Letters to the Editor

Intentionally failing Federal Way school levy will hurt students | Letter

Email your letter to: editor@federalwaymirror.com - Contributed
Email your letter to: editor@federalwaymirror.com
— image credit: Contributed

I’ve read with great disappointment the recent statements in this newspaper by several opponents of the Federal Way Public Schools Educational Programs and Operation (EP&O) levy.

This disappointment does not stem from the existence of opposition – I embrace the differing points of view as a healthy component of democracy.

Instead, the disappointment is in the opposition’s refusal to provide real facts, defensible logic, or to recognize the real-world consequences to our students. Worse yet is the opposition’s willingness to make fantastical demands for which they would hold the $53 million hostage, coupled with the suggestion that they will then shoulder no responsibility for the damage caused to our students, teachers and schools.

In total, the opposition is behaving like a toddler throwing a tantrum – except that this toddler’s tantrum will lead to teacher and staff layoffs, larger class sizes and program cuts across the board (from ROTC to IB to Cambridge and more).

I understand that the opponents are mad – furious – about school board travel, about superintendent pay, about the grading policy and about academic results. And the evidence is that recent civic engagement addressing these issues has worked, resulting in awareness, impact and change. I am unaware of any new travel controversies. I am unaware of any new pay increases for the superintendent. I understand that action has been and is still on the table with respect to the grading policy.

The last election led to a 40 percent change in the makeup of the school board. We replaced a mayor and have new members on the city council. The truth is that democracy – slow and imperfect, sometimes ugly and full of compromise – worked in Federal Way.

The opposition offers no actual evidence that further sustained advocacy and future elections will not yield more change, particularly where that change is desired by a majority of citizens. We can agree that we are far from where we want to be, but throwing a public tantrum about a replacement levy hurts students first, and is simply ill-advised.

The facts relating to this levy are freely available and verifiable. Vote no, and we’ll be cutting 20 percent of the total budget of ours schools. We’ll cut teachers, staff and programs. Opponents have presented no facts to demonstrate this is not true; they just circle back to the desire to send a message of anger about controversial board actions and academic results.

Even opponent Matthew Jarvis admits he cannot quantify the carnage from a failed election, stating: “it is probably safe to say that cutting $53 million from the budget must have some kind of negative impact on results.”

The opponents’ logic fails at every turn (Mr. Jarvis does not even attempt to apply logic, but instead proposes to hold the district – and the $53 million – hostage to a fantasy-land set of speculative and untested initiatives).

Perhaps the whopper in some opponents’ arguments is that to “send a message” over an $80,000 travel controversy and a $40,000 superintendent raise, they would intentionally fail the levy. Somehow escaping the opposition is that re-running the levy comes with a $200,000 price tag. And, of course, for the satisfaction of sending this “message,” the opponents place at risk the entire $53 million. I cannot imagine a worse case of financial planning for our students.

The callousness with which the opponents would inflict damage upon the teachers, staff and students, and then seek to avoid any accountability, is mind-boggling. Mr. Jarvis says, “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.”

This is perhaps the greatest disappointment of all. Ongoing and intense advocacy to the school board is fine – no, it’s admirable, even vital. And electoral accountability is the premise of our democracy – I fully expect that all of us will hold our elected officials to account and make further changes if we are dissatisfied. But I would contend there is a line in the sand for moral responsibility on this issue, and it is this: suggesting that we intentionally fail the levy, inflicting 100 percent of the damage upon students and teachers, then seeking to scurry away from accountability, is reckless and unacceptable, even shameful.

To the levy opponents, I urge you to reconsider holding the students and teachers of Federal Way hostage for your demands, and seek more productive ways to continue what has been, without dispute, effective advocacy for your complaints.

Keep fighting for your views – employ endurance, passion, and democratic ideals in your advocacy to the school board and superintendent in the public square. But do not adopt the value of the schoolyard bully and simply “take your $53 million ball and go home.” This tactic is no more impressive now than it was when recently used by a minority faction to shut our federal government down.

One final note, Mr. Jarvis, you have been given a tremendous gift – the great influence that attaches to column space in the community newspaper. But (in a lesson so simple that it’s a staple of comic books) with great power comes great responsibility.

Your proclamation and labeling of your own community as “Felony Way” is the kind of irresponsible rhetoric that can take decades to erase from the public discourse (if you don’t believe this, ask our friends in Tacoma how they’re coming along ridding themselves of the “aroma of Tacoma” tag, nearly 30 years after smelter operations ceased). Thank you for engaging our community – but you can do better.

Steve Edmiston, Des Moines


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