Letters to the Editor
Not Enough Space for Answers
To the Editor,
As a candidate running for re-election to local public office, I am used to being asked by groups to provide written answers to important policy questions. This is a great way for the public to learn what and how candidates think, and to compare among candidates for the same office. At its best, this question and answer format helps move us beyond shallow sound bites and ideological postures that too often replace genuine political discourse.
And that is precisely why I was so disappointed when the Whatcom Watch asked me and other candidates to answer three important questions, but limited each answer to 100 words. To put that into context, the end of this sentence marks 120 words so far.
Fundamental reforms to the initiative process statewide? 100 words for your answer, please, even though the Whatcom Watch’s own brief background statement was 117 words. Public waterfront access and native fishing rights? 100 words. What is your view of the draft waterfront plans, and how do you think they need to be changed, and why? 100 words or less. I would have been grateful for the opportunity to say a little more.
By limiting candidate to such short answers, both candidates and the public are robbed of the opportunity to move beyond generalities and into the complicated details and contending elements that are the hallmark of important issues. Worse yet, short answers allow candidates to avoid specifics and thereby avoid scrutiny.
For the record, this letter is 251 words in length.
Editor's Note: Whatcom Watch recognizes it is unreasonable to expect candidates to answer the kinds of complex questions that we put to them in 100 words or less. We will ensure we allow longer responses in the future. Thank you to Michael Lilliquist for making this point.
Thanks Fellow Kindred Spirit
To the Editor:
Thank you [Wendy Harris] for your caring article about Canada geese and their fate. I notice and care about loss of animal life here locally, especially Lake Padden. I swim there a lot. No more otter sightings, a few ducks and Canada geese, more fisherman/picnicker garbage, people harvesting lake snails, very few eagle/osprey sightings now … nearly empty scenery. Too many human pressures and few really ready to address this — almost none now compared to the 70s. Thanks fellow kindred spirit.
Vote No On School Bond
To the Editor,
As a parent, neighbor, and tax payer I ask you to please vote “no” on the upcoming Bellingham School District bond measure. Why? Because it is best for our kids and our community. The $160,000,000 bond measure is an example of how the District has taken our past support for granted and stopped listening to parents, neighbors, and tax payers.
They have not listened to parents. The School District has developed a culture where they decide what is best for our kids, for our families. Have they asked our opinion? No. Instead, the District created an elaborate Facilities Planning Task Force process which gave the impression of public input. I was part of that process, was it inclusive? No, it was dismissive and misleading. Task Force members were hand-picked to support the District’s own opinions. Anyone expressing opinions counter to their pre-conceived decisions were politely disregarded. “Sorry, the comment period is during the holiday break… We only want to hear what you DO like about our plan…Please comment only on the options we have provided.” What little honest input we submitted appears to have been shelved as they moved forward with their predetermined decisions.
They have not listened to neighbors. The School District operates to serve the community; therefore, they should listen to community needs and reflect community values. Instead, they made their own decisions unilaterally and in isolation. As a result, their bond measure does not work well with neighborhoods, transportation networks, city planning objectives, or families. Do we want to abandon our neighborhood schools, the hearts of the Columbia, Cornwall Park, Southside, and Happy Valley neighborhoods? No. Do we want only mega elementary schools that are pushed to the outskirts of town? No. Do we want to discourage walkable schools and increase bussing? No.
They have not listened tax payers. The bond measure is an irresponsible use of tax payer funds. Because of our long history of supporting bond measures, the District has grown comfortable asking the tax payers to pay more and more for capital projects. They no longer ask “Is this a wise use of funds?” In this case, they hope to make a small reduction in operational costs by spending an exorbitant amount on structures. Why would we, the tax payers, want to spend huge sums to save pennies? Why does it make financial sense to abandon Larrabee Elementary (which needs minor repairs) only to necessitate a larger rebuild of Happy Valley Elementary? We all agree Sehome High School needs upgrades, but does it necessitate a $73,000,000 rebuild? Do fancy new buildings improve classroom instruction or decrease class size?
I am a parent, a neighbor, a tax payer, and a supporter of public schools. Please join me in telling the District they must listen, be inclusive, reflect our values, and better manage our money. Vote “no” on the bond measure until they give us a measure that we can support.
I Am Voting Against the Bellingham School Bond
To the Editor,
I have never voted against a school bond. This bond I will be voting against.
Our teachers, our educators, are afraid to express their thinking. They are afraid of our locally hired and paid administrative power people. Teachers are afraid to speak their minds about being against this bond.
The Superintendent of Bellingham Public Schools (with a $176,000 salary, higher than the Governor’s) and his administrative team (also highly paid — read on) seem to have so instilled fear in our local teachers that the teachers are afraid to write in our voters pamphlet or in letters to news editors against the bond that they are afraid to be identified. I determine this from the statements of about ten teachers who showed up at a meeting to write the statement against the bond but who also refused to be identified. Apparently these were the teachers brave enough to show up at the meeting. However, they would not sign their names to the statement. They just wanted to anonymously help with it.
The bond is providing needless administrative wants, not child needs; yet even retired teachers are so trained to speak in vague double-speak Orwellian ways that they reject honest, straightforward language. The teachers will not sign their names to a statement against the bond because they are afraid their signatures will jeopardize their jobs and/or connections.
For example: when I titled my version of the statement as “The Statement Against the $160,000,000 Bond,” several educators helping with the project said “That phrase is too negative.” Another added “I have worked for the schools for too long to be that negative.”
Wow, if it’s not a statement against, what will we call it? I wondered.
My experience has been more with colleges and Universities, so I expected some Academic Freedom. Don’t these public school educators have any Academic Freedom? Colleges and Universities must have an Academic Freedom statement in order to be accredited. This is a statement that ensures that professors may speak the truth as they see it and a statement that must be honored by administrators. Institutions must prove that this statement is respected. It is a statement that allows professors to teach the Truth in whatever way they deem appropriate. If institutions do not have Academic Freedom, they, technically, are denied accreditation. Without accreditation, student degrees are deemed near worthless. Without such a statement, thinking is inhibited.
It is no wonder, I thought, that high school children are skipping high school, and heading to college, where they can speak the truth as they see it and still be given respect.
A teacher at the meeting stated that soon s/he expected that there will be no high schools because students are opting to go to Running Start where they can get credit for high school as well as college. Well, I thought, I do believe my daughter dropped high school to go to college because her thinking was more respected. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind in college but could not in high school.
Yes, teachers are trained to speak in a politically correct manner that can not criticize public school leaders or their ideas, no matter how fallacious.
So if you, reader, see mild, vague letters, against the $160,000,000 bond or read the vague “Con” statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet, don’t wonder why. Our public schools lack Academic Freedom. (By the way, “Con” was deemed less aggressive than “Statement Against.”)
In frustration with the fumbled group attempt to write a statement for the Voters’ Pamphlet, I quit my volunteering and have written this letter to Whatcom Watch.
For those interested in the $160,000.000 bond, the following is the 200 word statement I prepared (only 200 words allowed) for the Voters Pamphlet.
[I add further explanation in brackets and italics for Whatcom Watch readers.]
Statement Against Bellingham School District’s $160,000,000 Bond
VOTE NO! Public input does not support this bond. [Read on.]
Sehome High School does not need $73,000,000 to build anew. Infrastructure remodeling could encompass cold hallways for enclosure and correct other problems. [Sehome was built in 1966 to last for 75 years. (Hue Beattie, Happy Valley Neighborhood Association (HVNA) Newsletter, summer 2013). Why build anew when monies could be spent on more essential needs?]
Since the Civic Field already has astro-turf, five million dollars for high school astro turf is ridiculous. [How many teachers and/or their helpers could be hired to reduce class sizes for five million dollars? Why give this money to football?]
The $17,000,000 administration, two acre building rebuild at $200/sq. foot to house more mid management staff is ridiculous. [Why aren’t we supporting the arts, technical programs, and smaller schools? This is a corporate takeover bond supported by administrators earning salaries that are too high to understand voters. The administrators appear to be dictating their authority: (see sidebar on salaries and benefits:
An all school $4,000,000 kitchen would add transportation costs and make special needs difficult to accommodate. [Why did we place kitchens in all of our schools and why do some classes teach students gardening if they won’t even get to enjoy fresh foods?]
WTA could be meeting many student needs to reduce transportation costs. [Why aren’t the school needs and city planners working together to share needs, desires, and expenses? Currently, the School Board is ignoring the Happy Valley Neighborhood plan. They probably ignore other neighborhood plans too.]
Larrabee School closure forces Happy Valley School rebuild for $19,000,000 to accommodate displaced Larrabee students . There was no community support for the closure. This bond would make it happen. [This point is a primary reason teachers fear for their jobs in expressing opposition to this bond. Over 100 parents, teachers, and neighbors came to show their objection to closing Larrabee, which this bond would insure; 35 speakers gave their limited three minutes to tell why closing Larrabee was a bad idea; the School Board, as required by law, listened and all but Dr.Stockburger ignored the public: the schools closure was voted on without even letting the public know when and where the vote happened. Within 24 hours the board voted its closure. Now children will need to be bussed to Happy Valley or walk on unsafe, no sidewalks, one lane, streets. Larrabee was overhauled, earthquake proofed for $1.5 million dollars just three years ago. Baker and board ignored that research has shown that small schools are either more successful or as successful as large schools, especially grade schools. They ignored that children and parents love one of the oldest schools in Bellingham. Young children need the secure environment of a small school close to their homes.]
Citizen incomes have not increased, yet added expenses, such as this bond would create, would cause stress for parents, thus more stressed and difficult to teach children. [“…current school bonded indebtedness at $80 million and about 20% of the homes with mortgages still underwater, it seems like a poor time for this [bond] to be approved.” (Hue Beattie, HVNA Newsletter, summer 2013)]
Superintendent Baker with his $231, 979 yearly earnings may not think $160,000,000 is too much, but Bellingham citizens should.
Vote NO. [I, like many opposed to this bond, have never voted no on a school bond ever before. The School Board is full of good people who volunteer their efforts to be on the board. That does not keep them from being overly manipulated by administrators. Their volunteer efforts do not keep them from seeing the big picture, especially when teachers are afraid to speak their minds.]
A List of Administrative Salaries and Benefits
Superintendent Baker $231, 979 (with benefits)
Deputy Assistant Superintendent $135, 509
2nd Deputy Assistant Superintendent $131,561
Other Administrator $128,011
Another Administrator $128,011
Four Secondary Principals (avg.) $124,892*
(salary list by Hue Beattie, HVNA Newsletter, summer 2013)]