Thursday, February 7, 2013

UPDATED: This time, East Valley School District's bond campaign is intentionally stealthy

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Last time, when the East Valley School District tried to pass a bond, the voters rejected it.  Last time, they tried everything.

Ruth Gifford, who spearheaded the last bond campaign, estimates they spent $15,000 on the last campaign, putting up billboards, and yard signs, mailing fliers, waiving on street corners and going door-to-door to convince voters to support their local school district. But it didn’t work.

“With the mail-in ballot, it’s just easier to generate no,” Gifford says. “You’re going, well, I really don’t know a lot about it, I won’t make waves, I’ll just vote no.”

This time, they’re doing none of that. There’s no campaign. The district has sent out a fact sheet, and Gifford says there’s been a small amount of word-of-mouth organization at the individual school level, but compared to past bond and levy campaigns, the “Yes” side has been quiet.

That’s purposeful.

“We’re trying to keep it quiet. Not attract a big No campaign,” Gifford says.

By keeping their efforts personal and behind-the-scenes, she hopes the opposition won’t attract a lot of publicity. She’s called 18 or 19 of her friends, but expects victory to be an uphill battle.

“Last time, we put out a lot of information, and people took that and twisted the facts and turned that into suppositions and in some cases downright misinformation,” East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel says.

In 2011, Glenewinkel (pictured above) began moving the district toward a K-8 and high school system, eliminating middle school. He pointed to research showing students struggling and falling behind with the transitions in middle school. But critics predicted it would just bring middle school problems – drugs, profanity, fights – down to the grade schools.

When over 60 percent voted against the bond in 2011, critics saw it as a mandate against the district’s direction. But Glenewinkel continued to move forward. Today, he cites stats showing on-time graduation rates and attendance soaring, and suspensions plummeting. (So far, it appears to have had no dramatic effect either way on test scores.)

Art Tupper, a former teacher who’s sparred repeatedly with Glenewinkel, isn’t convinced.

“I don’t know if it’s truthful,” Tupper says about Glenewinkel’s statistics. “I’m more than willing to sit down with a group of people and talk about what will raise reading and math scores.”

But he doesn’t think the bond proposal, which would renovate several schools, replace field turf, build a performing art center, and add new gymnasiums, has much to do with helping students learn to read and write.

“[The bond supporters are trying] to keep the vote down to just the people who are for it — that’s what I believe they want,” Tupper says.

The group perennially against bonds, Citizens for Responsible Taxation on the other hand, has been running a campaign, and has sent out mailers. Citizens for Accountable Education, an East Valley group that has opposed the shift away from middle school, has been putting up signs

Glenewinkel says he’s tried to contact people active on the Citizens for Accountable Education Facebook page, but hasn’t always been able to find out who they are. (By law, district resources cannot be used to encourage voting for or against a bond.)

“How do you deal with and have the debate with people who are hiding behind pseudonyms and are unwilling to come forward?” Glenewinkel says.

The district narrowly passed their maintenance and operation levy this fall, but bonds require 60 percent.  As a result, the district hasn’t passed one since 1996. The deadline to get in ballots for the latest attempt is February 12th.

UPDATE: John Glenewinkel wanted to share some additional thoughts and clarifications, which we've posted in full.

Daniel:   I would like to comment on your blog regarding our bond.   I think it is important that you understand that while I am the leader of and a champion for the move to a PK-8 system the decision to make this move was made by an elected school board that was acting on the recommendations of a citizen advisory committee.  

The committee was open to anyone who wanted to participate.  The meetings to review our status as a district and develop a plan for improving outcomes for students were held over a several month period.   The final recommendation was made based on the belief that the PK-8 system would provide the shake-up ( seismic change)  necessary to create an outstanding learning environment while creating a break from habits that  had us stuck as a mediocre school district.

There has been a school board election since the decision to move to a PK-8 system was enacted.   There were two school board members who were up for election.  Both members up for election were part of the board that made the decision to move to PK-8.  Both stood for re-election and were overwhelmingly returned to office.   

I will not take the time to explain all of the benefits, many of which were not anticipated, that have been realized by this move but the move has not only improved student learning it has allowed us to continue and improve programs.   For example:  We are the only district in the area offering free all-day kindergarten to all of our families.   We are the only district in the area offering 4th grade orchestra.  We now offer 4th and 5th grade sports programs and we do not charge for middle level students to participate in sports. 

Anyone who wants to check any of the statistics that are cited for accuracy can look them up on the website of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
 It is my sincere hope that the voters of East Valley look at the facts related to this issue and decide based on those facts what they want for their school district.  Some of those facts include:  We are making steady improvement in academics.   The East Valley School District has not made major improvements to most schools since 1988.   The last bond that was passed in 1996 has been payed off.  
As always people are welcome to contact me at work  924-1830, at home 928-0519 or via e-mail, glenewinkelj@evsd,org

A fact sheet, published by the district, follows:

East Valley School District Bond Fact Sheet by inlanderweb

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Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...