Editor's Note: This letter is in response to a letter from Northshore School Board Dierctor, Dawn McCravey (), which was in response to an open letter from Christopher Tracy criticizing Sen. Rodney Tom’s (D-48, Bellevue) support of recent legislation changing public employees’ health care benefits and reforms in ().
I read Dawn McCravey’s reply to my open letter to Sen. Rodney Tom and would like to respond. Many issues McCravey brings up are not part of my letter; my letter is NOT about teacher salaries, statewide testing, racial differences or curriculum, and NOT about unions or strikes. It was about my concerns with elected representative Sen. Tom and his troubling pattern of legislation aimed at teachers. So, I’ll stick to the issues I brought up around Sen. Tom’s bills: the K-12 medical take over, Charter Schools, elimination of early retirement for teachers with 30 years of service that are at least age 55, teacher evaluation, and government reform.
Sen. Tom was my focus as he threatened to block ALL education bills before the Senate Education Committee, by aligning with Republicans and all voting no on ALL education bills, unless his teacher evaluation bill was passed, without amendments. And when a bipartisan agreement was brokered, with the help of the Governor, Sen. Tom ranted to the news media about it. He has supported the state taking over K-12 employee medical plans, promoted a Charter Schools Bill, co-sponsored a bill abolishing the 30 year/age 55 early retirement plan for teachers, widely talked about firing teachers based upon student test scores, supported cuts to education spending next year and voted to skip payments to the oldest--and closed--Teacher Retirement Plan 1. Now let’s look at some of McCravey’s arguments.
I agree with McCravey that the Northshore School District (NSD) offers quality self-insured health plans. But that would change if Sen. Tom’s K-12 insurance take-over bill were passed, as the devil is in the details. Under Sen. Tom’s co-sponsored bill, the NSD will NOT be allowed to operate its self-insured program; Page 5, Line 26 says that any self-insured program that opts-out must have a risk pool of at least 2000 employees and NSD has 1956. Even in the unlikely case we could get the legislature to amend that, the bill stipulates that NSD plans offered must mirror state plans and the out of pocket cost formula would need to match the new state plan. Trust me, as a member of the NSD Benefits Committee for more than 20 years, that this would mean we would need to completely revise our self-insured health plans--likely endangering the viability of our most popular and most comprehensive medical plan—and we’d need to widely restructure our out of pocket payroll deduction structures, and this would negatively impact the majority of our employees. And since state workers, including Sen. Tom, get more benefit funds than K-12 employees, it would be impossible for NSD plans to be as comprehensive and/or as low cost as the plan Sen. Tom (and all state employees) enjoy. That’s just a fact; the math does not lie. So I ask Sen. Tom, why do you favor my health insurance to be less comprehensive or more costly than yours? And there is no savings to the state; even Sen. Tom supported 12 million dollars to help set up the new state plan with much more money needed down the road to implement the K-12 employee insurance plans. So Sen. Tom’s bill damages NSD teachers; it’s a fact. McCravey talks about Premera and WEA; for the record, the NSD is self insured with one pool, and we use Regence and Group Health, not Premera.
As to Charter Schools, Washington residents have rejected them three times. But Sen. Tom thinks he knows better than the public and is a vocal supporter of Charter Schools. Charter Schools syphon money from public schools, and many local and national studies and scholars conclude that the Charter Schools generally don’t outperform public schools. Those are facts. McCravey mainly delivers an anti-union message when commenting on Charter Schools; my comments were not about unions, but rather were about Charter School performance and their impact on public school education and funding.
As to student progress in teacher evaluations, I never said I was opposed to it, but said it needed to be “tempered” with other factors. In fact, I see merit in the bipartisan evaluation legislation brokered and recently signed by our Governor. What I found troubling was Sen. Tom’s “my way or the highway attitude” in the Education Committee, and further when he voted for the bipartisan teacher evaluation bill and then ranted negatively to the press about it afterward.
Sen. Tom has championed getting rid of the 30-year service, age 55+-retirement option for teachers. My example illustrated TRS Plan 3, the plan the majority of active teachers participate in, is not all that generous even with the early retirement option. I wondered in my letter why Sen. Tom targeted teachers for pension reform/reduction, instead of including reform/reduction for ALL other state employee pension groups. Ms. McCravey, this is a fairness issue, not a jealousy issue; teachers feel targeted by Sen. Tom’s bill. (I do not advocate pension cuts for any employees.)
With all of the voter approved initiatives that have passed, Sen. Tom only targets the two education initiatives—class size and teacher pay—to completely repeal and votes to do so. And likewise, Sen. Tom cherry picks out National Board Certified Teachers and votes to reduce their stipend. Teachers are seeing a pattern.
Finally, words like “whiners” or “fiscally prudent” are nothing but sound bites, and are not evidence. The targeting and tone of the volume of education related bills, sponsored by Sen. Tom, are troubling and often appear as teacher punishment, a synonym for wrath.
Tracy is a teacher in the Northshore School District, member of the District’s Benefits Committee and a past recipient of the Washington Library Media Association’s Teacher-Librarian of the Year Award.