You’ll soon face a choice on your ballot for state Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI). School administrator Erin Jones and Democratic state Rep. Chris Reykdal, both former teachers, were the top two vote-getters in the August primary.
You may recall that I’m a bit dubious about the SPI position. I’m not sure it should remain an elected position, given that the job-holder has little real power. The title doesn’t fit the job, which comes with little executive authority, and should probably be appointed instead. As it stands now, having an elected Superintendent just further confuses the issue of who is in charge of what in education.
But that’s all hypothetical. For now, we need to select the strongest leader we can to be the next SPI. A question posed to the candidates about a lawsuit initiated by the current SPI gives some insight about who that might be.
Reactions to Dorn lawsuit show a difference
Current Superintendent Randy Dorn took some by surprise when he filed suit against seven large school districts for illegally spending voter-approved levy dollars. He’s not wrong; the way districts are spending the levies is illegal. The point of Dorn’s lawsuit is to force the Legislature to finally fix the problem. Neither Reykdal nor Jones support Dorn’s lawsuit, worried that it could throw the K-12 funding debate into further chaos.
While their basic stance is similar, the two candidates’ reactions do show a difference in their outlooks. Reykdal, who is close to the state teachers union and strongly backed by it, sees in the lawsuit a possible conspiracy against the whole notion of collective bargaining.
“Now that said, I’m also told that there’s a parent group stepping up to pick that up should the lawsuit go away. And I’m going to challenge you all to do something. And pardon me for being a little crass here, but I want you to go find the people who are writing the checks that are actually underlying this lawsuit – ‘cause it’s not [Dorn].
“It’s folks who probably want the system to be fully funded, but I’m not convinced of that. What they absolutely want is to get rid of collective bargaining in this state.”
The obvious question being, how does Reykdal know that? He says he doesn’t know who is funding the (at this point, still hypothetical) continuation of the lawsuit, yet he asserts they “absolutely want to get rid of collective bargaining in this state.” That’s quite a claim, based on apparently nothing. (It should be noted, having outside groups fund these types of suits is not unheard of. The state teachers union has paid the bulk of the legal bills for the plaintiffs in the McCleary case.)
Doesn’t know group behind hypothetical lawsuit, but knows what they believe?
The whole thing is odd, but perhaps revealing of a mindset. Reykdal defensively insists he’s not “perfectly aligned” with the state teachers union, but he is strongly inclined in its direction and financially supported by it. It’s odd that he “knows” that a lawsuit intervention, which hasn’t yet been filed, is being backed by a group that is “absolutely” against collective bargaining, even though he doesn’t know what group that is.
He also pledged to his audience that he will “really uncover the purpose of the folks who are writing the checks that are underlying this thing.” What other anti-union conspiracies might he see lurking around every corner? Will he be “absolutely” sure of those too with as little information to go on? His water-carrying for the union against public charter schools was disappointing as well.
I do appreciate some of Reykdal’s stances, including using data and research to improve individual outcomes for students. Big issues around statewide bargaining are coming, however, and his comments on the Dorn lawsuit suggest he’ll be too much the union lackey rather than an independent leader.
That’s less of concern with Jones, who is independent in many ways. The state teachers union and the ed reform community realize she’s not going to be controlled by any group. She’s a strong advocate for family engagement and giving kids options for different learning models. Her experience as an award-winning teacher, a public schools parent, a school administrator and an Assistant Superintendent at OSPI are points in her favor as well.