Category Archives: Legislative & Advocacy

October is Disability History Month!

As the current GHE legislative/ advocacy chair I’d like to briefly write about what Disability History Month is and the work our school is doing to recognize it.


In 2008 the WA State Legislature established Disability History Month as a civic holiday to raise awareness and understanding of disability rights and recognize the contributions disabled people have made to society. Disability History Month is now observed annually and promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities. The month has been recognized in many ways. One of my favorites is the video series, “One Out of Five” that The Office of the Education Ombuds created in 2019. This is one of the videos and features  Shorewood High School graduate Kenassa Sarka.

 
In terms of recognizing the month at GHE, Assistant Principal Lisa Clayton led a staff training on teaching about disabilities. Many teachers are doing lessons around disability history, and some are hopefully using the incredible virtual rooms that our own virtual room rock star Leigh Ann Johnson created for the Seattle Special Education PTSA for Disability History Month this year (children’s virtual roomteens and adults virtual room). The Foxes of a Different Breed group is also planning a talk for the end of the month that will be open to all GH families. 

The Kids’ Disability History and Awareness Virtual Room from the Special Education PTSA


In a WA state report on the 2020/21 school year, 17% of GHE’s students were listed as being disabled— a pretty significant number. I know a lot of us on the Board have disabled kids, and that they are one of the reasons we are involved in the school like we are. To families of disabled kids, having a supportive school community can mean a lot, and I appreciate the work you all do to make this happen.

Thank you,

Victoria

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Concerns Over Next Year’s SPS School Budget Cuts

By: Victoria Bhegani, Legislative Chair, GH PTA Board 

On Monday, March 15, Genesee Hill Elementary staff voted to reject the school budget for 2021/22 on the grounds that the allocations from SPS were insufficient. In this proposed budget, the school will lose five FTE (full-time employment) positions in the coming school year. While the school staff did not disagree with how our principal, Gerrit Kischner, had drawn up the budget based on these cuts, they disagreed with the cuts themselves, particularly in light of the current pandemic. Knowing that the pandemic will still be with us when schools open- perhaps for full time in-person instruction in the fall- the staff questioned how cutting 5 FTE positions would affect the health, safety, and academic success of its returning students. The vote to reject the budget is a protest vote with no obvious remediation that could happen, but in taking this action, the staff at Genesee Hill Elementary school took a stand against the inequity of such an extreme budgetary cut at this time. Their decision was supported by our school administrators and the Genesee Elementary PTA Board. 

After the meeting, fourth grade teacher Mick Phelps wrote a letter to the Seattle School Board on behalf of the Genesee Hill Elementary staff. It explains how the current 2021-22 Genesee Hill Elementary school budget does not support students’ physical safety, provide adequate social and emotional supports for students, or equitably address the disparity of students’ remote learning experiences. At the end of the letter, the staff’s key ask is that the budget be amended and that SPS return its previous funding in order to support essential staff functions. Under the current budget, Genesee Hill Elementary, a school of roughly 600 students, will, among other staff cuts, have its nurse go from a 0.6 FTE to a 0.4 FTE, its office support staff, who perform the role of nurse when the nurse is not there, go from 2.0 FTE to 1.0 FTE, its librarian go from 1.0 FTE to 0.5 FTE, and its academic interventionists, who often support the learning needs of the school’s most vulnerable students, go from 3.4 FTE to 1.2 FTE. 

To support our staff’s advocacy, members of the Genesee PTA board sent the letter to the Seattle School Board directors and to the West Seattle Blog for publication. When asked why our PTA leadership took this action, board co-president Michelle Comazzetto said, “Sharing the letter with the West Seattle community will bring more awareness around school funding, and the difficult choices that school leadership has to make because schools are still not properly funded.  We think that the PTA needs to advocate for our staff and teachers, and because they have reached out to us to help them amplify their voices, we would like to help them with this call to action.”

Genesee Hill Elementary is not the only school in Seattle facing budget cuts next year. Neighboring West Seattle schools like Alki Elementary, Gatewood Elementary, and Madison Middle School are also in similar budget straits. In the face of growing awareness about the negative effects the pandemic has had on our children’s mental health and widespread concern that it has widened the learning gap between students- exacerbating already existent racial and socioeconomic disparities- the budgetary situation of public schools in Seattle is troubling. Is this the best we can do for our students and staff after a worldwide pandemic that has radically disrupted children’s lives, leaving many of them more isolated, lonely, and less connected to schools than they were a year ago? 

If you would like to advocate for Seattle Public Schools to have better funded budgets for next year, contact school district leaders. Personal emails are helpful but also please feel free to copy and paste this form below. 

Seattle School Board President Chandra Hampson

Superintendent Denise Juneau 

SPS Chief Financial Officer JoLynn Berge 

  1. SPS should restore 2021-2022 school budgets and when doing so its first priority should be to protect core staff positions (school administrators, counselors, nurses). Core staff supports the successful operation of schools and their roles do not change vis-à-vis student enrollment.
  2. SPS needs to be transparent and accountable about how it is using and plans to use the pandemic recovery money it receives from the state and the federal government. 

FORM LETTER 

Dear __________, 

As Genesee Hill Elementary families, we are gravely concerned about the cuts our and other SPS schools face in their current 2021-22 school budgets. In this time of pandemic, we worry over student and staff safety in school buildings, students’ mental health, and a widening learning gap that exacerbates already existent racial and socioeconomic disparities between students. In this challenging landscape the bleak budgetary outlook for many schools is troubling. That our schools can face these challenges this fall while having their staff winnowed away seems like an impossible ask. Surely our school district can do better for its students and staff and allocate schools with the resources they need to make the next school year a successful one. 

In light of the above reasons, we ask that you take action to restore 2021-2022 SPS school budget allocations and when doing so, prioritize core staff positions (school administrators, counselors, nurses). We also ask that this school district be transparent and accountable about how it uses the pandemic recovery money it receives from the state and federal government. 

Sincerely,

__________________

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Stories of Genesee Hill

During the legislative season PTAs are being asked to collect and tell the stories that are unfolding at our schools. We are especially interested in stories that show how the issues we voted on in the WSPTA Legislative Assembly shape things on the ground. Then Victoria Bhegani, our Legislative Chair, will share these stories with our legislators and out to the Genesee community. First we collected stories about how families and teachers at Genesee Hill are experiencing remote learning. See all the responses here!

Stories of Genesee Hill: Health Supports

In the second installment of Stories of Genesee Hill, we’re collecting stories about how students access medical and mental health supports through school. Like with the last installment, we’d love to hear about challenges, successes or anything else you’d like to share. We will share these responses with legislators and our school community in the hope that this will raise awareness and encourage policymakers to pass legislation that promotes better access to health supports for children across our state.

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Letter Regarding School Re-Opening

At last Thursday’s GH community meeting, kinder and grade one families spoke about SPS’s plan to re-open school buildings for Pre-K, K, 1st grade, and some Special Ed students. Our Legislative Chair, Victoria Bhegani, wrote the following letter to Superintendent Juneau and Director Harris about key concerns raised at that meeting. 

Dear Superintendent Juneau,

Thank you for the work you have done in our District during this tumultuous time. I am sure neither you nor the School Board took the decision to re-open school buildings to some SPS students on March 1 lightly. I imagine you are hearing feedback about this decision from families in our District. This is such a letter. 

I am writing as the Genesee Hill Elementary PTA’s Legislative Chair on the behalf of our school’s kinder and grade 1 families. Last night our administration and PTA organized a community meeting where these families came together to share thoughts on the subject of school building re-openings. In my role I took notes and am sharing the most commonly expressed concerns with you in the hope that this can inform your decision making in the coming weeks. 

Our parents listed three main concerns in school building re-openings. The first is that students’ classes will be broken up and some teacher assignments will change. A number of parents said they would like to make their choice on whether or not to return their children to school buildings based on whether or not their child can stay with the same teacher. However, because this information is not available to them, they are finding that making this choice by Sunday is challenging. Second, they are worried about safety, safety protocols and the expected disruption that COVID-19 cases will bring. Third, they are worried about the binding nature of Sunday’s survey, whereby they will be locked in to the decision that they make as opposed to having the flexibility to change it in a month’s time. If COVID-19 cases in our region rise, for example, parents who have committed to sending their children back to school for in-person learning will not be able to switch to remote under the current guidelines. 

I hope this letter has given you some insight into our school community’s perspectives. I’ve also included a word cloud made up of the questions of more than seventy families that participated in our discussion. I would like to add that despite the many grey areas right now, the community meeting we had was a positive one. Our principal Gerrit Kischner and vice-principal Elizabeth Dunn have shown excellent leadership at our school during the pandemic, as have our co-PTA presidents. This was very much in evidence last night. Our best thoughts are with you in the months of planning that lie ahead.

Sincerely,

Victoria Bhegani

Legislative Chair, Genesee Hill Elementary PTA 

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WSPTA Legislative Assembly Recap

Washington State PTA Legislative Assembly Recap: Why We PTA, Top 5 Issues, and Formation of Advocacy Committee 

by Victoria Bhegani, Legislative Chair

Despite its virtual format, the energy at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly this past weekend was palpable. Three delegates from the Genesee Hill PTA, Leigh Ann Johnson, Christy Kinskey and myself, attended, and with other delegates from across Washington state, we voted on legislative issues, resolutions, amendments, and principles. 

In this time of pandemic, political unrest, economic hardship and remote learning, our collective voice as PTA has arguably never been more important. The topics we debated and voted on at the Assembly, like climate change mitigation, anti-racism, and the prevention of gun violence and suicide, reflected this urgency. Equity concerns were at the forefront too, with a resolution to equitably identify highly capable students and another to better fund services for students with disabilities. And with Washington facing a state budget shortfall of 4.4 billion dollars in the coming year, the resolution to preserve education funding felt critical and necessary.  

In every even-numbered year, such as 2020, the WSPTA votes in 5 top legislative issues that will make up its short-term platform. Over the next two years it will focus on these issues in the legislature. The voting to select these issues is done by delegates, all of whom represent WA PTAs. Christy, Leigh Ann and I were grateful to be guided in our voting by the survey results from GH family respondents. In the survey, families were asked to choose the five issues they felt were most important to address over the next two years. 

These are the results from the 42 surveys we received for GH respondents:  

  1. Increase Access to Nursing, Mental Health and SEL staff 
  2. Supports and Funding for Students with Disabilities and their Families 
  3. Support Students and Preserve Education Funding 
  4. Equitable Identification of Highly Capable Students
  5. Prevent and Reduce Gun Violence and Suicide 

Here are the Top 5 issues PTA delegates voted in at WSPTA Assembly:

  1. Increase Access to Nursing, Mental Health and SEL staff 
  2. Support Students and Preserve Education Funding 
  3. Increase Educational Equity by Closing the Digital Divide 
  4. Supports and Funding for Students with Disabilities and their Families 
  5. Prevent and Reduce Gun Violence and Suicide 

The increasing access to nursing and SEL staff resolution received the most votes from both our school and at the Assembly, and it came from none other than our neighboring school, Alki Elementary! To learn about the inspiring process of how their advocacy committee got this proposal in the mix, read this article from the Alki PTA Blog

Now that the Assembly has wrapped up, the question we’re confronted with is: What work do we do to advocate for our schools and our students, moving forward? The legislative season will begin mid-December and in the coming months, one thing PTAs are going to be asked to do is collect and tell the stories that are unfolding at our schools. The stories we will especially interested in are the ones that show how the issues we voted on shape things on the ground. For example, we might look for narratives about how children at Genesee Hill are experiencing remote learning. Or we might want to tell the story of how children at our school access mental health and how this is funded. 

To begin this work and to prepare for other actions for the legislative season, I am forming an Advocacy Committee at our school. If you would like to be part of it (please, please!) email me at legislativechair@geneseehillpta.org We will hold a meeting in the coming month and even if you are only interested in being on an email list, please still contact me. I hope to hear from you! 

Appendix: Genesee Hill Elementary Survey Results

Section 1- Issues (Ranked by %favorable)

Mean Score%Favorable Issue
4.595%   ISSUE #2. Increase Access to Nursing, Mental Health, and Social Emotional Learning Staff
4.388%   ISSUE #1.  Safe School Plans and Emergency Preparedness
4.3886%   ISSUE #7. Support Students and Preserve Education Funding
4.383%   ISSUE #4. Prevent and Reduce Gun Violence and Suicide
4.2681%   ISSUE #6. Supports and Funding for Students with Disabilities and Their Families
4.0576%   ISSUE #8. Increasing Educational Equity by Closing the Digital Divide
3.971%   ISSUE #3. Equitable Identification and Services for Highly Capable Students
3.971%   ISSUE #5. Mitigating the Adverse Impacts of Climate Change

Section 2 – Top Five, listed above in body of post
Section 3 – Legislative Principles

Mean
Score
%Favorable   Issue
4.2142857186%   Anti-racism, anti-discrimination, anti-oppression

Section 4 – Resolutions for Consideration (ranked by %Favorable)

Mean Score%FavorableIssue
4.697%Resolution #4. Social Emotional Learning and Student Success
4.489%Resolution #3. Equitable Access to Recess, Play, Unstructured Time, and Physical Activity
4.3684%Resolution #6. Dismantling Institutional and Systemic Racism
4.0582%Resolution #8. Supporting K-12 Career and Technical Education
4.279%Resolution #5. Restorative Justice and Improving Student Outcomes
4.0574%Resolution #1. Cultural Access Programs and Expanded Learning Opportunities
4.274%Resolution #7. Improving Access and Outcomes in Special Education
4.0571%Resolution #2. School Nutrition, Breakfast and Lunch Policies
3.8970%Amended Resolution 11.28 Mitigating the Health Effects of Climate Change
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Make Sure Your Voice is Heard at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly

On October 24-25, PTA delegates and members from all over Washington state will join together virtually at the WSPTA Legislative Assembly. Delegates will choose the Top 5 WSPTA legislative priorities for the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, and also vote on resolutions and principles.

There are two ways anyone can participate:

  1. To help your three PTA delegates from Genesee Hill vote according to what priorities are important to you and your family, please fill out this survey by Oct. 9. The delegates want to hear from you!
  2. If you’d like to attend the assembly as a member, you can register here until Oct. 8 for $25. Be sure your PTA membership is up to date if you plan to attend. Only delegates can vote, but any PTA member can attend to listen in. Registration also gives you access to numerous classes on advocacy topics that start on Oct. 6.

If you have any questions, please email Victoria Bhegani, the PTA Legislative Chair, at legislativechair@geneseehillpta.org.

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How does the education system work here in Washington and how can families get involved with it?

 From Genesee Hill Legislative Chair, Victoria Bhegani

In these past weeks, with the reopening of schools, there has been a lot of buzz, and understandably some confusion, about just who makes up the policies and practices that shape our children’s education and who to speak to about what we want to advocate for our children. As the Legislative Chair for the GH PTA Board this school year, I am just beginning to dive into understanding how these processes work. They are complicated! So please bear with me as I give a brief overview of the what’s and who’s of this, and then wrap up with some suggestions on how to get involved and who to contact in case you do want to reach out.

In Washington State, K-12 education is shaped by a number of forces, including federal officials, the governor, city mayors, state board of education administrators, the state superintendent, state agencies, school board superintendents, school board directors, teachers’ unions and- particularly in these times of pandemic- public health officials. Some of the key players in this at the state level are the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and at our regional level, the Seattle School District (SPS) and our local teachers’ union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA). In a very basic nutshell, education policies are often created by the SBE and the OSPI, who work closely together. School districts then must adhere to these policies, though there might be flexibility in how they do so. Policy implementation might also be changed by union negotiations.  

For example, with instructional hours, our state requires that students be in school for a minimum of 180 days of the school year and that elementary school students fulfill at least 1,000 instructional hours. In the re-opening of schools for 2020, the SBE has not changed these required hours. However, it has given school districts flexibility in how they implement them, be it through synchronous or asynchronous learning, or potentially outdoor learning. It’s not all up to the District though. Before school opened this fall, SPS also had to negotiate how these hours would be fulfilled with SEA.

As you can see, it’s complex. There are a number of pieces trying to move together to make something work, and in these times especially, what they’re trying to make work is no small thing. Our education system is trying to keep kids and staff safe this year, provide some security for vulnerable populations, keep staff employed, and engage our children in learning new things, all in the wildly different educational landscape of remote learning.  

It also bears noting that our state education system is underfunded, as was ruled in McCleary v. Washington in 2012. In the concluding remarks on the case the judge found, “State funding [for education] is not ample, it is not stable and it is not dependable.” While in 2017 the state introduced the “McCLeary Fix” to fulfill its paramount duty to fund education, despite good intentions, the education system continues to face funding shortfalls. These shortfalls affect how our system works at every level- districts struggle to meet their budgets and areas left especially vulnerable are special education, art education, teacher compensation and staffing for positions like nurses and school counselors. 

Further, in our regional politics, school board directors are unpaid. While Seattle city councilors receive a yearly average salary of $130,000 based on their hourly rate, and have up to four assistants working for them, our school board directors receive no salaries and have no paid staff to support their work. When you consider this landscape, it is not hard to wonder why processes do not work as well as they may. 

So what can you do about this?  

Get involved with the PTA

  • Join the Genesee Hill PTA. Your membership supports not only our school PTA but our state PTA. Stronger PTAs are PTAs that can better advocate for better schools and better school systems.
  • You can also learn about broader PTA initiatives by following the Seattle Special Education PTSA and the Seattle Council PTSA.
  • Give input about what should be the WA PTAs legislative priorities for the next two years by filling out this survey.

Advocate for adequate state funding

Give feedback about school re-openings this fall 

WA State

Seattle Region 

Parents, caregivers and families have a voice in all of this. If you want to see the school district acting with more innovation around how our students learn, you need to speak up and show up. So much of this depends on the legal understanding of responsibilities to our kids. Contacting your legislators and school and city council members, while acting in partnership with your PTA, is the best way for us to advocate for our children’s education. 

While these last six months have been challenging for Genesee Hill, many of our school families have been stepping up to engage. Our PTA Board has positions filled that sat empty for years and people are talking about public education and equity in ways many have never done before. Good things can come of this- things that help both our school and our public education system. Please contact me at legislativechair@geneseehillpta.org with any comments or questions you have or join me in a letter writing campaign to our legislators later this month. I’m rooting for our school staff who are navigating so much new territory and working hard to do the best for our kids. The advocacy work we do supports them, and I hope you’ll join me with it. 

References

  1. “Court’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” King County Superior Court, CONCLUSION, 2010-02-04, retrieved 2020-09-12
  2. McCleary v. Washington84362-7 (majority)(Washington Supreme Court 2012-01-05)
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BTA IV Levy – Vote on February 9th!

logoLevies are essential tools in raising the funds necessary to run our public school system here in Seattle. We encourage our membership to educate themselves regarding how the upcoming Levy – BTA IV will impact your child’s school. Learn more about this levy and how its funds will be utilized via the Schools First website: http://www.schoolsfirstseattle.org/.

If you’re a registered voter, you should have received your ballot. Make sure to vote by February 9!

VOTERS: make your vote count! Mail in your ballot postmarked by February 9th – or return your ballot in person to the following locations.

24-Hour Drop Box (closes at 8 p.m. on 2/9) 

King County Administration Building, 500 4th Avenue, Seattle, 98104

Drop Vans (Feb 6, 10-5, Feb 8, 10-5, Feb 9, 10-8)

West Seattle Stadium, 4432 35th Avenue SW, Seattle, 98126

White Center Greenbridge Library, 9720 8th Avenue SW, Seattle, 98106

 

 

 

 

 

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Show them what 29 looks like! – November 18 School Board Meeting

A community group of parents and educators has organized attendance at the next SPS Board Meeting scheduled for November 18, 4:15 p.m. @ the Stanford Center  (2445 3rd Ave S.) to keep the pressure on regarding cuts and class sizes – accountability – and keeping kids/schools as top priority (rather than central office raises, etc.)
There are two sign ups at the link below:
1. one to get 29 kids to the school board meeting (illustrating our current class sizes)
2. the second to get 12 parents/teachers to give 2 minute public testimony on the issue

 

Contact for questions: Holly Hughes (P1 parent) +1 206 660 7540

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