Charter schools and accountability

I must respond to one of the assumptions Geov Parrish made in his discussion of charter schools [Impolitics, "Political education," 9/7].


". . . they have spawned 'cookie cutter' schools with highly scripted lessons and a revolving door for teaching staff."

Charter schools and accountability

I must respond to one of the assumptions Geov Parrish made in his discussion of charter schools [Impolitics, "Political education," 9/7]. That is that Paul Allen and his financial interests would not necessarily benefit. Though charter schools in most states are chartered by nonprofit organizations, many are turned over to for-profit firms such as Edison for day-to-day management. There is no prohibition of this practice in the initiative we vote on in November.

In Michigan, the state-mandated evaluation study done by Western Michigan University found that there was virtually no accountability for the fees paid to management organizations. Several charter schools had administrative fees in the 30 percent range, about three times the administrative cost in regular public schools. Test scores of charter students lag behind comparable students in regular schools. Because the for-profit managed charters rely on young, inexperienced, and underpaid teachers, they have spawned "cookie cutter" schools with highly scripted lessons and a revolving door for teaching staff. The same study found teaching staff in charters had little confidence that they could fulfill their mission.

Most disturbing is the "balkanization" taking place. Schools such as the Arab-American school are being formed by ethnic and religious groups under the guise of being nonprofit/nonreligious and are segregating communities by "choice" into schools made up entirely of a single racial, religious or ethnic group. Can we afford this type of divisiveness in an era of increasing diversity? I think not.

Before casting your vote on 729, check out the opposition position (supported by the League of Women Voters, Special Education Coalition, and other groups) at You will find that the reality of charter schools is far from the rhetoric we'll be hearing for the next two months.



Charters and Allen

Geov Parrish's column last week regarding Initiative 729 and Charter Public Schools [Impolitics, "Political education," 9/7] contained a number of inaccuracies and misconceptions. It is just not true that charter schools take away the best students and most involved parents. Evidence from states in which charters currently are operating show that low-income and minority students enroll at a greater rate than their percentage of the population. A recent study by the US Department of Education documents that reading levels among poor and minority students in charter elementary schools have improved dramatically. Further, in areas with charter schools, test scores have improved for all students in public education, not just for those enrolled in charter public schools.

Charter schools are public schools, open and free to all. They operate with the same state per-pupil funding as every other public school. The state public school funds are directed to the student, not the school. Therefore, if a child is in a regular public school or in a charter public school, the same funding levels apply.

Charter public schools will not drain away the most innovative teachers. It is true that charter schools tend to be started by innovative teachers, but I don't consider that a disadvantage, especially since students and parents would have the ability to choose what school to attend.

The column also made a number of charges against Paul Allen that are unfair and untrue. Mr. Allen can no more buy an election, or a vote, than any other citizen. He didn't buy mine on the stadium, and my support for I-729 is based on my belief that this initiative is a plus for all public school students. The fact that Mr. Allen has generously chosen to financially support this initiative and Initiative 728 demonstrates his commitment to improving public education, just as his many philanthropic endeavors have done in our region. Allen's record as a benefactor of education at all levels is commendable and well-known.

I encourage Mr. Parrish and others who share his misconceptions to check the facts. Please go to our Web site at to get the whole story about charter public schools so you can make an informed decision on November 7.



Charters and certification

Parrish says that charter schools "drain the best students, the most innovative teachers, the most involved parents, and needed money away from the regular public school system" [Impolitics, "Political education," 9/7]. Not so. The per-student allotment would follow the student to her new charter school, but the costs of educating her would follow her also. So there would be no financial strain at all. But for each student leaving to go into a charter, someone's empire of captive students would shrink by one.

Here Geov Parrish has given himself away by repeating the WEA line. He is masking categorical opposition to charter schools by portraying Paul Allen as a Great Menace to Democracy. Parrish also calls Edison Schools 'private charter schools.' That's an oxymoron. Charter schools are public alternative schools with independent administrations. I-729 would enable public alternatives for those who are fed up with a dysfunctional school districts. Those who are not fed up can always stay and enjoy spoon-fed pablum and Channel One.

Unfortunately, the initiative does have two major flaws. First, it allows only school districts or universities to sponsor charters. School boards and district administrators are sworn enemies of charter schools, so no intelligent nonprofit is going to ask a school district to be a sponsor. And there aren't enough universities to sponsor all the charter schools we need.

Second, I-729 requires charter school teachers to be state certified. A teaching certificate in this state certifies only that you have been indoctrinated into the thinking patterns of a monolithic system that has been declining in performance since 1920. I think good teachers are good in spite of their certificates, not because of them. By requiring charter school teachers to have this 'certificate of indoctrination,' the private schools, even at lower pay, are going to appear more attractive than charters to many of the best teachers. But even hobbled by these shortcomings, I-729 is worthy of our support because it opens a crack in the monolith.



Hell no

Hey, that's a good idea! Build a new tunnel that replaces that old ugly Alaskan Way Viaduct and take my money whenever I cross it. Yeah! Hey, I know! Why don't you measure the cubic feet of air that I breathe every month and then make me pay for that too?

James Bush is right [4th & James, "Why-a-duct?" 9/7]. The people won't like this. Let me just be the first to say it: "Hell no, we won't pay!"



Not some dupe

Journalism everywhere being as it is, it seems beside the point to fire off a Letter to the Editor. But it did seem deliberately unpleasant of you to paint Nicola Vruwink as a self-promoting newcomer to Seattle's busy visual art scene [Fall arts, 9/7].

I am not a friend of Ms. Vruwink. But for the last five years, reporting on the arts in Seattle has engaged me in reviews, studio visits, interviews, shows, and filming which involved her. As her work progressed from installations into video, her commentaries on it have remained clear and interesting. An awareness of its context in the international art world hardly makes her some kind of dupe. During the more than 15 years I spent based in London, I dealt with plenty of genuine "self-promoting art celebrities." Ms. Vruwink shares little with the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Douglas Gordon, or Jake and Dinos Chapman. She certainly shares nothing with (of all things) Paul Allen's theme park.

Vruwink's last show closed the week your item ran. So why not "welcome" something like last week's opening of the Fuzzy Engine gallery? This marked the long-awaited return of former Project 416 stalwarts and, hopefully, a curatorial venue for 416 artist/manager Walter Wright. Your critics may not see Wright as "an art game high roller." But most rollers who claim any local edge owe him more than a nod.

In terms of quality, output and energy, Seattle's best young independent artists outpace their subsidized brethren. They don't need your anointment to survive. But it would be a service to the reader.



Berger's friends

It may be that some members of the City Council have sticks up their asses, but how Knute Berger could have noticed with his head so firmly planted up his own ass is hard to imagine. The gist of his ignorant and pathetically oversimplified paean to the sorry underclass in "Blue law bonanza" [Uffda, 8/31] is that the "lowlifes, tramps, boozers, and bums" (Berger's words, not mine) need a "haven" and Pioneer Square is just the place.

Just to make it clear, I'm not a dot-comer and I'd hate to see Pioneer Square gentrified beyond a certain livable level of dog-eat-dog existence. But I'll be damned if I want to walk out my door every day and be met with the sight and smell of one of his lovable, huggable drunks pissing or taking a crap in front of my building (instead of walking two blocks to a public toilet) and then exercising their God-given right to aggressively demand my change so they can fill their bladder with more of their fragrant urine. I live on Second and Yesler and this block is the most crime-ridden in the city. It is a favorite hangout for Berger's friends who knife and beat the crap out of each other, harass every woman that walks by, and screech at each other night and day over a dime debt. They are attracted to this area in large part because there are two stores on this block selling cheap, high alcohol content beer which feeds their fury and incivility.

Perhaps Berger sees Pioneer Square as some kind of zoo where he can come experience the darker passions of life, the alcoholics, prostitutes, crack dealers, and social pariahs, and then go home to his spiffy little flat away from the "haven." If I moved to Carnation it might well be hypocritical for me to complain of the smell, but do I really have to encourage the cows into my living room to crap on the sofa? I live down here in this "haven," love it for its diversity and even its more instinctual side of the human condition. But there are limits, and as much as Berger loves these folks they don't even like him or anyone else for that matter. They just want cheap beer, drugs, and to have a little antisocial, destructive fun—all no doubt symptomatic of their "disease" which we should all encourage lest we be thought anti-progressive.



Making a killing

Your article about Mackie vs. Seattle Symphony/Reiser ["Out of step," 8/24] seems to reflect James Bush's personal bias. "After enduring a three-day trial and more than two years of legal wrangling, Mackie was awarded just $1,000." The word "just" suggests an injustice against Mackie, though two and a half years of legal wrangling couldn't convince a federal judge that he was entitled to more than $1,000—even though the defense conceded infringement. The word enduring is equally misleading as it was Jack who instigated the lawsuit. I'd recommend perusing the court record. It's a good read and more informative than Mr. Bush's article.

Patricia Hackett testified $85,000 for a fair usage fee? So that explains all those independently wealthy artists in our community. They must be making a killing! Absent from the article was how Ms. Hackett used a multiplier and then another multiplier applied to a sum of usage fees that were themselves quite questionable to arrive at $85,000. The court found this not credible, and the defendants expert witness Gerald Rapp testified, "I can find no support in PEGS [Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, the book used by graphic artists and Ms. Hackett to determine fair pricing of their work] for the multipliers that Ms. Hackett applied to her total and I have never heard of this practice in my 27 years in the illustration industry." Gerald Rapp, a well-known, highly respected New York illustrator's representative, was deemed more credible and persuasive by the Federal court judge Marcia Pechman. Mr. Rapp showed proof in court that illustrators represented by his firm make an average of $750 on illustrations for nonprofits.

Jack said "all (the symphony) had to do was ask" regarding usage of his Dance Steps. Assuming he meant usage for a reasonable fee, why then take a nonprofit arts organization to federal court over what was obviously a mistake? Would an established illustrator and the Seattle Symphony knowingly infringe on another artist's work?

When errors don't cause actual damage do they really merit this kind of legal action? Did the exposure provided by symphony piece "hurt" Mackie? The judge ruled that the plaintiffs presented no credible evidence for that claim. Copyright law is a real issue for artists, and much can be done to protect our work. Copyright awareness should be a higher priority for graphic arts organizations and schools. Artists can register their work. Let's just remember the laws are there to protect artists, not to further the blight of America's litigiousness.



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