who told the BBC that Blair's office "sexed up" weapons data in order to justify the war in Iraq.

The scientist, Dr. David Kelly, talked to a BBC reporter on condition that his name not be used. The story was a factor in British public opinion turning against Blair. ... The last witness before the Hutton Commission stated flatly, and was not contradicted, that Blair himself chaired the meeting that decided to expose Kelly.

Margaret Gordon, in the Seattle Times, Aug. 8, 2003
Britons trust the BBC, and what it broadcasts about the government and other issues. In fact, many Americans trust the BBC, too, making efforts to hear broadcasts on public radio, and via the Web.... We need a stronger, more viable system, and should give the BBC model a try.
Will either Scheer, McKay or Gordon give us an updated status report on the BBC?

Please, no wagering.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:15 PM
January 27, 2004
It's in the P-I

A letter in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer from Seattle schoolparent Patricia Lott:

This letter is partly in reply to the Friday letter from Stefan Sharkansky, who seems confused about the effect of the proposed Seattle Public School levies on property taxes. These levies are renewals of existing levies. They have already been added to your property tax bill. They will not add to it.
Patricia is not correct. The levy has not already been added to my property tax bill. If it passes, the tax will not show up until next year's tax bill. Also, if the levy passes, the total tax attributable to school levies is indeed expected to increase from this year to next.

Furthermore, although Seattle school enrollment has been declining, the levy taxes have been growing faster than the local consumer price index, and the proposed levy would continue that trend.

More later.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:43 PM
Happy Birthday, Mom

A very special happy birthday to my first fan and most loyal blog reader!

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:30 PM
Life Imitates Scrappleface

Scrappleface announced today that

In the wake of a new study which shows that 25 percent of the nation's public schools fail to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind law, the Bush administration today announced a tutoring program to help the low-performers ... "Some people say that there's no way a remote federal bureaucracy can force accountability on 91,400 schools in a bloated, unionized public education system," said the DOE spokesman. "But we're not giving up yet. As long as we have ideas to try and taxpayer dollars to spend, we'll keep the dream of federally-controlled education alive for all freedom-loving Americans."
Meanwhile, here in Washington state today:
Faced with the prospect that tens of thousands of high-school students might not graduate because they failed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), state education leaders are in the middle of a collective gut check.

Is the exam fair? Too hard? A valid measure of learning?

the state's "education leaders" admit that
Just 35 percent of last year's 10th-graders met the standards on all of the WASL's main subjects — reading, writing and math.
Instead of figuring out how to get more kids to learn more, the primary objective seems to be
to catapult the passage rate to politically acceptable levels.
Possible solutions: lower the score needed to pass, give kids more chances to pass, and exempt those who still can't pass!

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:31 AM
January 26, 2004
Evergreen State College

A reader from Evergreen State "College" just posted this comment in one of my entries from last March about Evergreen alumna Rachel Corrie. The comment is not interesting for what it says, only in what it reveals about Evergreen:

I can't believe that people of the world talk shit about what happened on March 16th like there was anything but a murder. Thank you John and the rest of you who see the light that was shining, and the light that went out on that day. Those of you who think that there was a misstep that day were wrong. The death there was a new breath in the actual peace movement. Just because militants feel comfortable killing kids doesn't make it right. March 16th wow, comin at you Monsanto. Step aside. Breath. Retire. Stop. That's what there was murder for, ceaseless greed and the lenths allowable. Not crazyness on the part of a girl. She was standing in the way of a bulldozer trying to crush the home of a pediatrician for God's sake.
Or was that the sake of the people of Palistine... That's right Palistine, the internationally recognised nation to the North of Egypt. Isriel is on foerign land killing people. That is a crime.
[emphasis added]. Signed, "rachel", "fuckoff@screwyou.net", IP address

Evergreen State "College", a taxpayer-funded institution that teaches its students how to shill for Jew-killers before it teaches them how to spell.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 08:20 PM
Seattle Democrat Logic

As I've recently noted, Washington state Democrats have proposed two misguided but seemingly contradictory bills in the legislature: HB 2700:

Permitting a college or university to maintain a diverse student population by considering race, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the admission and transfer process
and HB 2761
Serious attention must be given to creating learning environments that are intolerant of racism and exclusion
Remarkably, six Seattle-area Democrats are sponsors of both bills: Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney (Seattle), Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (Seattle), Rep. Joe McDermott (no relation, Seattle), Rep. Maralyn Chase (just outside of Seattle), Rep. John McCoy (slightly north of Seattle), Rep. Kathy Haigh (a few miles west of Seattle).

I think you really would have to be Seattle Democrat in order not to see the irony and humor in all of this.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:17 AM
Molly Scores One

I don't often find the occasion to praise Molly Ivins, but here's an observation of hers that's worth repeating:

My biggest reservation about [Iowa's] result is John Kerry, who could take the excitement out of a soccer riot ... All that bio, and Kerry still comes across as a tall Dukakis.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:52 AM
Who's the embarrassment?

Some in the Washington legislature appear to be serious about overturning 1998's popular ballot measure I-200 that banned racial preferences in state hiring and university admissions.

Yesterday's Seattle Times editorial applauded the legislators' efforts to overturn the will of the voters and reintroduce racial discrimination in academic admissions:

Initiative 200 remains an embarrassment and was mentioned by observers as a troublesome issue in the recent search for a new University of Washington president.
It's a shame that the Times editorialists are embarrassed by the 58% of Washington's electorate who voted that university applicants should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their transcripts.

Today's Times includes three letters to the editor all opposing the effort to reinstitute government racism against the wishes of the people. One of these letters was mine. I made the same point I've made here before:

the only way the University of Washington could accurately reflect the diversity of the state's ethnic composition would be to reduce Asian enrollment by three-quarters, and to admit a lot more Caucasians and a few from other minorities. I hope this is not what this proposal's sponsors have in mind.
I realize in hindsight that this line could have been both more accurate and more effective if instead of saying simply "a lot more Caucasians", I had said "a lot more less-qualified Caucasians"

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 09:08 AM
Shoddit Coodie

David Sharkansky shown eating what he calls a "shoddit coodie". Some of you smarty-pants people might think it's supposed to be called a "chocolate cookie", but what would you know?

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:01 AM
Slander in Saudi Arabia

A judge in Saudi Arabia recently sentenced a man to 60 lashes for accusing a Saudi writer of being “secular”:

“Secularism is a disease. And accusing someone of being secular is just like accusing him of being an infidel. Doubting people’s intentions, and throwing accusations at others without knowledge is not the characteristic of Muslims”
Personally, I'd rather be called "secular" than a "Seventh-century lizard-eating wife-beater", but maybe that's just me.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 25, 2004
Mad How Disease

Beverly Marcus will be attending the Washington state Democratic Caucus on Feb. 7:

Marcus, 53, is happy to take part, too, but not so much for the civics lesson. It's because "the caucus is the only way I can vote for Gov. Dean," she said.

Marcus, a retired project manager from Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard who lives in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle, has supported the former Vermont governor for almost two years. She has donated money, traveled with the campaign, met Dean twice "for about 30 seconds" and adorned her lawn, garden and front porch with campaign signs.

Caucus day will be an interesting experience, she said, but "it is about winning."

Interesting experience certainly, so don't feel bad, Beverly, because winning isn't everything.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 08:33 PM
Democrat Expectations

The Democrats over on the Washington House Education Committee (the same education advocates who torpedoed yet another charter school bill that would have given unprecedented opportunities to thousands of low-income children) are promoting a different path toward educational excellence: a bill to re-establish "The Washington Commission on Student Learning".

research has also pointed out that schools are more reflective of white, middle-class society. This can lead to a disconnect between students who come from different cultures and family conditions and the traditional school structure and expectations.
the remedy?
Serious attention must be given to creating learning environments that are intolerant of racism and exclusion and in which high expectations are held for all students; curriculum and teaching practices must recognize differences in ethnicity, language, and culture and teachers must be skilled in teaching students unlike themselves; and in order to close the achievement gap, there must be understanding of the impact of language, culture, race, and poverty on student achievement.
For the life of me I can't figure out how the hypothesis that the state's school system is "more reflective of white, middle-class society" would explain the fact that Asian-Americans are admitted to the University of Washington at 5.5 times the rate that Caucasians are admitted, or why the children of Vietnamese immigrants in Seattle, for example, graduate from high school more often and with higher GPAs than their white peers. But what do I know, I'm neither a professional educator nor a Democrat.

This bill gets one thing right, which is that high expectations should be held for all students. But what kid is going to take such "high expectations" seriously when he is also told that achievement is a function of race and wealth?

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:44 PM
Government of, by and for government workers

Washington's lame-duck Democratic Gov. Gary Locke has decided that his legacy to the state will be a $1 billion budget deficit. Most of this overspending can only be characterized as a massive transfer of wealth from the state's taxpayers to government workers:

The biggest single culprit is the public-employee pension funds, which are still hurting from stock-market declines. During the next budget cycle, the state will have to put in an extra $440 million to begin to make up for huge losses on Wall Street.
My retirement savings are still hurting from stock-market declines too. So why I should I be penalized even further? Let the government workers depend on defined contribution plans like the rest of us.
The forecast also assumes more than $230 million worth of cost-of-living raises for teachers and state employees. While those are not mandatory, legislators are sure to face intense pressure from public-employee unions.
What is most galling about this is that public-employee unions are funded by mandatory dues skimmed off of public-employee salaries. In other words, the unions are financed by taxpayers for the sole purpose of pressuring the legislature to extract even more money from taxpayers.

This sort of monkey business is all the worse because the Democrats possess the governorship and a 52-46 majority in the House of Representatives, while the Republicans hold the Senate by only a narrow 25-24 majority. I'm feeling ever more motivated to work hard this year to help win a firm Republican majority in Olympia.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:31 AM
January 24, 2004
Who's Ditching Whom?

Susan Byrnes, the Seattle Times editorial writer who specializes in education issues, comments on this WaPo article about school vouchers in Washington, DC:

The thing that bugs me most about voucher programs is the ridiculous suggestion that sending kids to private schools will somehow fix crummy public schools...Voucher proponents don't really want to fix public schools. They want to ditch them.
I don't think many voucher proponents want to "ditch" public schools. I think most simply want public education to be organized differently and for its institutions to be more responsive to the parents of schoolchildren.

Unfortunately, the existing public school bureaucracies and employee unions are terribly resistant to any meaningful changes in management practices, work rules, job protections, compensation structures, a culture that rejects genuine accountability, etc. (The Seattle school establishment's refusal to accept even the most modest of charter school bills is just one recent case in point). Such a system can only lead to disappointing performance and dissatisfied parents. In other words, this is not about people ditching public education, it is about existing public school institutions ditching the families they should be serving.

Parents who are dissatisfied with their local school district will inevitably move to a different community or send their children to private school, if they can afford to do so. Fewer low-income families have the same options. Realistically, the only way that many families will find any school to take them seriously is if they bring hard dollars with them. It's not only a matter of fairness that we allow lower income families public funds so they have the power to choose their own schools. It's also probably the only way that many of the urban poor will ever have a shot at upward mobility.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 04:41 PM
January 23, 2004
I'm in the P-I

The Seattle Post Intelligencer printed my letter to the editor today about the Seattle School Levy. It makes the same points as this blog entry from Tuesday, compressed to fit the 200-word limit.

I thank the P-I for granting me space on their letter page today.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:58 PM
Desperate in Richmond Park

British MP Jenny Tonge (LibDem-Richmond Park) was fired from a party post for expressing sympathy with suicide bombers:

Speaking late on Thursday, eight days after a Palestinian woman suicide bomber killed four Israelis at a Gaza Strip border crossing, Jenny Tonge of the opposition Liberal Democrats said she understood the attackers' "desperation."
"I do not condone suicide bombers," she told Sky Television. "But I do understand why people out there become suicide bombers -- it is out of desperation.

"If I was in their situation...I might just think about it myself."

The only thing the suicide bombers are desperate about is to ethnically cleanse the Jewish minority out of the Middle East. If Jenny Tonge understands this desperation, I can only wonder which of Britain's ethnic minorities she is desperate to exterminate.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:40 AM
January 22, 2004
Charter School Bill Failed in Committee

The first step towards passing a charter school bill failed in the House Education Committee today. An email from the Education Excellence Coalition explained what happened:

the 3 pro-charter Democrats on the House Education Committee watered the bill down so much to meet the demands of other House Democrats that only one of the 4 pro-charter Republicans on the House Education Committee was willing to vote for the final bill.

Republicans were upset with the way that last year's bill had been weakened by:

1. Prohibiting Public Universities from sponsoring charter schools when local districts refuse to do so;

2. Reducing the number of NEW charter schools authorized from 70 (over six years) to 30 (over six years);

3. Limiting the number of current public schools that can convert to charter schools (last year any public school could convert with its school board's permission; this year only persistently low-performing public schools are allowed to convert); and
4. Requiring that all persistently low performing public schools that convert to charter schools remain subject to the all current collective bargaining agreements applicable to non-teacher employees (janitors, secretaries, food service workers, para-educators, etc).

During the hearing, Republicans offered several amendments to strengthen the bill but, except for a few technical amendments, the Republican amendments were rejected on party-line, 6-5 votes.

As a result, when the amended bill was put forward for final passage, only one Republican voted for it (Rep. Glenn Anderson). While the bill could still have passed if 5 of the 6 Democrats on the Committee had voted for it, only three did so (Chairman Dave Quall, Phil Rockefeller and Ross Hunter).
Accordingly, the vote on final passage came up 2 votes short, losing 7-4.

The pro-charter majority on the committe should still be able to reach a successful compromise. I hold the Democrats responsible for the impass, as everybody knows that last year's stronger bill was set to pass.

My personal feeling is that the insistence on maintaining certain collective bargaining rights at the expense of educational opportunity is reprehensible. Any legislator who is willing to sacrifice educationally disadvantaged children in order to protect office worker unions should be targeted for defeat. But that's just my opinion. The refusal to let public universities operate charter schools also sounds stupidly obstructionist, but maybe the proposed compromise I mentioned earlier should be acceptable to enough people to get this thing to pass.

If your own representative is included among the charter supporters, please contact them to encourage a compromise:

Chair: Dave Quall (D-40)

Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D-23)
(360) 786-7934

Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48)
(360) 786-7936

Rep. Gigi Talcott (Ranking Republican) (R-28)
(360) 786-7890

Rep. Rodney Tom (Assistant Ranking Republican) (R-48)
(360) 786-7848

Rep. Glen Anderson (R-5)
360) 786-7876

Rep. Lois McMahan (R-26)
(360) 786-7802

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:11 PM
Charter School Opponents

I was just listening to the audio of Wednesday's public hearing at the Washington House of Representatives Education Committee on the charter school bill. More than anything, I was curious to find out who would take time out of their busy day and drive all the way to Olympia in order to speak out against giving low-income parents more options for educating their children.

Not surprisingly, the people who did just that can be sorted into three groups:

1) Officials from public school employee unions, who can't cope with the thought of having to wait a few extra years before they have a chance to skim off the paychecks of charter school employees.

2) Hard-core Bolshevist school board members who can't cope with the thought of losing some of their power to better-run schools.

3) Strange ideologues, such as Lauren Wheeler, who describes herself as Director of Information for the "Washington Natural Learning Association", a home-schooling advocacy group. Ms. Wheeler is apparently troubled by the KIPP charter schools' extra-long school day, which results in tremendous success for the kids who participate in it. Do listen to Ms. Wheeler's testimony, which begins 1:08:00 into the program, as the transcript does not do justice to this woman's passion:

I do not see how anyone with any knowledge of child development can possibly accept ten hours in a classroom, okay. When educators start becoming educated on child development and their needs they will realize that taking disadvantaged children from various minorities, okay, and creating workaholic drones for a corporate establishment, okay, then you'll realize that you're going to provide cheap labor that is going to end up paying back their college educations with huge amounts of debt. My children are minority. They are Asian, they are African American. They are also European muttniks, okay. My children are being raised with high expectations. I don't pay thousands of dollars for their education as a home-based instruction parent. I use my common sense. I ask you to change the rules we have in education. Let's don't spend more money and waste it on our kids. Put it in. Put it in vestment. And get some innovation, please.
Nevertheless, I still have an open mind about home-schooling.

A summary of pro-charter testimony to the Ed. Committee is here

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:10 PM
University Diversity Perversity

In 1998, 58% of Washington's voters approved I-200, abolishing racial preferences in all state hiring and admissions. Now, Gov. Gary Locke along with a mostly Democratic group in the House and in the Senate are promoting a bill to subvert the will of the voters and re-introduce racial preferences in university admissions. The Seattle Times reports:

The bills would permit admissions policies to consider an applicant's race, color, ethnicity or national origin to promote diversity as long as:

• No enrollment slots are set aside on the basis of race.

• All applicants are judged on how they would contribute to campus diversity.

• Race isn't given a predetermined weight or points in admissions.

• Institutions periodically review whether consideration of race is necessary to achieve diversity.

If diversity is the goal of this bill, then the bill sponsors should put forth a vision of what an ideally diverse campus would look like. But the Times article does not tell us. The Times also goes out of its way to avoid mentioning a crucial bit of information about the University of Washington's demographics:
Racial minorities in 2003, excluding Asian Americans, represented 8.9 percent — or 447 students — of the freshman class.
Now why would they want to exclude Asian Americans from the discussion? Well...

A conventional definition of diversity would imply that the student body should reflect the state’s population. But as I've mentioned before, it is not only African-Americans and Hispanics who are underrepresented at the UW relative to the state’s population. Caucasians are also underrepresented, while Asians are overrepresented. Caucasians comprise 72% of the state’s 18-19 year-olds, but only 56% of a recent UW freshman class. Asians, on the other hand, comprise only 6.5% of the same age-group, but 28% of the freshman class.

In other words, the only way the UW could accurately reflect the diversity of the state’s ethnic composition would be to reduce Asian enrollment by three-quarters, and to admit a lot more Caucasians and a few from other minorities. I hope this is not what this proposal’s sponsors have in mind. But if the vision of diversity is something other than for the campus to reflect the state’s population, it would be interesting to learn what that vision might be.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 04:41 PM
Seattle Times Blog

The Seattle Times editorial page launched its own blog today.

Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.
The opinions you read below are those of the individual writers, not necessarily views that will become formal positions of The Seattle Times.
The Times editorial page, for all the constructive critique I heap on it, does have some good writers who I look forward to reading more often -- I particularly like Bruce Ramsey on local politics and Susan Byrnes on education.

At the end of the day, the Seattle Times blog in its initial format, as with other "big media" blogs, may still lack the more compelling aspects of the great big blogosphere. Independent blogs are interesting not only because they can be updated several times a day. They are interesting because they are, well, independent voices that in the aggregate offer more diversity of knowledge, experience and opinions than one is likely to find in the newspaper profession. Independent bloggers are also free of the institutional constraints and biases that inevitably bind those who work for a larger organization. A newspaper's in-house blog will more likely than not be more of the same, only with faster turnaround.

My humble advice to the Seattle Times: I look forward to the blog. I also encourage you to incorporate many outside voices with minimal editiorial oversight. Even (especially) those who often challenge your reportage and opinions.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:19 PM
Charter School Bill

The Washington House of Representatives Education Committee held a hearing yesterday on the proposed charter school bill, HB2295. As I mentioned yesterday, the current version of the bill is weaker than last year's bill, but it is an important step forward and worthy of everyone's support. The Education Excellence Coalition, which testified for the bill, e-mailed an update about yesterday's hearing. Some highlights:

for the first time, the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP) had endorsed a charter school bill, specificallly, HB 2295. The audible gasps from charter opponents and applause from charter supporters underlined the importance of the announcement. The "Education Establishment" (school boards, school administrators, school unions) no longer stood unified in opposition to charter schools.
A representative from the KIPP foundation, which operates a number of successful charter schools around the country also testified:
KIPP's representative praised charter school laws and told the legislators: "If you pass it [a charter school law], KIPP will come" [to Washington state].
A lot of kids in this state could benefit from attending a KIPP school.

The House Education Committee plans to vote on the bill this afternoon. A list of the committee members is here. If your own representative sits on the committe, please call AND email them to express your support for the charter school bill.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 09:57 AM
January 21, 2004

Democratic front-runner John Kerry has added the following planks to his economic platform:
1) end research and development for new pharmaceuticals
2) create shortages and a black market for prescription drugs in Canada.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 02:18 PM
New Charter School Bill

The Washington House of Representatives has put forth a revised version of the charter school bill, PSHB 2295. The bill analysis is here. Unfortunately, this is a substantially weaker version of the bill than the one that passed the Senate last year, and that would have passed the House had it been brought for a vote. Among the disappointing changes:

* Only 30 new charter schools can be authorized, five per year over six years, instead of 75 over six years.

* The provision allowing universities to sponsor charter schools has been struck. If a local school district refuses to authorize a charter school application, the applicant's only recourse is to apply to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, an elected official who is more often than not captive to public school employee groups, and not necessarily any more amenable to charter schools than a local school board would be.

* Charter schools not authorized by a school district will not be eligible to receive local school levy funds. [This is not only unfair to charter schools, but self-defeating for the traditional public schools as it would only reduce the constituency to support levies].

* Most charter schools would be required to be operated specifically for "disadvantaged" students, although it's not clear how that term is defined.

Gov. Locke on Charter Schools

Gov. Gary Locke was on a local call-in radio show yesterday, and charter schools was one of the hot topics [listen to the audio segment from about 12:09 to 25:04] The Governor has long been a supporter of charter schools and all of the audience questions about charters opposed them.

Some of the Governor's remarks appeared to be inconsistent with the above Bill Analysis. He seemed to imply that sole discretion over charter schools was with local school boards and local superintendents. He even said at one point:

If the Seattle School Board is not supportive of one, if people within the school district don't want to create one or convert an existing school to a so-called charter then I'm sure there will be many more applications all across the state and will be able to meet those and fill those requirements without having to impose one on a district or a school board that doesn't want one.
That would imply that the Seattle School Board would have the ability to block any charter schools from opening in Seattle. I checked with the Governor's office for clarification. A spokeswoman assured me that the Governor did not intend to convey that impression and he fully supports the provision in the bill that permits the state Superintendent of Public Instruction to sponsor charter schools. She reiterated that he believes that charter schools can be effective for some at-risk kids and that charter schools can be a good way to learn lessons about managing schools that can be applied elsewhere.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:57 PM
Atomic Mullahs

Ha'aretz reports:

International Atomic Energy Agency sources told Haaretz Wednesday that Iran is continuing construction at its uranium enrichment plant, causing a new dispute to emerged between the agency and Tehran.
Imagine that.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:20 AM
Corporate Welfare Watch

The Seattle Times reports today that Washington Gov. Gary Locke gave Boeing a lot more than $3.2 billion in tax breaks last year -- he also promised to "invest" tens of millions of dollars of the people's money in targeted gifts to Boeing. For example:

The state will spend a minimum of $10 million to design and build an Employment Resource Center dedicated exclusively to 7E7 work-force development.
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which obtained the heretofore secret agreement under a public disclosure request, has more of the story. We also learn that
The state will hire and pay a full-time “tax, commitment and incentives coordinator” (selected with Boeing’s approval) who will advise Boeing on all matters related to state taxes, and will apply for and pursue all grants for which the company may be either directly or indirectly eligible.
I should add that I approve of the state giving Boeing all of these wonderful tax breaks and subsidies -- provided, however, that these benefits are available to all businesses.

I would really like it if the state could assign me a full-time in-house tax advisor.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:40 AM
January 20, 2004
Seattle School Levy: Vote NO

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer' article about the upcoming Seattle School Levy is disappointingly incomplete:

Seattle taxpayers will vote Feb. 3 on a $178 million capital levy that would pay for almost 700 projects at schools around the district, from new athletic fields to renovated libraries, and a $338 million operating levy that represents 23 percent of the district's annual budget. Both are renewals of earlier levies.
First of all, it's not Seattle's taxpayers who will vote, but its eligible voters, a big difference. What is most astonishing is that nowhere in either the article or the accompanying Q&A with Superintendent Raj Manhas does the P-I explain the cost of the levy to an individual taxpayer. The closest thing is this chart with the number $2.39. Unfortunately, $2.39 has only limited relevance here. Worse, there is this howler of evasion from Superintendent Manhas:
Q: How would the levies affect property taxes?

A: If approved, tax rates would remain the same. The combined school tax rates would actually decline over the next few years.

In fact, what we're really wondering is how much more tax one would pay under the scenario that the levy passes than under the scenario that the levy does not pass? The P-I isn't any more help than the Superintendent is. Indeed, to calculate the answer you need to look at both the official text of the ballot measures and at the School District's levy brochure.

It is, in fact, impossible to give a precise answer, because the levies are for fixed amounts and will be shared proportionally by all property taxpayers. So the exact annual ad valorem rates will depend on the as yet unknown appreciation in assessed values. But combining the estimated ad valorem rates in the official ballot statement, with the estimate of 6% annual appreciation that was used to prepare the official ballot, I get the following ad valorem rates, applied to the most recent assessed property value (per thousand dollars) for the 3-year operating, and 6-year capital levies:

Year Operating Levy Capital Levy Total
In other words the two levies together would cost an average Seattle homeowner (assessed value of $320,000 today) about $522 in 2005, $539 in 2006 and $556 in 2007, with an additional obligation of $113 a year during 2008-2010. This is in addition to roughly $10 per thousand for other property taxes ($3,200 a year for the example homeowner). Those who have more expensive homes pay proportionally more. Renters don't normally think about such numbers, because they don't have to pay taxbills directly, but of course property taxes are reflected in their rents.

It's only fair for voters to consider not only how much good levy funds might do (if spent properly), but also how much each of us have to pay for the levy. If either the School District or the P-I was doing its job properly, they would have published a financial analysis like I did. But they didn't.

I support educational levies in principle, provided however that there is transparency and accountability in how the funds are used. The School District attempt to whitewash the actual cost of the levy does little to bolster my confidence that the money will be spent as responsibly as it should.

UPDATE: I did some more exhaustive analysis on the cost of the levies here and explain my reasons for voting against the levies here

Meanwhile in the state legislature

The Washington House of Representatives passed a bill last night to amend the state constitution to relax the requirements for approving school levies. Levies currently require 60% supermajorities to pass, but the House's measure would lower that threshhold to a simple majority. The yea votes included representatives from both parties whose views I respect on a number of issues, so I assume they have sound reasons for supporting this bill. I just don't know yet what those reasons might be.

The levy votes are one of the few ways that voters can hold a school system accountable for performance and fiscal responsibility. Given the inadequacy of public discussion about the true cost of school levies that I showed above, it seems that making it easier to pass a levy would only make it easier for school districts to raise taxes without corresponding improvements in performance or accountability.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:35 AM
Seattle Monorail Disaster

The Seattle Monorail Project seems to be in serious trouble. Revenues are well below expectations, and the monorail directors are proposing a number of design compromises that will reduce the quality of service and therefore ridership and ongoing fare revenues. The plan also seems to be contingent on reaching unlikely agreements with several other government agencies. Not only that, but none of the construction projects have been actually priced yet, so nobody knows how much this is really going to cost.

A number of community groups and business owners are pushing back. A group called OnTrack was recently formed to ensure that "the Monorail Authority delivers the project that the voters of Seattle approved, in the manner and for the price that was presented to them.". The group has not taken a position on what should happen if delivering the project as it was approved by the voters turns out to be infeasible. But the infeasibility is looking ever more likely as the project's basic assumptions seem to be based on little more than wild fantasies. For example, as OnTrack points out in a Jan. 15 letter to the Monorail Board:

Although a study released in December asserted that tax revenues would grow fast enough to provide funds for the monorail, that study - performed by then-monorail Finance Director Daniel Malarkey’s former firm - relied on a growth rate in the motor vehicle excise tax of 6.1 percent. The four leading economists who reviewed the study said 4.8 percent would be a more cautious estimate. The higher rate assumes that both Seattle’s population and number of households will not only grow significantly but that residents will buy more – and more expensive – cars. Given the experience of the unexpected revenue shortfalls and the fact that we’re spending billions (monorail, light rail, etc.) to enable Seattleites to drive less, wouldn’t it be more sensible to use the cautious growth rate?
You read that right, the justification for the Monorail is that it should reduce car ownership, but its financial viability is contingent on escalating car ownership. In my opinion, it's already time to shut this thing down.

OnTrack will be launching its website soon, I'll provide a link when it's available. In the meantime, courtesy of the organization, I've posted a list of its founding supporters, and the Jan. 15 letter to the Monorail Board. The letter outlines a number of serious concerns about the Monorail and is a must read for anybody in Seattle who is interested in the project.

Also, the Seattle Times maintains a page of links to all of its recent Monorail stories

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 19, 2004
Charter School Update

The Washington State House of Representatives Education Committee is having a public hearing on charter schools this Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 8am. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend because of other commitments. Any supporters of school choice who would like to attend or even make a brief statement to the committee can find more details here.

How a Seattle School Board member who opposes charter schools gave me yet one more reason to support them

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Darlene Flynn, one of the newly elected members of the Seattle School Board. More than the other new board members that I've also met, Flynn is an experienced public servant and has the talents and sense of priorities to make a positive difference for the schools. Unfortunately, she is also misguided in her opposition to charter schools. She recently sent me an email outlining her objections to charter schools, the core of which was:

...draining public dollars from school systems to create schools that all children cannot have access to, rather than focusing resources on creating high quality systems that accommodates all children. This strategy is further flawed in that while it touts competition as its benefit, it creates an uneven playing field when it relieves charters from the State Education Code, because they claim to need this freedom to be successful, while leaving the public schools burdened with constraints they cannot work with.
To support her position, she attached an as yet unpublished article with the title "ARE CHARTER SCHOOLS A FAILED EDUCATIONAL FAD?", by Dr. Gerald Bracey, an academic critic of school choice. As the title might suggest, the article is more of a hatchet job on charter schools than a genuine scholarly assessment. It includes, for example, the following selective report on charter schools in Texas:
In 2002, Texas awarded its top two rankings to 10 percent of the state's charters. But 61 percent of public schools attained these ranks. Conversely, Only 2 percent of Texas' public schools were designated "low performing" but 39 percent of charters received low marks.
In fact, a more honest look at the record of charter schools in Texas not only tells a very different story, but also illuminates the flaw in Flynn's dismissal of charter schools as "not really competition".

In a document titled "Profiles of High-Performing Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Schools" [large PDF] from the Texas Center for Educational Research (TCER), we learn that comparing all charter schools to all public schools is apples vs. oranges, because:

Compared to Texas traditional public schools, charter school students are more racially/ethnically diverse. Charter schools have a greater share of African American students (40.1 percent versus 14.4), substantially less White students (20.4 percent versus 40.9), and comparable proportions of Hispanic students (37.9 percent versus 41.7). Charter schools in Texas also enroll a somewhat higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students (57.6 percent versus 50.5) than traditional public schools.
More importantly, Bracey ignores the fundamental lesson that some of the Texas charter schools work extremely well, much better than traditional public schools that serve a similar population. The TCER study examines the high-performing schools and identifies characteristics that could be applied to other schools.

The point is, and in contradiction to what Darlene Flynn says, that yes, charter schools are competition. They are competition of regulatory regimes and ways of doing business. Exactly as Flynn says, "it creates an uneven playing field when it relieves charters from the State Education Code". Good. If it's the State Education Code (along with union job protections and all kinds of other baggage) that are barriers to a school's success, we need the freedom to figure out exactly which of those rules don't work and should be abandoned and which should be kept. Granting some schools the freedom to operate outside some of those constraints is the only way to figure that out. Not all charter school experiments will work, and the failures should be (and are) shut down. The successful schools should serve as models for what all schools should have the freedom to become.

Kudos to Dick Lilly

Lilly, the strongest voice of reason on the Seattle School Board, had a good letter to the editor in Sunday's Seattle Times

I appreciate your editorial of Jan. 12 taking the Seattle School Board to the woodshed for its resolution against any state legislation that would permit charter schools. However, you should have reported that the vote was not unanimous. I was the lone dissenting vote and, in my comments, made arguments similar to The Times' that we should not arbitrarily close doors to potential innovations in the public schools.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 03:40 PM
January 18, 2004
It's in the P-I

The editors of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seem to be trying to repent for their recent spate of Israel-bashing editorials by publishing some reasonable columns about Israel this week (see here and here). Today's P-I ran a long guest column from two Americans who recently visited Israel, to counter last week's pro-terrorism propaganda by Seattle minister Sharon "Kill More Jews" Moe. And all seven of today's letters to the editor addressed Moe's endorsement of Palestinian violence -- six slammed her and only one terrorism sympathizer supported her.

It's in the P-I, part 2

Also in today's P-I, two Korean-American ministers write of their experiences visiting North Korea on behalf of the WorldVision charity. It is a fine piece that catalogues the various failures and cruelties of Kim Jong Il's wretched dicatorship, spoiled only by the conclusion, a thundering thud of pointless moral equivalence:

However, it is easy, as Americans, to want a clear villain and a clear hero in every conflict -- easier still to see ourselves as that hero. Perhaps we, as Americans, are wise to be aware of the illusions we create ourselves.
I'll be sure to remember that the next time North Korean aid workers come over here to save us from self-inflicted famine.

It's in the P-I, part 3

A short item in the print-only version of the newspaper observes that the federal budget deficit is increasing:

In October, November and December the government spent $569.4 billion -- $33 billion more than in the same quarter last year -- but took in only $13.4 billion more in revenue.
This calls to mind, the P-I tells us,
the bumper sticker in the large motor home reading "We're spending our kids' inheritence."
It's worse than that, because we also learn that the biggest components of spending are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That is not spending our kids' inheritence, that is spending our kids' own salaries.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 09:18 PM
Insanity, yes, but whose?

Thomas Friedman, in today's 4th installment of his 5-part series on reforming the Arab world, writes:

Let's not mince words. American policy today toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insane.

My father, Hebrew University political scientist Ira Sharkansky, responds:
As in previous columns, the heart of the problem in Friedman's view is religiously-inspired Jews who settle in occupied territories, reinforced by Christian fundamentalists in the US, conservative Jews, and an indifferent American administration. He concedes that Palestinians are also in the grip of collective madness, but that seems less serious than Israeli settlements. The Jews are in the way. They cause international confusion and chaos. They must withdraw immediately from the West Bank and Gaza in order to stifle anti-Semitism and to give a chance to the development of Arab/Muslim liberalism and democracy. Friedman admits that such actions will not assure the ascendance of humanity among Arabs or Muslims, but Jewish deference (and American actions to force what is necessary) are his minimum necessary conditions. Without such withdrawals, Israel, the Middle East, the United States and the world will continue to suffer, and Israel may expire.

Friedman fails to sense the essential humanness in Israeli settlements. They threaten an Arab society that urges killing with the loss of property. Isn't this a decent response to murder? If the Palestinians stop the killing, they can have a state on the land that remains. The sooner they stop the killing, the larger will be their state. If they do not stop the killing, there will be no Palestine.

Friedman also fails to see that the demographic threat of increasing population does not threaten Israel as much as it threatens Palestine. The babies born today will be choked by overburdened services and unemployment in a small and shrinking country. The best advice is for parents and spouses to stop urging suicide for the sake of Palestine and Islam.

No less depressing this morning than Friedman's column is the story of the artwork in Stockholm, and the loss of temper by the Israeli ambassador to Sweden. He trashed an exhibit done by an Israeli Jewish expatriate, which seems to have glorified Palestinian suicide as a way of bringing justice to the Middle East. We've already seen too many times the tape of the confrontation between the diplomat and the museum director. The diplomat protests a work of art that appears to justify the killing of Jews, while the museum director condemns him for undiplomatic behavior and destroying a work of art. I fear we will hear much more about this in the week to come unless a greater disaster competes for air time.

Friedman's column is too similar to the exhibition in Stockholm. Jewish presence in a disputed land, and Jewish efforts to limit barbarism have driven both the Jewish columnist and the Jewish artist beyond reason to the fringes of madness.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:56 AM
January 17, 2004
What kind of society should we be?

President Bush believes we should be an "ownership society":

A compassionate society must promote opportunity for all of us including the independence and dignity that come from ownership. This administration will constantly strive to promote an ownership society in America. See, we want more people owning their own home. We have a minority home ownership gap in America. I proposed a plan to the Congress, starting with helping with the poorest of poor make a downpayment for a home, to close that gap. It's in the national interest that more people own their own home.

We want people owning and managing their own healthcare accounts and their own retirement accounts. We want more people owning their own small business. This is an administration that understands when someone owns something, he or she has a vital stake in the future of our country.

An ownership society sounds pretty good to me.

The Democrats, meanwhile, believe we should be a resentment society, a theft society and/or an intergenerational transfer society

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:47 PM
But destroying Jews is acceptable?

Israel's ambassador to Sweden was accused of destroying a piece of "art" depicting a Palestinian suicide bomber in a Stockholm museum on Friday.

The art installation, entitled "Snow White and the Madness of Truth," consisted of a rectangular basin filled with red water on which floated a boat carrying a portrait of Hanadi Jaradat, who killed herself and 21 others in an attack at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa on October 4.
Swedish Radio reported that Ambassador Mazel ripped out electrical wires attached to the art work and threw a spotlight in the basin.
Kristian Berg, the museum's director, said he realized the installation may have been emotional for Mazel, but that destroying art was unacceptable.
Kristian Berg included the "artwork" that celebrated a mass murderer in an exhibition for a program called "Preventing Genocide".


The revised version of the source article now quotes the ambassador as explaining that he merely unplugged some lights that were illuminating the piece, which he described as "An obscene distortion of reality". The artist is identified as Dror Feiler, an Israeli expat who has been in Stockholm since 1973. Feiler heads a Swedish organization called "Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace", whose manifesto calls Israel's elected Prime Minister "the biggest threat to the Israeli people and to Jews around the world".

This text accompanied the display that Mazel objected to. It describes the suicide bombing, ending in the words

and the red looked beautiful upon the white
It's hard to see it as anything but glorifying a suicide bomber, especially in light of the artist's background.

Feiler was to have performed at the exhibition, but threatened not to perform if Mazel was present. Feiler describes himself as

* Eye - bleeding ultimate composer of intifadic and eruptive lung - outs.
* Music trasher , saxophone screamer and a computer terrorist.
As my dad would say, "is that a threat or a promise?"

Museum Director Kristian Berg's email address is kristian.berg@historiska.se. Why not drop him a line and let him know that artwork which glorifies genocide is inappropriate for a program about preventing genocide.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 09:35 AM
January 16, 2004
Senseless in Seattle

The lead editorial in today's Seattle Times is about the planned "1811 Eastlake Project", a taxpayer-funded apartment building where homeless drunks could live for free. Unlike most homeless shelters, this one would allow its residents to keep drinking:

The ground is cleared, the permit is issued. City, county and state money (but not yet federal money) is in hand for a four-story building to house 75 chronic inebriates. The cost is $11 million, or $147,000 per tenant.
It was earlier reported that
Tenants will get two meals a day and free access to a nurse, alcoholism-treatment counselors and a mental health counselor. After three months, they will be expected to pay 30 percent of their income in rent.
30% of what income?
the notion that there are free or nearly free apartments in Seattle will encourage other cities' street drunks to come here. A building for 75 will not be enough. Another such building will be demanded, and another.
That would seem to be the much vaunted "Seattle Way"

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 03:07 PM
The Europeaser fight against terrorism

The Europeaser Union warns Israel not to defend itself against the genocidal maniacs over at Hamas:

The European Union on Friday called on Israel not to resume targeted killings, after a top Israeli official warned that Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is "marked for death."
"Proceeding in such a manner against a leading figure of a Palestinian terrorist organization would be counterproductive to efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East as the European Union has expressed many times before.
The only manner in which the Europeaser Union is willing to proceed against leading figures of Palestinian terrorist organizations is to give them a lot of money.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 02:35 PM
Palestinian Corruption

In a recent Palestinian public opinion poll, over 90% of respondents in the West Bank and Gaza believe that corruption is a significant factor in politics, business and the society's culture and values.

More respondents believe that corruption is increasing than believe it is decreasing.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:06 AM
It's in the P-I

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial appropriately condemns Wednesday's suicide bombing at the Erez checkpoint as "morally revolting".

Fair-minded people everywhere, including in Israel, have sympathy for the plight of ordinary Palestinians. But it is hard to accept the apparent lack of widespread Palestinian outrage about the brutal tactics adopted by various militant groups. Much of the blame for public attitudes ultimately lies at the feet of Yasser Arafat and the generation of militants who created a thugocracy with immense power over Palestinian life.

It is possible to hope that a new generation will look to other models for liberation, such as the movements led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi or Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi.

I hope this is a sign that the P-I's editors are on their way to recognizing the essentials of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. And I hope they will bear in mind that Gandhi-like tactics are adopted only by movements with Gandhi-like goals. Gandhi only wanted independence from Britain, it wasn't his goal to destroy Britain. King wanted an equal place in American society for black Americans, he wasn't aiming to subjugate white Americans. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, are not seeking peaceful coexistence with Israel. Their goal is to erase the Jewish state and its inhabitants. This is there for all to see in their founding documents (Hamas Covenant and Palestine National Charter), and it is consistent with their behavior even since the Oslo "peace" process.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:02 AM
January 15, 2004
When dead lobbyists have priority over live children

The other day I mentioned that the state House Education Committee had scheduled a hearing on charter schools for next Monday, Jan. 19.

The hearing has been rescheduled for next Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 8am.

The reason? A source in the legislature emails:

The Monday hearing on charters has been cancelled not because of problems with the bill, but so that members can attend the funeral of a former WEA [teacher union] lobbyist.
The schedule change is unfortunate, because holding the hearing on Monday, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, would have enabled more members of the public to attend.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:05 PM
It's in the P-I

For a refreshing change of pace, today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a sane and worthwhile op-ed about Israel: Sharon has a change of heart, analyzing the Prime Minister's unilateral disengagement plan. The piece was written by David Horovitz of The Jerusalem Report, an actual Israeli centrist who is actually knowledgeable about Israel. Ideally there should be nothing remarkable about this, except that it is remarkable, given that every other op-ed about Israel that I recall seeing in the P-I has been written by an American, European, South American, etc. whose distaste for the Jewish state is matched only by their ignorance of its actual workings.

This is the first time, for example, I can recall a P-I op-ed making claims about Israeli public opinion that are consistent with actual public opinion polls:

it is a safe bet that the unilateral withdrawal he has in mind will both antagonize the Israeli right and leave the Palestinians furious. But most Israelis are with him.
Read the whole thing.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:14 AM
January 14, 2004
A Seattle Taxpayers Alliance?

As I've followed public affairs here in Seattle, I've noticed that the discussion is primarily driven by those who seek to spend more money on, well, just about everything: libraries, housing, education, parks, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, city employees, educational parks for disabled homeless elderly city employees, etc. I rarely hear the voice of the taxpayers who are forced at gunpoint to pay their escalating "fair share" by the non-paying electoral majority

I'm more than happy to pay reasonable taxes for reasonable services, but I'm not always convinced that there is enough taxpayer oversight in the budgetary process in local government.

I've been looking for an organization like a "Seattle Taxpayers' Alliance" or some such thing that could provide fiscal oversight and taxpayer advocacy. I've googled and asked around, but haven't found one yet.

The organizations that come the closest are:
The Municipal League of King County -- has the non-partisan mission of "supporting good government" without endorsing candidates.
The Washington Research Council -- sponsored by the state's largest companies, it positions itself as "The independent authority on taxes and efficient government", and concentrates more on state issues than local issues.
Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which calls itself a "free market public policy research organization", also focuses on state issues.

All of the above are fine organizations that do good work, but not exactly focused on advocating taxpayers' interests in Seattle. If anybody has knowledge of an existing taxpayer advocacy group, please let me know. Otherwise, if anybody has any ideas about starting one, also let me know.

In the meantime, be sure to read Andy MacDonald's recent post about Seattle's proposed budget for 2004.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:59 AM
Full Societal Lobotomy

Today in the Seattle Times, Bruce Ramsey takes a whack at the creeping creepy nanny state, with the examples of smoking bans, mandatory recycling and mandatory bicycle helmets: "You do not need a helmet to read this column "

What these measures have in common is their itch to manage the citizen, to tell him what is good for him and make him like it. Typically, such nannyism is championed by liberals — a group that once believed in tolerance and personal freedom. They still believe in tolerance in the matter of sex — safe sex, anyway — but not in much else.
Ramsey concludes:
Yesterday's liberals, who now call themselves "progressives," do not trust us to define our own good. They want to do it for us. They remind me of Nurse Ratched.
Not merely a "nanny state", but a "lobotomy state"!

Read the whole thing.

And Speaking of a Lobotomized Society

Also in the Seattle Times this morning, Matt Rosenberg takes apart the public school monopolists who seek to prevent parents from making decisions about their own children's educations: "Charter-school foes are running out of excuses"

Legislators say the big opponents of charter schools here are powerful statewide associations representing school-board members and top school-district administrators. Control comes first, kids second. That's contemptible... If legislation passes, all eyes would be upon Washington charter schools. Backers welcome that. Tellingly, opponents fear charters will gradually spread, and spread.
Rosenberg mentions a proposed change in the legislation that would limit charter school sponsorship to School Boards, Educational Service Districts (regional consortia of School Boards) and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This is even more restrictive than the proposed compromise I wrote about the other day, and would limit charter school formation to agencies that are largely captive to public school employees. Hopefully, the legislation will permit sponsorship by universities and/or at the very least by other elected officials.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:36 AM
January 13, 2004
It's in the P-I

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on U. of Wash. senior Jennifer Devine who was awarded a prestigious Marshall Scholarship to study at the London School of Economics. Her chosen field of research:

the causes of poverty, the effect on women and families and ways to eradicate it
Devine was attracted to the subject of poverty in part because she grew up poor:
Her parents didn't go to college. They divorced when she was young. She lived with her mother in what she calls an "underresourced" home. It was a constant struggle to make ends meet.
Like many condescending liberals, the good people of the P-I condemn the Jennifer Devines of this world by damning them with low expectations:
Devine's academic success is all the more remarkable because of her underprivileged, tragedy-tinged upbringing.
Fortunately for Devine, her parents knew better:
Jennifer Devine remembers telling her father when she was 6 that she wanted to be a hairdresser when she grew up.

His reply: "You can become a hairdresser after becoming a professor, a scientist and an astronaut."

Expectations matter. And so does hard work:
For now, she's still putting in her normal 70-hour workweeks at the UW. Her activities are staggering.
Congratulations, Jennifer.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:36 PM
Universal Auto Care

A young man died tragically in an automobile accident and in response, his mother is demanding a government program to treat ... gambling addiction?

Although he'd kicked gambling by the time of his death last year at age 29, he was left with little money and many bills. As a result, he "did not spend any money on car repairs," McCausland said, "and police determined that it was a mechanical failure of his car that caused the accident."

Things might have been different for her son, she said, if he'd been able to find help for his problem gambling while living in Seattle.

I sympathize with the woman for the loss of her son, but the proximate cause of his death was not gambling, but brake failure. Perhaps instead of a government program to cure gambling addiction, we should have a government program to guarantee that everybody has a working automobile. How about a law to require that automobile insurance covers not only collisions and theft but also routine maintenance, oil changes and gasoline while we're at it. To make sure that no driver is left behind, I propose universal single-payer automobile coverage. Only then can we prevent the tragedy of death by poorly maintained Chevrolet. It's not an economic issue. It's a moral issue.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 03:02 PM
Real Accountability

The New York Times reports today that the first of New York State's charter schools are up for their five-year review and all face serious consequences.

State evaluators issued a grim assessment of New York State's first three charter schools yesterday, citing mostly poor test scores, inconsistent academic progress and inadequate financial management.

They called for one school in Harlem to be closed, for a school in Albany to shut its failing middle school grades and for another in Harlem to receive only a probationary extension of its charter.

This shows that the system works. Charter schools are held accountable for their performance, and failure to perform can lead to serious consequences, including closure.

In the traditional government monopoly public schools, on the other hand, the only consequences for failure would seem to include spending more money on employee benefits and demanding more money from the taxpayers.

hat tip: Robb Kestner

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 02:52 PM
Calling All Thieves

Entrepreneurial burglars are encouraged to relocate to Eugene, Oregon, now that law enforcement agencies in Eugene and its county have announced that there are no longer any consequences for committing property crimes:

Lane County residents who report burglaries, car thefts, identity theft, vandalism or other property crimes have a very slim chance of ever seeing an arrest in their cases.

The sheriff's office has eliminated both its positions dedicated to investigating property crime after one detective left to be a civilian volunteer in Bosnia to train police there.

There's no money for hiring a replacement for Detective Tim Roos, police services Capt. Bret Freeman said, and there may be even less money in the future if county officials go ahead with $4.6 million in planned cuts in the coming year.

"It's not that we don't want to help people," Freeman said. "It's that we cannot help people."

Victims are lucky if a deputy even shows up to take a report these days. Instead, they're often instructed to download a report form from the county's Web site and mail it in, or they can request a form be mailed to them, Freeman said.

Invariably, government officials always choose to respond to possible budget cuts by threatening to slash the most essential services first. But at least Eugene is still hiring adult fitness instructors, who will be able to train Eugene residents to run after the burglars who take off with their jewelry and television sets.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:39 AM
What do you get ...

... for a man who has everything?

It's really hard to buy a gift for a man who has everything, especially when he really does have everything.

hat tip: Andy MacDonald

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:01 AM
Freedom of the Press in Palestine

It's risky to be a journalist in the Palestinian areas:

Last week, masked men assaulted and beat Seif A-Din Shahin, a reporter for the Alarabia satellite television network.

A few days after the attack, it emerged that the perpetrators were members of Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades, and that the assault had followed Shahin's live broadcast on the thousands who took part in Fatah's anniversary celebrations two weeks ago. The report infuriated PA officials, who had expected Shahin to report that tens of thousands participated in the event.

That should confirm that terrorism is not a natural reflex caused by Zionist imperialism, but simply the favored mode of political expression in the Arab world. Will the usual "human rights" suspects condemn the PA officials who sent their thugs to attack journalists, or will they use this as yet another excuse to blame the Jews? Please, no wagering.

At least a group of Palestinian journalists are standing up for themselves and protesting the beating:

The demonstrators held a vigil opposite the offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza to protest what they termed the attempts of the Palestinian Authority to "terrorize the media."
How much play will this episode receive in the American media? Please, no wagering.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 12, 2004
Legislative Update

The Washington State Legislature starts its 2004 session today.

A spokeswoman for House Education Committee Chair Dave Quall (D-Mount Vernon), one of the legislature's strongest proponents of school choice, emailed me this update on the charter school bill:

Thankfully Speaker Chopp is a firm supporter even though less than 50 percent are counted as "yes" votes in [the Democratic] caucus.
I also learn that my other representative, Ed Murray, should also be commended for being a charter advocate.

The Education Comittee is planning to give the bill a hearing on January 19 (Martin Luthers King's birthday). That's a fitting date for a bill that will enhance educational opportunities particularly for low-income minorities. As columnist Ruben Navarette wrote:

School choice is much more than just another political issue. It is the new civil-rights movement.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 02:07 PM
Loony-Toons Seattle School Board

Both the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times today excoriate the loony-toons Seattle School Board for obstructing school choice. The P-I: Charters: Worthy idea, no miracle:

Unfortunately, the new Seattle School Board has rushed to oppose charters. As a national leader in one form of choice -- letting families choose among public school assignments -- Seattle should be open to letting others innovate...It's unwise to expect miracles or to rule out new ideas. Schools need carefully considered options. All students, whether in traditional or innovative programs, need full and equal funding.
This is appropriate and realistic. Of course charter schools do not provide miracles. And neither does the existing government monopoly model of public education.

The Times: Seattle School Board's aversion to innovation

In her comments at the board meeting, School Board President Mary Bass called the state's proposed charter-school legislation institutional racism.

The real racism, it seems, is allowing minority students to attend chronically low-performing schools with only a vague promise to their families that one day, those schools will get better.

Bullseye. Read the whole thing.

The loony-toons Seattle School Board would be a whole lot funnier if it wasn't also doing so much harm by standing in the way of underserved children who only want a shot at a decent education.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:42 AM
January 11, 2004
It's in the P-I

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer has yet another delirious op-ed from a self-appointed "peace activist" denouncing everything the Israelis do to defend themselves from terrorism. Today's op-ed, by Seattle minister Rev. Sharon Moe, hits a new low:

it is amazing that there is so little violent response by the Palestinians
Rev. Kill More Jews also suffers from hallucinations:
The new Geneva Accord offers a ray of hope and, though it is being met with strong resistance by the government, it is receiving support by a majority of the people -- both Palestinians and Israelis.
As I've mentioned in this space earlier, a recent Palestinian public opinion poll shows that
27.5% support the Geneva Initiative
57.9% oppose the Geneva Initiative
while on the Israeli side
What is your position regarding the Geneva Initiative?
Support 29% Oppose 45% Don't know/refuse reply 26%
Hey, I thought it was the job of the P-I's editorial page editor to ensure that his page isn't used to spread disinformation and hateful propaganda [It is his job, he's just not doing it very well - Ed.]

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:19 PM
Democrat Campaign Finance Scandal

Yet another Democrat faces allegations of campaign finance violations. This time involving Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who is running for governor

In a complaint to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the Republican Party claims that EMILY's List — a national group that raises campaign cash for Democratic women — has been violating state law by collecting checks on Gregoire's behalf and forwarding them to her campaign. The complaint also says EMILY's List exceeded the state's $1,250 campaign-donation limit. "The public should be wondering about their attorney general," said state GOP Chairman Chris Vance. "If anyone should know the law, it's her."
Like most Democrats who support "campaign finance reform", Gregoire acts as if campaign finance restrictions apply only to Republicans.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 10, 2004
Help for Neal Starkman

Scrappleface reports on a solution to the problem raised by Neal Starkman: A new bill introduced by Congressional Democrats

would create a program called 'No Child Be Left Right' which would, according to sponsors, "ensure that young Americans are smart enough to avoid the hazards of conservative ideology which have led so many to tragically support Mr. Bush."

Despite more than 40 years of Democrat education policy and instruction by the liberal union members, the majority of Americans still "cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect", according to Neal Starkman, whose research on the 'S factor' was published in a recent issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

hat tip: Ron Hebron, who explains:
ScrappleFace is a humor site. We thought Neal Starkman was also, until we heard him on the radio - twice.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 09:36 PM
Charter School Update

By email from the Education Excellence Coalition, which is working for school choice in Washington state:

Yesterday, the Governor and key Legislators said their most important bills were four education bills that almost passed in 2003. Those four bills include a modest charter school bill. (see the article in the Everett Daily Herald).

The “education establishment” (unions, school boards, school administrators) support all of the bills EXCEPT the charter school bill. In fact, the newly elected Seattle School Board passed its first resolution of 2004 earlier this week – calling on the Legislature NOT to authorize charter schools.

hey are powerful, but they can be defeated, with your help.

On our side are truth, justice and the American way (freedom!), the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, El Centro de la Raza, the South Wind Indian Arts and Education Foundation, the Association of Washington Business, the Gates Foundation, Professor Paul Hill of the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education, Patricia Wasley, Dean of the U.W.’s College of Education, Lile Holland of the Washington Association for Learning Alternatives, and lots of parents, grandparents, teachers and concerned citizens like YOU who believe Washington’s children should have the CHOICE of charter public schools.

The support for charter schools in Olympia is strong and bipartisan.

Key Democrats supporting charter schools include Governor Locke, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, House Education Committee Chair Dave Quall, House Education Committee members Phil Rockefeller and Ross Hunter, and Senators Tim Sheldon, Erik Poulsen and Jeanne Kohl-Wells.

Key Republicans supporting charter schools include Senate Majority Leader Bill Finkbeiner, Senate Education Committee Chair Steve Johnson, Senate Education Committee members Carlson, Schmidt and Pflug, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, and House Education Committee members Gigi Talcott, Glenn Anderson, and Rodney Tom.

The school employee unions and those who believe in the ideology of unaccountable public monopolies are using everything they have to lobby against school choice. If you live in Washington and support school choice, be sure to speak up. Contact your legislators and encourage them to support the pending charter schools bill.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 02:17 PM
January 09, 2004
Mad How Disease

Austin Bay coins the phrase Mad How Disease

The sufferer whirls like a dervish, stumbles frequently, blinks before bright lights, occasionally whines through gritting teeth.
Mad cow disease? No — Mad How disease, the political bacillus spread by Park Avenue's Typhoid Mary of ulcerous anger, "Mad How"ard Dean.
Read the whole thing .

By way of Mickey Kaus, who says Dean:

wants Democrats to stop being so defensive but doesn't want to confront the reasons why they might have been put on the defensive in the first place. We've forgotten about that--it was so long ago! But was it just a Washingtonian lack of fighting spirit that rocked the party back into minority status--or was it excessive, dogmatic loyalty to the very Democratic interest groups Dean has spent the past year sucking up to? Teachers' unions whose elaborate job protections for the semi-competent have turned suburban schools into swamps of mediocrity and inner city schools into nightmares. Industrial unions such as the UAW--whose detailed local work rules help guarantee that Detroit now builds essentially no cars that Howard Dean's Honda/Volvo/VW-driving supporters might actually want to buy. Affirmative action pressure groups whose efforts guarantee that competent professionals of color must carry around for life the stigma of having received special preferences. Bilingual educators promoting what is by now a proven means of holding Latino students back. Housing lobbyists who push "house the poorest first" rules that turn HUD projects into community-destroying hellholes. A senior lobby that has prevented adjustment of Social Security benefits--including "means-testing" the benefits of the rich--until it may be too late.
The Seattle Times has succumbed to Mad How Disease this week, with today's op-ed from Matt Miller: DEAN SAYS THERE'S NO 'WAR' ON TERROR - AND HE'S RIGHT! (I guess it's a pillow fight), today's unsigned editorial, portraying Howard Dean as a foreign policy moderate, and, I'm not making this up -- yesterday's publication of an educational stump speech, straight from the Dean campaign!

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 03:53 PM
Education Quagmire

You know we're in trouble when our public schools have "Zero Tolerance" for playing in the snow :

In Snoqualmie Valley School District, where school grounds still had 4 inches of snow yesterday, there is a specific rule against the "picking up and making of a snowball," said Superintendent Richard McCullough. In the discipline code, it falls under the same category as throwing rocks and stones, he said.

Julie Miles has two kids at A.G. Bell Elementary in Kirkland, a school with a zero tolerance for snowballs. Students there say they were told they can't even touch the snow, much less pack and hurl it.

At the same time, there isn't a school district in the country that has "Zero Tolerance" for incompetent teachers.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 03:36 PM
Competition Works

Joanne Jacobs cites a study of North Carolina schools just published by the National Bureau of Economic Research which concludes that

Charter school competition raised the composite test scores in district schools, even though the students leaving district schools for the charters tended to have above average test scores.
As the school yard blog observes:
I was once working with a group of teachers who were moaning the thought of vouchers. The teachers feared that “the cream will leave, and we will be left with the dregs”. I suggested they make new cream. Perhaps this is what the North Carolina school did.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:57 AM
Allies of Choice

The Palestinian Authority says that the Europeaser Union is its "ally of choice"

"Our relationship with Europe and the European Union has been one with what I call the ally of our choice," [PA "Foreign Minister" Nabil] Sha'ath said, distinguishing between Europe and the United States.
The Europeaser Union joins the distinguished company of the Palestinians' earlier "allies of choice", which have included: Adolf Hitler, Gamal Nasser, the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein.

Being selected by the Palestinians as an "ally of choice" would seem to be the kiss of death. I'd say the long term prospects for the Europeaser Union are looking pretty grim.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:37 AM
It's in the P-I

The xenophobic protectionists over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seem to believe it's wrong for American companies to have overseas operations. The P-I is mocking the technology executives who testified before Congress against goofy protectionist proposals that would restrict American companies from hiring overseas workers.

We have another idea. Why not export a few chief executives' suites? We're certain there's qualified folks somewhere in a far-off land who might run a company for far less than what CEOs are paid in this country.

Preposterous? Yes, of course.

Actually, foreign companies acquire American companies all the time, leaving the acquired company's CEO out of a job. There's nothing preposterous about it. But it's pretty funny that the P-I thinks that there is.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 08, 2004
Joseph Cirincione

Joseph Cirincione, a "weapons expert" at the Carnegie Endowment for "International Peace" is all over the newspapers today arguing that it was wrong for us to depose Saddam because he didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

What has become clear from the study, Cirincione said, "is that this war wasn't necessary."
Joseph Cirincione is the same weapons expert who argued before the war that it was wrong for us to depose Saddam because of the possibility that he did have weapons of mass destruction:
there are several very plausible scenarios that could turn the war into a catastrophe. These include the use of chemical or biological weapons against US troops
Weapons? No weapons? Who cares? You can always count on Joseph Cirincione to argue that Saddam should have been left in office.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:18 PM
Frank Chopp on Charter Schools

As mentioned earlier, Rep. Frank Chopp, Speaker of the Washington House of Representatives, is the key man in the effort to pass charter legislation. From his press conference June 6, 2003 [Real Audio, at 9:40], days before the Senate passed SB 5012 authorizing charter schools:

Charter schools provide a tool for innovation in our schools I have voted for in the past. The latest version...is a vast improvement over the charter bills that were proposed in the past. It's fundamentally different than the charter school initiatives that were on the ballot and failed. Local school districts have a much more important role in determining whether charter schools are created. They're all public schools. I really believe in order to meet the high academic standards in the future, we need additional tools for innovation and additional resources. We cannot just pass charter schools and think they're the answer to everything. They will help in some small examples and in some small ways but it's an important tool for school districts that could use that tool, particularly if a school is considered failing... This is a way of reorganizing, reinvigorating a public school to make sure it does what it needs to do... I've done a lot of thinking about this.
He goes on to talk about First Place, a Seattle non-profit that runs a school for homeless kids. First Place receives very little public funding today, even though it serves children who need to be educated but don't fit well within the public school system. If First Place were organized as a public charter school it would be eligible for public funds.

I'm convinced from hearing this press conference that Speaker Chopp is sincere in his support for charter schools. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to bring the bill to a house vote last year and has not yet made a firm commitment to bring it to a vote this session. Here's hoping he will.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:01 PM
Senseless in Seattle

As expected, the Loony-Toons Seattle School Board last night approved a resolution opposing charter schools in Washington state.

The resolution passed 5-1, with the Board's voice of reason, Dick Lilly, casting the only nay vote.

It's the state legislature's call to permit charter schools in this state, not the Seattle School Board's. This resolution is purely symbolic and in any event isn't going to influence on the legislature's likely approval of charter schools.

The only thing this resolution can accomplish is to let the Seattle Education Association know that it got its money's worth for campaigning for the new board members.

At the same time it will also:

* Demonstrate to the public that the School Board is more interested in wasting time on symbolic issues and defending its own turf rather than actually doing something meaningful to improve the schools.
* By timing the resolution for a month before the vote on the capital levy ballot proposition, it will only undermine, not build, community support for handing the School Board another $516 million to manage.
* Undermine and alienate the Seattle School Board's natural Democratic allies in the state legislature who have been working hard for years on a bi-partisan charter bill.
* Give the Seattle School Board's natural Republican skeptics in the state legislature ammunition to deny Seattle's requests even for legitimate educational funding.

As someone with a stake in Seattle's public schools, all I can say is "way to go, clown ladies".

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:13 PM
No Republicans!

A Seattle couple, Cecile and Paul, came up with a nifty idea to stay in touch with friends and learn about current events:

they were going to open their home each Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to any and all comers, and asked only that each bring a news clipping or story that had them particularly fired up. It didn't have to be on any particular topic or from any particular medium. It just had to be something that they were worked up over and wanted to talk about. There was only one hard and fast rule: No Republicans!
Cecile and Paul, in the spirit of Seattle's embrace of diversity will gladly welcome into their home the following:
* Nazis
* Communists
* Wife-beaters
* Active members of the North America Man-Boy Love Association
* Cannibals
* Islamist jihadis with ticking bombs inside their pants
* People in the contagious phase of the Ebola virus
As long as they're not Republicans.

Paul, by the way, is Paul Andrews, technology reporter for the Seattle Times and other fine publications. Next time somebody asks "What Liberal Media?" answer with a link to Paul "No Republicans!" Andrews.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:40 AM
Qureia Comes Clean

Palestinian "Prime Minister" Ahmed Queria finally admits that the Palestinians' only real goal is to nullify Israel's existence: Palestinian PM says two-state solution in danger

Qureia said on Thursday Palestinians would seek a bi-national state and demand the same rights as Israelis if Israel carried out its threat to absorb chunks of the West Bank.
There is nothing new in the demand for a "bi-national" state. And it would "bi-national" only in the sense of permitting the minority of Jews who are not slaughtered and who do not flee to live as second-class citizens.

Any Palestinian acceptance of a "two state solution", which only emerged in the Oslo period, was only ever a fraudulent tactical ploy. A ploy to buy time, win international support and weaken Israel in order to continue the armed struggle, which, as the Palestine National Charter says, is "only way to liberate Palestine". And whatever lip-service was given to a "two state solution" was always contingent upon a "right of return" to both of those states. Arafat's rejection of Barak's 2000 offer for an independent Palestinian state should have proven to everyone the hollowness of his commitment to "two states", but the international community of dupes gave him another pass.

Qureia's desperation in abandoning the "two state solution" only proves that Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan is a smart move. Let Qureia whine and moan, and then try to declare war on Israel from the other side of the fence.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:03 AM
January 07, 2004
Substituting for Ivins

The Seattle Times told us on Monday that Molly Ivins is on "vacation" this week (vacation from what, you might ask), and that her column will return "soon". The lack of a firm return date suggests that Molly might be in hot water with her syndicate over incidents of plagiarism, fabrications and plagiarism.

In the spot on Monday's op-ed page where Ivins normally appears, the Times treated us instead to this essay by P. Amy MacKinnon, a former Democrat, who explains why she will be voting to re-elect George W. Bush in November. After a list of ten of the attacks on Americans by Muslim fundamentalists dating back to 1978:

Halfhearted rescue attempts, trade embargoes, and a smattering of cruise missiles thrown at the problem by former leaders had no follow-through, no long-term commitment necessary to stave off the continued systematic attacks. Not until George Bush vowed to protect the US from those who sought to destroy it - even if he had to stand without the support of UN allies.

I can't rely on the contenders from my own party to follow Bush's course.

Indeed. And that's why I also intend to vote for a Republican for President for the first time in my life this November.

Unfortunately, not all Seattleites are as comfortable with reality as MacKinnon is, and in lieu of Molly Ivins' fantasies, the Times published an extra helping of hallucinatory letters to the editor. Like this one:

P. Amy MacKinnon, a professed Democrat, plans to vote for Bush in 2004. For every dupe like MacKinnon, surely there are thousands of Republicans or moderates who bought the George W. Bush-Karl Rove image of a "moderate" and an "outsider" in 2000, or who voted against Al Gore, but are now sickened, disgusted and angered as the true nature of the Bush doctrine is revealed.

They understand that the Bush regime promotes corporate welfare, gives tax breaks to the rich, lies about the threat from Iraq, equivocates in Afghanistan, leaves poor children behind, alienates our long-standing allies, eviscerates the Bill of Rights, punishes dissent, flirts with religious extremists and devastates the environment. They know in their hearts that the Bush regime works against the American values they hold most dear.

Here's hoping these voters will support the Democratic candidate in 2004, and be part of the majority of Americans who demand our country back.

Caryn Cline, Seattle

Yes, Caryn Cline, but unfortunately for your belief in the existence of "thousands" of Republicans and "moderates" overwhelming the "dupes" like MacKinnon to join the "majority of Americans", the majority of Americans this week appears to support the President.

Caryn Cline is a professor of "Library/Media Studies" at Evergreen State "College", specializing in "media literacy". I guess Evergreen State "College" is one of those places where you can teach "media literacy" without having to know how to read a newspaper.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 06:03 PM
Charter School Compromise

The charter schools legislation under consideration by the Washington legislature is close to having all the votes lined up, but some important compromise might be needed to ensure passage.

Rep. Gigi Talcott, the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee and one of the strongest advocates of school choice in the legislature, is offering one compromise to help address the concerns of some Democrats.

The version of the bill that passed the Senate last June allows for charter schools to be sponsored either by a School District -OR- by a state university. Some conservatives in the legislature are uncomfortable with university sponsorship because of the prospect of the loopy Evergreen State "College" organizing a school. The teacher unions and their Democratic allies, on the other hand, are scared of university-sponsored schools because that would open the door to school reformers such as Paul Hill and the U.W. Center on Reinventing Public Education, and they cloak their objections by citing "lack of accountability to elected officials"

Talcott's proposal is to replace the option of university sponsorship with sponsorship by, and accountability to, elected officials such as city or county councils and/or mayors and county executives.

I personally think this would be an unfortunate dilution of charter schools, since the main objective is to create schools that are accountable mainly to the parents who send their kids there, instead of to politicians who have to appeal to outside interest groups. On the other hand, empowering multiple elected officials to sponsor alternative schools would be a vast improvement over the existing concentration of all power in the hands of school boards, which are inevitably dominated by teacher unions. [Read this post for a brief explanation why it is inevitable that school boards come to be dominated by teacher unions]

I hope this compromise isn't politically necessary to pass the bill, but if it is, then we should support it. In either case, the compromise proposal demonstrates that the supporters of charter schools are flexible in addressing the skeptics' concerns. Meanwhile, those Democrats who still oppose school choice will find it increasingly difficult to explain why they refuse to compromise on their defense of the teacher unions' failed monopoly on public education.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:44 PM
Education Quagmire

The teacher union in Marysville, Washington recently subjected the town's students to the longest teachers' strike in state history. Now, the Marysville teacher union is trying to recall the school board members who defended the community from the union's unreasonable demands.

Washington law permits recall of elected officials only in cases of "misfeasance, malfeasance or a violation of the oath of office" and requires a judge to sign-off that there is plausible evidence of the above in order to let a recall election proceed. In this case, a judge gave a green light to the recall election for an astonishing reason:

Judge George Bowden based his ruling on the School Board's decision last year to hold classes Feb. 14, a day marked as a nonschool day in teachers' contracts. Feb. 14 was scheduled as a makeup day after school was canceled Jan. 14 to allow teachers to participate in a rally in Olympia.
The January 14 rally was a teacher union "Day of Action" where teachers from around the state went AWOL from their jobs so they could march on the State Capitol to demand a raise. Now the Marysville teachers are using their own refusal to show up for work as an excuse to try to recall a school board member.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 12:31 PM
It's in the P-I

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the latest in its series of delirious op-eds from self-appointed "peace promoters" whose passion for delegitimizing the Jewish state is equaled only by their ignorance of its politics:

The refusal to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories by 13 reservists from the Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli army's most secretive unit, doesn't bode well for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The op-ed goes on to trash Sharon's recent speech that called for unilateral disengagement. In fact, a recent Israeli public opinion poll shows that 59% of voters support Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan while an even larger number opposes the Sayeret Matkal reservists refusal to serve. It would be more accurate to say that the Sayeret Matkal members refusal to serve doesn't bode well for those reservists and that the P-I's refusal to broaden its editorials beyond the ignorant rantings of confirmed Jew-bashers doesn't bode well for the P-I.

The op-ed concludes:

Both the road map to peace and the Geneva Accord are complementary in their goals and have been so far the most positive responses to these demands. It is only by supporting and implementing bold steps as those indicated in the Geneva Accord that peace eventually will be reached in the region.
As I've mentioned earlier (here and here), the Geneva "Accord" has been soundly rejected by a large plurality of Israelis and a large majority of Palestinians. Meanwhile, an ex-Mossad chief this week said publicly what everyone has figured out a long time ago: The Road map cannot be implemented.

Don't expect these, or any other morsels of reality to be welcomed into the P-I's fairytale universe.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 11:41 AM
Seattle Silly Council

The new Seattle City Council was inaugurated on Monday. The new councilmembers earn annual salaries of $96,507 -- making them among the highest-paid in the country.

Some say the high salaries help attract good candidates for the job
Meanwhile, the "good candidates" are having a tough time of it already
Jean Godden was sworn in by her grandson Matthew Godden ... Godden, looking a little nervous, confused her left hand and right hand as she tried to figure out which one to raise, and which to place on the Bible.
For $96,507 we could at least get someone who's not going to have trouble doing the "Hokey Pokey".

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 06, 2004
Seattle School Board Circus

As mentioned in the post below, last night's Seattle School Board "public hearing" was mostly a staged circus to justify the School Board's pre-determined decision to adopt a very silly resolution opposing charter schools. Today's Seattle Times has a report on the hearing, and does a reasonable job correctly portraying charter school opponents as foolish and/or captive to the teacher unions. But the Times only scratches the surface. The P-I didn't even bother to send a reporter. Advantage: Sanjay Bhatt and the Times! The Shark Blog has the rest of the story.

The School Board selected a panel of five charter school "experts", of which three really were experts -- Prof. Paul Hill of the University of Washington Center on Reinventing Public Education and James Kelly, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, both supporting charter schools, and Seattle University education professor David Marshak, opposing charters. The other two panelists, selected for their impassioned but misguided opposition to charter schools, were state Rep. Maralyn Chase, and community activist Angela Toussaint, whose only apparent qualification to discuss charter schools is that she has a loud voice.

The hearing incorporated statements from the panel, along with brief remarks by members of the public. Some of the highlights:

The Urban League's James Kelly, supports charter schools because he wants to offer "Choices, challenges, rigor, quality and high expectations" to all students, yet observes that only 28% of Seattle public school 10th graders are passing all sections of the state's WASL standardized test and that fewer than 50% of black males in Seattle high schools manage to graduate. He observes that it's been 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education, and also that the black community has been frustrated with the Seattle School District over the same core issues for decades. He feels it's time for people to have more choices and options, and also chides the School Board for focusing on charter schools when the more important issue is ensuring that the upcoming School Levy ballot proposition will pass.

Paul Hill's best line of the evening made it into the Times:

"You will not fix the majority of low-performing schools without rebuilding them, without restaffing them and without new leadership," Paul Hill, director of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, said last night. "That isn't going to be changed just by professional development or prayer."
He also told a joke about kreplach.

On the anti-charter side of the table, David Marshak's most important contribution to the debate was to insist that it is wrong to "punish" (=fire) incompetent school employees. "It's better to inspire them", he says, but has no solution to the problem of the chronically uninspirable.

Rep. Chase's public reason for opposing charter schools is that "they are not accountable to the voters", even though they are accountable to the parents who send their children there. Existing public schools, on the other hand, are not even accountable to the parents who send their children there, and are accountable to the voters, but only in theory and not in practice, because they are allowed only to inspire, but not "punish" the teachers and other employees who don't do their jobs properly but still suck large amounts of cash out of the public coffers anyway.

Angela Toussaint says that charter schools are bad because she was once involved in a non-profit organization that tried to run a charter school in New York, but "it was really hard" and the non-profit spent all its time trying to run the school and didn't have time to run any of its other programs. QED. Therefore nobody should be allowed the choice of sending their kid to a charter school. Furthermore, she explained that it's unfair to give parents choices, because the parents of the neediest children she knows aren't capable of making their own choices and they just need their elected representatives to give their kids an education.


I read my own remarks but they went down with the audience like a lead balloon, because I posed school choice as a civil rights issue, while the people in the room who see themselves as civil rights activists (James Kelly was the one exception) apparently believe that a poor person's right to choose a school for her child should be tightly restricted. And I must have come across like an uppity white guy for speaking out on behalf poor black folks who are being oppressed, I now learn, not only by certain white folks, but also by certain black folks.

Jim Spady, who with his wife is the state's leading citizen advocate for charter schools, made a similar point that I made, comparing school choice to automobile choice. Even though only a small number of people bought Toyotas back in the 1980s, he explained, the competitive pressure forced the American car makers to improve their cars, and those who continued to buy American cars indirectly benefited from Toyota's innovations.

I thought it was a brilliant analogy, but Angela Toussaint sniffed that "my daughter's education is more important than a Toyota".

Theresa Cardamone, who had been endorsed by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in her failed race for School Board last year, opened her remarks by saying "I promise I won't sing this time". She objects to KIPP charter schools (the wildly popular program which delivers impressive results, in part by offering a long school day) on the grounds that:

KIPP is funded by The GAP corporation, which is responsible for all kinds of human rights violations around the world. And speaking of human rights violations, they keep the kids in school everyday from 7:30 to 5:00
She concluded by telling an anecdote about George W Bush supporting charter schools,
which is all we need to know to oppose them
The audience erupted in applause.


Don Alexander, an elderly old-school civil rights activist, said he's fed up that every innovation is sold as being "good for poor people, good for the black folks" and equated black people who support charter schools with the Zulus who conspired with the Boers back in the 1940s to institute Apartheid.


Chris Jackins, an "education activist" who was recently mentioned in the P-I as "one of the true overseers of Seattle Public Schools" asked the all important question:

Can a company set up a charter school to train its employees at public expense?
The short answer is: Yes, Chris, but only if we change the child labor laws to let third-graders work in the coal mines again.

Dr. Amy Berk Anderson, a nationally recognized expert on charter schools who has recently moved to Seattle, told how she helped start charter schools for disadvantaged minorities in Minnesota and Colorado.

Finally, the excitable state Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, who had the brains vacuumed out of her head when she attended the Evergreen State "College", and now has a temporary brain loaned to her by the teachers union, made the single dumbest statement of the entire evening. Someone pointed out what a shame it is that the anti-charter Seattle School Board would prevent Dr. Amy Berk Anderson, with her track record of successfully starting independent schools, from starting a school. Tomiko Santos yelled out "Then she should run for office".

As I was leaving I saw Rep. Maralyn Chase hugging a man wearing a "Jail Bush" button, which kind of summarizes the center of gravity of the political debate here in Seattle, and why it's so important to make independent schools available to those who need them most.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 04:43 PM
Seattle School Board Hearing

Last night the Seattle School Board had a "public hearing" on charter schools. In fact, it was a staged circus put on by a board that has already made up its mind to approve a resolution condemning school choice. I attended the meeting and made a brief statement in support of charter schools. I'll post a longer trip report later. My statement, which was boiled down to fit into a (unenforced, it turns out) three minute time limit, follows.

As I read the news about our schools, I’ve grown concerned about the achievement gap that affects many kids who are less fortunate than my own. For that reason, I now volunteer as a tutor in an after-school program. For the same reason, I’m here to support those who would benefit from charter schools, but for having that choice denied to them.

The disparity in school outcomes seems to be due, in part, to a disparity in school choices. Some of us can afford to choose between public schools, private schools or a move to the Eastside. Those who choose to stay with public schools also benefit from the challenge posed by parents who can and do remove their children (and support) from the public schools. The School District now has to compete to retain more affluent families who might otherwise leave.

But not all families benefit. Children of low-income parents are treated by the public schools as a captive audience. That’s why fairness requires that every family have the choice to send their kids to independent schools. No matter how well-intentioned our teachers might be, in the absence of parental choice and competition, failing schools may never improve and too many children will be left behind.

On the other hand, many charter schools succeed where traditional schools fail. Last week’s San Francisco Chronicle reported on a charter school in Oakland, managed by the nationwide KIPP program:

On state tests, KIPP students are outscoring most of their public school peers in the Bronx, Houston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In Oakland and elsewhere, students who never improved are finally seeing their reading scores advance. On an internal test, Oakland students improved their reading one grade level in the 2002-2003 school year.

While most KIPP middle-school students enroll at a third-grade reading level, studies show they reach their correct grade level in a year, and read above their grade level after two years. By the time they are ready for high school, 99 percent of KIPP students enter prestigious high schools on scholarship.

KIPP is ready to open a school here in Seattle, but can’t, because those with a financial stake in the status quo seek to deny choices to parents. Not every charter school will be as successful as KIPP, but neither are any of Seattle’s existing schools. It’s an injustice to deny Seattle’s underserved kids the chance to participate in a successful program, when all we can offer instead is the vague hope that their public school will miraculously improve some day.
As columnist Ruben Navarette wrote:
basically what you have is a teaching profession dominated by whites standing in the way of a reform movement that provides schooling options to other people's children. The effect is to deny opportunities to African-Americans and Latinos.
Sound familiar? School choice is much more than just another political issue. It is the new civil-rights movement.
I call on the School Board to join this new civil-rights movement and extend the choice of independent charter schools to all of Seattle’s children.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 05, 2004
It's in the P-I

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer today published a guest editorial by Neal Starkman, who claims that the only reason most people support President Bush is because they are stupid.

What can explain his popularity? ... The answer, I'm afraid, is the factor that dare not speak its name. It's the factor that no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it.
It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.
Let's think this through for a minute.

Let's assume, for arguments sake, that Neal Starkman is right and the reason most Americans support Bush is because they are stupid. This would imply that the smartest strategy for a President (or Presidential candidate) is to craft an image that appeals to stupid people. President Bush would therefore be smarter than any of his Democratic rivals because he has successfully outmaneuvered them by appealing to more stupid people. Indeed, how smart can all of those Democrat voters be, if they haven't been able to support a candidate who is smart enough to co-opt the huge stupid majority?

I personally don't think that Democratic candidates and voters are necessarily stupid, but that does follow from Starkman's argument.

I have no idea how smart or stupid Neal Starkman is, all I know is that he wrote a book titled "Don't Read This Book". I expect that Starkman thought that such a title would be a smart marketing move. But it doesn't seem to have been all that smart after all. The book is out of print, presumably from a lack of readership.

And be sure to give the Seattle Post-Intelligencer your vote in LGF's contest to select the 2003 Idiotarian of the Year.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 01:19 PM
Charter Schools for Washington

One of the Shark Blog's top priorities for the new year is Charter Schools for Washington. Charter schools have been a successful way to introduce competition and parental choice into public schools around the country (as seen in Colorado, for example, and in the many KIPP schools)

Unfortunately, Washington is currently one of only 10 states that do not allow charter schools. Many Washingtonians have been working for years to pass charter school legislation, but have been stymied by teacher unions and other school employee groups who have been fearful of losing their monopolies on public education. A crucial test takes place this month, as the Washington State Legislature is expected to vote on a bill to finally permit charter schools.

Charter legislation should have been passed last June, when a bi-partisan bill had been negotiated in the legislature. It passed in the Senate, the votes were there in the House and the Governor was ready to sign. Unfortunately, the session ended before the bill was brought up for a floor vote in the House. The new legislative session begins next Monday, January 12. The votes are still there in the House, but with changes in membership, the Senate is no longer solid. But if enough Senators vote their conscience to support school choice, many of our kids who are currently stuck in struggling schools will win new options for their education and their future.

Here is a rundown of some of the key players in the struggle for quality public education and school choice in Washington:

Jim and Fawn Spady. As frustrated parents, they launched the movement for school choice in Washington back in 1994. They founded and continue to lead the Education Excellence Coalition, to lobby for quality education for all children in the state.

The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, El Centro de la Raza and United Indians of All Tribes all support charter schools.

Paul Hill, education researcher with the Hoover Institution and the University of Washingon's Center for Reinventing Public Education, is the state's most prominent academic champion of charter schools.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen helped finance a (unsuccessful) pro-charter ballot initiative, I-729, in 2000.

Most of Washington's major newspapers, including the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer support charter schools (see representative editorials here and here).

Governor Gary Locke has championed charter schools for years. From his State of the State Address of 1998:

This year, I want to sign charter school legislation that promotes innovation and community involvement in public education.

This last legislature of the 20th century must throw open the doors and windows of our public schools to the fresh air and new ideas that charter schools will provide.

Gov. Locke steps down a year from now. Hopefully, he will yet be able to claim the introduction of charter schools as one of his major accomplishments.

Terry Bergeson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is a former president of the state teachers union and was long opposed to charter schools, but supported last year's bi-partisan charter bill.

In the state House of Representatives, the bi-partisan coalition for charter schools is led by members of the House Education Committee: Democrats Dave Quall (chairman), Phil Rockefeller, Ross Hunter and ranking Republican Gigi Talcott.

In the Senate, the leading proponent is Education Committee chairman, Republican Stephen Johnson

The opposition to school choice consists primarily of: public school employees, their unions, their supporters in the legislature and the ideologues who believe that it would be wrong for the government to let people have control over their own children's education.

The Washington Education Association claims to support charter schools in theory, but only if collective bargaining in charter schools works the same way as it does in other public schools, which of course would defeat the whole point. The WEA's June 2003 legislative update newsletter lists this item under the heading "WEA's legislative victories this session":

The charter school bill failed.
The Washington Association of School Administrators hosted the website for the 2000 campaign against the pro-charter I-729. This page gives this list of the groups who opposed the ballot measure. The WASA explains why employee groups object to charter schools:
Employees in each of the independently run charters are not allowed to join the school district bargaining units. They must establish a separate bargaining unit. For most, this means having to start over to obtain rights, wages and benefits local unions have secured through years of negotiations. Charter school employees will not be protected by state laws limiting contracting out options.
Translation: charter schools threaten the guaranteed salaries of overpaid, underperforming workers. Yes, it really is that simple.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, is the staunchest opponent of school choice in the legislature. A number of Senate Democrats reportedly would like to vote for charter schools as do many of their Democratic colleagues in the House, but McAuliffe uses all of her clout to strongarm the Senate Democrats to toe the union line. All it would take is one or two Democrats to vote with their conscience to do the right thing this time and thousands of underserved children will finally gain the opportunity to get a decent education.

The most important undeclared vote is the Democrat Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp. Chopp has long been a nominal supporter of charter schools and was said to have been in favor of the bill that should have passed last year. As Speaker, it was his call to bring the bill to a vote in the House, but other business had priority, time ran out and the session ended without a vote on the charter bill.

The ball is in Chopp's court to bring the bill to a floor vote this month, but he hasn't yet made a firm commitment to do so. I live in his district and I'll try to talk with him as a constituent, and encourage him to support charter schools.

I'm spending my time to spread the word on charter schools because it's obvious that many of our public schools are failing and cannot be resuscitated without a drastic overhaul in the way they are managed. We cannot afford as a nation to let so many of our young people leave school without an adequate education. Charter schools are just one step toward repairing our schools. But it is the single most important next step that is achievable in the short term here in Washington. If you live in Washington and care about our public schools, please contact your state legislators and encourage them to support charter schools.

UPDATE This page gives the status of the charter bill and its various amendments and votes. The roll calls for the bill's Senate votes are here.

Andy MacDonald's comment includes a link to helpful information on contacting your Washington state representatives.

UPDATE 2 Rep. Gigi Talcott proposes a compromise.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 04, 2004
Immutable Laws of Government

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer published this op-ed by Eric Schlosser, under the headline "USDA dominated by industry it regulates". To the P-I's editors and credulous readers, for whom there can never be enough unnecessary regulation of industry, this must be a scandalous discovery. For the rest of us, this is merely a prediction of one of the Immutable Laws of Government.

Of course, government is not, uh, governed bythe same sort of inherent laws as, say, physics or even economics. But to the extent that government does function according to reasonably predictable patterns, here are a few of my favorite observations:

1) The primary mission of any agency is to sustain and expand itself.

2) Those individuals who have the greatest stake in any regulation/taxation/expenditure will invest the most time/money in influencing the above.

This might sound obvious, but it leads to several interesting corollaries:

a) The most heavily regulated industries are responsible for a disproportionate share of campaign contributions
b) Any agency will eventually be dominated by the industry it is intended to regulate
c) Any law that restricts campaign financing will only raise the cost of campaigning and therefore benefit those who have both the most to gain from, and the most to spend on influencing the outcome of the campaign

Combining laws (1) and (2) produces the next corollary:

(d) it is always much easier to introduce a new entitlement than to abolish an existing one.

These are not my original discoveries, of course. Law (2) and its corollaries are just a concise way of expressing some of Mancur Olson's ideas.

Certainly there are other Immutable Laws of Government. A Google search produces this one:
"Government is inherently inefficient"
and this one:

when poor policy creates cash crunches, the logical solution is to penalize the public in the most visible possible way.
I invite my readers to post their own favorite suggestions for Immutable Laws of Government

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 04:04 PM
January 03, 2004
Next Year in Al-Quds

I received the following e-mail yesterday:

Dear Friends,

Jews used to say: "Next year in Jerusalem".

Our "Association for one Democratic state in Palestine/Israel" says: "Next year is the end of the apartheid in Palestine/Israel".

This is our dream for 2004. Do whatever you can to make this dream a reality.

Sami Aldeeb, doctor of laws
Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel

The Jews used to say "Next year in Jerusalem"? When did they stop?

A peek at the eleven member board of directors of the "Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel" foreshadows how the fictitious future One Democratic State of Palestine/Israel might one be governed. Six of the eleven are Palestinians who are no doubt privately laughing their heads off that they could induce five credulous dupes to put a smiley public face on the organization while the Cabal of Six sits in a hookah-smoke-filled backroom to plan the Second Final Solution. One of the Five Stooges is a trans-Atlantic (but fabulously beautiful!) 26-year-old Swiss-American NGO groupie (I'll bet she's in charge of "recruitment"). One of the members is the mysterious "Russian-Israeli journalist" Israel Shamir, who, I'm not making this up, has been rejected by mainstream anti-Semites as too anti-Semitic for their tastes. The wildly influential Israeli Communist Party also has its man in place to help ensure the collapse of the capitalist Jew state.

My favorite one of the bunch is Dan Burnstein, "a lawyer and technologist based in the Boston area [and] a member of Temple Sinai.". Dan Burnstein's photo makes him look like he might be off his medications, so perhaps he's dealing with some unrequited suicidal feelings by asking the millions of Israeli Jews whom he's never met to commit collective suicide. Dan Burnstein claims to be an expert on "cooperative negotiations", which apparently means that when someone threatens to kill you, you are supposed to kill yourself first to spare the other guy the inconvenience.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 08:00 AM
January 02, 2004
Education Quagmire

Education researcher Paul Hill (of the Hoover Institution and U of Wash Center for Reinventing Public Education) writes in today's Seattle Times that the jobs of public school superintendent and school board member, as currently defined, are "setups", designed to ensure failure. His solution:

The key to making superintendent and school-board jobs doable is to refine the excessive powers and duties to the few that matter, such as focusing on charter schools rather than hiring teachers, holding schools accountable for children's learning instead of dealing with grievances, sending dollars to the schools that parents choose in place of fiddling with centrally administered budgets, withdrawing support from schools that do not teach effectively, developing new schools to replace failed ones, and letting parents choose among schools rather than trying to make the best of a bad family-school match.
Basic common sense, really, but just try to get it past the teacher unions.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 10:33 AM
It's in the P-I

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an op-ed from a Holocaust supporter who wants to force Israel's Jews to surrender their sovereignty and live under an Islamist theocracy.

Be sure to visit Little Green Footballs to cast your vote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to win this year's Fiskie Award for Idiotarian of the Year

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 07:00 AM
January 01, 2004
Vote for the P-I

The first round of voting for the Fiskie Award for Idiotarian of the Year for 2003 is underway over at Little Green Footballs. At this moment the 3 leading contenders are: Michael Moore, France and the United Nations. The top 10 winners will go onto to the final round. My pet candidate is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, hardly the most influential newspaper, but arguably the most idiotarian. The P-I is not currently in the top 10, but with your help we can get there. Go cast your ballot, and please cast at least one (if not all) of your five votes for the Seattle P-I.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:46 PM
Ruth Rosen Tries to Tell the Truth

Ruth Rosen's New Years Resolution is to tell the truth:

WHEN PEOPLE ask me, "So what's your New Year's resolution?" my immediate answer is: To search for the truth and to write about it as well as I can
Ruth Rosen singles out for applause a handful of individuals who, in her words:
have used their public platforms to expose lies about the Iraq war
The list includes Robert Scheer, Molly Ivins and Michael Moore, who have exposed plenty of lies about the Iraq war -- but unfortunately for Ruth Rosen, all of those lies were their own.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 05:01 PM
Ruth Rosen, Health Care Economist

The San Francisco Chronicle's Ruth Rosen says It's time for "single payer healthcare". I can understand why Ruth Rosen might take this position, because on the fantasy planet that Ruth Rosen inhabits, the laws of economics do not apply:

Physicians who recently resisted a single-payer system have grown increasingly resentful of HMO bureaucrats who micromanage their medical decisions. Inadequate reimbursements are driving some out of business. They also dislike having to consult dozens of drug lists or formularies before they can prescribe medicine for their patients. They'd rather spend time caring for sick people.
On Planet Rosen, prices apparently fall when people are liberated from having any motivation to limit their spending!

I do agree with Ruth Rosen on one point:

Health care is a human right, not a privilege.
Unfortunately for Ruth Rosen, the notion of a "right to health care" is an argument against, not for, giving the government a monopoly on health care procurement. A human right means that the government should not be permitted to interfere in individual choices -- in the same way that sex is a human right, and we don't let the government decide who we have sex with, nor do we have a single-payer system where the government pays the bills for our romantic trysts.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at 04:53 PM