Why I am voting no on Federal Way school levy | If I Were Czar

Matthew Jarvis - Contributed
Matthew Jarvis
— image credit: Contributed

In recent months I have talked to hundreds of people in Federal Way who are planning to vote no on the Federal Way Public Schools’ $53 million levy.

Most of these people are voting no because they are angry about the district’s lack of results, the school board’s trips to Europe, the superintendent’s raise and the botched implementation of the new grading system.

These people want to send a message to the board that such behavior will not be tolerated by voters. Newcomer Geoffery McAnalloy’s landslide victory over longtime incumbent board member Ed Barney was the first part of this message.

Despite my criticisms, I am a big supporter of our schools. However, I too will be voting no on the upcoming levy. Not because I am angry, but because I want results. The school district and its shrinking list of supporters have gone to great lengths to describe the Armageddon that will befall our children if the upcoming levy were to fail. According to the district, a levy failure would require that 8 percent of our teachers and 16 percent of school staff be fired. It would also require further cuts to extracurricular activities and would increase class sizes by two students.  Conveniently missing from these cries of doom is any discussion on how these cuts would impact results (e.g. graduation rates).

In fairness, trying to guess the impact of the levy’s failure on results would be pure speculation. However, it is probably safe to say that cutting $53 million from the budget must have some kind of negative impact on results. Maybe our test scores will decrease, or maybe our on-time graduation rate will fall even further below the state average. Maybe.

What we do know is that passing the levy will almost certainly give us the exact same results we have experienced for the last several years. For those of you who are content with the school district’s actions and results, then by all means vote yes and move on to Bob Roegner’s column. If you, like me, find yourself somewhere between concerned and mad-as-hell, let’s take a look at another option.

According to King County Elections, the district still has time to run a second levy prior to the May deadline for teacher lay-off notices. While the school board would have to move quickly, they could present voters with a levy that will almost certainly deliver results. If I were Czar, here is how the levy would look:

One half of the $53 million annual levy would be used to support the threatened programs and positions at one-half of their current level. Instead of cutting 75 teachers, we would cut 40, thus increasing class sizes by one student. This would leave the other half, approximately $1,000 per student per year that could be used to revolutionize education in Federal Way.

I would divide responsibility of these funds three ways. The first third (approximately $330) would be allocated to teachers for investment into their classroom. From iPads, to new textbooks, to guest speakers, the average teacher would have $6,000 annually to spend in their classroom.

In addition to revolutionizing our classrooms, this level of empowerment would attract the best teachers from around the world.

The second third would be allocated to principals who would use these funds to implement teacher feedback and improvement programs.

The Gates Foundation has seen spectacular results with a program that allows teachers to work together with peers for evaluation, feedback and improvement.

The remaining funds would be used to provide financial incentives to students and their families. From homework, to test scores, to on-time graduation, to just staying in the district for an entire year, we would reward results. Just like you get paid on Friday for doing your job, our students would be rewarded for doing their job.

Instead of hoping that spending more money on the same programs will deliver different results, my levy proposal would almost immediately create the best school district in the state.

A district where students have access to technology, teachers have the tools to improve their skills and our low-income families have an incentive to stay put.

In addition to improving education results, imagine what a district like this would do to our property values or our effort to revitalize the downtown. In no time “Felony Way” would become “Freakin Awesome Way.”

I will, however, be the first to acknowledge that my levy proposal is totally unorthodox and would face major logistical hurdles, but if this is really “for the children,” I’m sure we can find a way.

While I am voting no on the current levy, if the district were to propose a revolutionary levy based on results, I would be willing to waive a vote yes sign on 320th Street every morning for a month.

Regardless of your reason, voting no may be the best thing you can do for our children. Either way, I ask that you please keep an open mind and be willing to vote yes when the district gets their act together.

If this levy does fail, my condolences to the teachers and staff who might lose their job. I can only hope that the school board is willing to prevent this from happening.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. As a pro-bono columnist, I really appreciate the support I have received from hundreds of my fellow concerned citizens.

Contact Federal Way resident Matthew Jarvis at Matthew@jarvisfinancial.com.


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates