Opinion

Community partnership key to positive school environment

Expect excellence! It is the phrase we use to characterize the Mercer Island School District. Excellence does not happen by accident. It takes effort, energy and engagement.

Key to an excellent education is an effective learning environment. As a school district, we work to engage our students. We have to both deliver instruction and deliver it in an accepting setting.

Our effective learning environment on Mercer Island is favored by a special community partnership. For many years, our school district, the city and private citizens, through the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation, have worked together to provide our schools with counseling services and programs well beyond those afforded by basic education funding. Community gifts, in partnership with the district and city, are needed to keep these programs operating.

As the parent of four graduates of our district, a community volunteer, a teacher, a principal and now an associate superintendent, I have a long-standing appreciation of the necessary work done by our counselors and of the community support needed to maintain these essential programs.

Our community partnership assures we have one or more counselors at each of our schools. They are called upon to do far more than traditional academic, college prep or career counseling. They are an integral part of our teaching staffs (they have even been selected to receive “teacher of the year” awards) and have a major role in creating an effective learning environment in a variety of important ways. The MIYFS school counselors help build relationships that are physically and emotionally secure. They teach positive social skills, conflict management and problem solving techniques. They intervene, they assist, they prepare and they act as needed in the many situations that can interfere with learning: grief, divorce and separations, bullying, abuse, newcomers. They counsel, mediate, train and teach. Their classroom embraces not only our students, but our teachers, staff, volunteers and parents.

Counselors reach the front pages with a lockdown, a suicide, an auto or drug death, a 9/11 or a declaration of war. Each and every day, however, they run the programs that provide the learning environment our students need to succeed, such as Natural Helpers, Friends of Rachel, Mix it Up Day, Snowboard Outreach, Seeds of Compassion events and Peer Mediation, to name a few. Most importantly, they bring compassion, training and experience to bear on individual problems, whether student-student, student-teacher or teacher-parent. Solving one child’s problem improves the school environment for all.

The MIYFS Foundation is currently conducting its annual school fund drive, directed primarily to our school parents. I strongly urge their continuing support of these important programs. For the rest of our community partners, continue to attend and contribute to the MIYFS annual breakfast, donate in the Fall campaign, contribute to and patronize our thrift store, and give directly to the MIYFS Foundation as you can. Gifts may be sent to MIYFS at 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island.

It is a community effort. It is a community partnership. It is important.

Thank you for not only expecting excellence, but supporting it!

Kathy Morrison is the Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services for the Mercer Island School District. She is the former principal of Island Park Elementary School.

Charter must grant union bargaining authority to county sheriff

By Sue Rahr
Island Forum

The King County Charter is currently open for a review that occurs once every 10 years. The Charter Review Commission has been gathering information and deliberating, and will soon forward amendments they endorse to the County Council. The Council will consider those recommendations, then decide which amendments will be placed on the ballot this fall. The voters will have the final say.

The current charter language gives the King County executive authority over Sheriff’s Office labor matters. It is a holdover from the past, when the sheriff was an appointed department head under the executive’s office. In 1997, citizens voted by an overwhelming majority to make the sheriff an independent, elected official, directly accountable to the voters. However, the language giving the executive authority over sheriff’s office labor issues was not changed, creating an untenable situation that defies basic management sense.

I have proposed an amendment that gives the sheriff, rather than the county executive, the authority to bargain and manage the labor contracts with Sheriff’s Office employees. Under my proposal, the sheriff would have authority over management rights and working conditions, and the county executive would retain authority over wages and benefits. In simple business logic, this aligns the authority to manage the labor agreements with the responsibility that the sheriff has for those employees.

Unions represent all 750 commissioned deputies and most of the 350 civilian staff of the Sheriff’s Office. I am the elected official accountable to the voters for the conduct and work of those employees. Let me give you an example of how the current system is problematic.

Last year, the County Council passed an ordinance creating an independent oversight program for complaints made against Sheriff’s Office employees, a move that I strongly support. Some very limited aspects of the program are subject to bargaining, but not the entire program. The union filed an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint. Without my knowledge or input, the executive met with the union and agreed to settle the complaint. Implementation of the entire program was stopped until all aspects of the program could be bargained — a process that has dragged on for more than a year and remains unresolved.

The irony is that the citizens of King County hold the sheriff responsible for not having implemented independent oversight. They are not aware that the executive has the final authority over bargaining management rights that currently don’t exist in the Sheriff’s Office, including: performance evaluations, performance standards, overtime limits and term limits in high-risk undercover assignments.

I have worked diligently for the past three years to create a more professional, accountable and transparent organization. Many of those changes have to be bargained, a process under the control of the executive. No sheriff can effectively implement reforms when the labor unions have direct negotiating rights with another elected official — one who has different priorities and philosophy for dealing with labor issues. The existing environment is the result of a structural deficiency in the charter that we have the opportunity to correct.

To date, my proposed charter amendment has been endorsed by the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Panel, former county executives Randy Revelle and Gary Locke, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

In Washington state, 28 of the 39 elected sheriffs, the King County prosecutor and court systems have the authority to manage their labor unions as I have proposed. It is a process that has proven to be legal and effective.

If you agree with my proposal, I encourage you to contact the County Council with your input.

Sue Rahr is the King County Sheriff.

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