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Friday, August 8, 2014

Unions Claim "Swiftboating" of Their Preschool Measure

Posted by on Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 8:16 AM

The mayor hangs out with preschool kids the day of the big city preschool announcement.
  • City of Seattle
  • The mayor hangs out with preschool kids the day of the big city preschool announcement.
The mayor and city council's decision to put funding for a pilot version of a public preschool program before voters this fall has become a hell of a lot more controversial than anyone might've guessed.

I mean, universal pre-K, of which this city pilot is a hopeful precursor, is one of the most widely supported public policy measures out there, with the goal of, y'know, helping children succeed in life. The Children! Think of The Children!

But this is still politics. And with two unions who represent preschool teachers and child-care workers not feeling heard by the city and thus gearing up to pass their own semi-related initiative—that's I-107—it's been a lot more shit talk than kumbaya around here. (As you'll recall: I-107's backers thought their measure would go to the ballot as a stand-alone attempt to require higher pay and more centralized training of the city's preschool and child-care workers, but the city council has set the two up as opposing measures on the ballot, a move that caused the I-107 campaign to take the city to court.)

The current drama: The Yes on I-107 campaign, called Yes for Early Success, alleges that someone at the city deliberately leaked a legally privileged memo to the Seattle Times, spurring an editorial in the newspaper the next day that used secret legal and fiscal analyses done for the city to slam I-107 as being expensive and potentially opening the city up to liability. Whatever was in those memos was strategically leaked and used to promote the city's preschool measure at the expense of I-107, charges the union campaign, and they'd like the opportunity to refute these analyses. The problem: When Yes for Early Success requested to see the city's paperwork, the city refused.

"We've officially asked for and were denied our Public Disclosure Requests to see these memos," says Heather Weiner of Yes for Early Success. The city's opinion? The documents are exempt from disclosure under attorney-client privilege, which the city says it has not waived even though the Seattle Times got a peek. "For all we know, the city's numbers are based on yesterday's winning lottery numbers," gripes Weiner, who wishes she could actually see how the city arrived at them.

The difference between the two sides is vast.

Yes for Success fully admits their initiative will cost the city some money, but they argue that how much will largely be up to the city council if the measure passes; as far as they're concerned, all it mandates are some city staff hours and then a few hundred thousand to a couple of million dollars a year, depending on how you do it, to run a training institute for child-care workers. That's not nothing, for sure, but they think it's worth it. But the city's argument—which again, few people have actually seen—is that it will cost upward of $100 million a year, or 10 percent of the city's general fund budget. And they also say it could open the city up to litigation—but we don't know what kind, because those memos are still under wraps. That sticker shock/lawsuit fear combo is a powerful argument against I-107, and one the backers of the city's preschool plan have already used against I-107.

Yes for Early Success has filed an ethics complaint with the city, in part over that leak, which they continue to allege was deliberate and political—in their ethics complaint, they call the city's behavior "the swift-boating of I-107."

And hey, leaks are part of life! We love a good leak. We live for leaks! But it's interesting to see exactly how they happen and how the city responds. In this case, City Attorney Pete Holmes posited in an e-mail to staff, which Yes for Early Success was able to obtain via public disclosure request, that "I don't believe we asked the Council members to return the hard the copies at the end of Monday's executive session." Translation: We didn't collect all the paper copies of those secret memos after our closed-door meeting to discuss legal matters, and one of them walked out the door and into the hands of a reporter. In the same e-mail, Holmes says he confirmed that no one in his office was a source of the leak, leaving only council members and their staffers as potential culprits. (Or, you know, memos just getting up and walking away of their own accord.)

In another post-leak e-mail, a city lawyer politely requests that the Seattle Times please return their copies of the memo; you can almost hear the laughter from the ST newsroom through the computer screen.

I'd ask Tim Burgess, Godfather of Preschool™, what he thinks of all this drama, but he's out of town. Suffice it to say: This preschool showdown isn't settling down anytime soon. We already have leaks, ethics complaints, court filings... maybe we can get a shoving match or two? The parks district campaign got a shoving match—it's only fair.


Comments (9) RSS

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The Mayor's plan levies a property tax (as it should).

Maybe the ulterior motive is to avoid that.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on August 8, 2014 at 8:53 AM · Report this
IIRC, Burgess is a charter school fan and good buddies with the ed reform/privatization crowd in Seattle (TFA, Alliance for Ed, LEV, etc). I'd definitely be questioning his plans.
Posted by StuckInUtah on August 8, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this
This all feels very heavy-handed. I can speak from the perspective of someone who writes about Seattle Schools. SPS is getting a very big push from the City (and others) to get on-board with the City's plan. The City (especially some on the Council) continue to NOT believe that the district has a real capacity management problem and there is no extra room for more preschool.

As well, the district's legally funded mandate is K-12, not preschool (except for Special Ed pre-K). The City presumes that the district has the manpower and resources for their project. They really don't.

As well, when Burgess and his 40-member posse went on their multi-city trip earlier this year to look at preschool efforts in other cities, SPS paid for 5 staffers to go. One didn't go and the district lost those dollars. Others used Title One funds, baseline funds and even facilities funds to go on the trip. Going to visit preschools IS not the use for these funds.

I also note, from public disclosure e-mails from the City, that when one Board member - writing as a private citizen to the City Council on the preschool initiative - raised real concerns about the initiative, City staff and Burgess tut-tutted that she needed "educating."

That kind of push, that kind of we-know-what-is-best attitude is not good and I am finding myself less and less willing to support the City's efforts.
Posted by westello on August 8, 2014 at 9:03 AM · Report this
So who at City Council leaked the memo illegally? I'm guessing the Godfather of Preschool sent one of his guys over there. Shouldn't Holmes be investigating this since he's freed up staff time by not prosecuting pot tix anymore?
Posted by Larkshead42 on August 8, 2014 at 10:42 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
When they polled me on this, I never thought they would use it to kill 107 funding their unfunded Pre-K
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 8, 2014 at 11:03 AM · Report this
LaborGoon 6
In the interest of "sunshine" and the public disclosure principles they claim to hold so dear, The Seattle Times should share the city's I-107 fiscal-analysis memos with the public. They needn't disclose their source, but there is no reason to assist the city with its bogus attorney-client privilege excuse. Unless of course, The Seattle Times ALSO feels the numbers in the memo won't withstand public scrutiny... Hmmm.
Posted by LaborGoon on August 8, 2014 at 1:46 PM · Report this
What Westello said.

It should also be noted that the city expected our K-12 system to fund a junket around the country and the state is failing to fund K-12 and classrooms are horribly underfunded.

Burgess and the Family and Education Committee have been withholding Family and Education dollars from extremely high poverty schools.

Burgess wants to fund preschool teachers the same as K-12 teachers. I applaud this effort, but I don't see the dollars.

The Union plan will fund professional development for 4500 teachers and will increase teacher pay to $15/ hr. The city's plan will send 2000 pre-k children to school. The plan is considered "universal", but it isn't. The union plan would give 4500 teachers skills that will pay-off for many many years.

Lastly, Prop 1 passed and the city will have dollars to fund professional development for the union's plan and provide preschool workers with higher levels of pay.

Posted by Watching on August 8, 2014 at 3:17 PM · Report this

I really hope Anna Minard stays on the I 107 and leaking of information to the Seattle Times because funny things happen down at City Hall.

You might also want to look into the fact that the homeless received a rapid rejection of the Federal Reserve Building. The Downtown Association wants the Federal Reserve Building to be used as a PREK-5. What does Tim Burgess and City Council members think about rapid rejection of Fed. Bld to homeless?

Ed Murray and Burgess REALLY want their preschool initiative to pass. Afterall, it is a big item with the Democrats. As a matter of fact, Murray met with the U. S. Secretary of Education- Arne Duncan- and other pooh-bahs in Washington DC. At what length would Murray and Burgess work to further their agenda?…

The Chamber of Commerce has supported Burgess/ Murray in their efforts. As a matter of fact, the delegation went to Washington DC to promote their pre k plan:…

Please stay on this story Anna. I smell stink.
Posted by PreK-Gate on August 8, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
Why are there behind the scene mechaninations to hault I 107? Ask to see the BERC report and you will find that the city will pay the PFA Director $200K, Assistant PFA Director $170K, Finance Manaer &170K, Data and Eval. Mr $169K, Ourtreach coordinator $156K, Quality Control Mgr.$156K, Strategic Advisor $144K and the list goes on.

Is it too much to provide workers with $15/hr. Business as usual at old City Hall.
Posted by OldCityHall on August 8, 2014 at 9:29 PM · Report this

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