by Laurie Rogers
"If they were forced to add the truth to what they already say about you, Laurie, it would look like this: [The truth:] âWow, that Laurie Rogers. She volunteers her time to advocate for proper math, help small children, and uncover the truth about how public schools spend our money. [What they say:] What a bitch.'"— A friend and colleague
If the Spokane print media ever want to get rid of me and my reporting on Spokane Public Schools (SPS), all they have to do is publish a thorough, accurate and balanced article about me and my efforts to inform Spokane parents. I'm sure I would die of the shock. I'm not worried it will happen any time soon.
Their worst betrayal is of the children. I do not understand adults who can look away from children in need, who can persistently deny or ignore a child's grim reality – even as they take steps to help their own children. Sadly, Spokane is filled with adults just like that.
After nearly seven years of advocacy, I wasn't surprised at The Spokesman-Review's "coverage" of a lawsuit I filed against SPS over public records. The SR article was published Oct. 9, 2013, on the front page, above the fold. In the first sentence, it claims I have a "history of needling officials." The article contains several errors, including the date and the wording of my records request. The reporter and editors made no effort to contact me before publishing the article, and the opportunity to post comments online was shut down after just one day.
I've been a reporter and an editor. This article would never have been published "as is" at the newspapers I worked for. The article would have been fact-checked and corrected. Diligent efforts would have been made to contact the subject of the article, and those efforts would have been noted in the article. Any factual errors would have been corrected on subsequent days.
Despite multiple attempts, I've never actually had a conversation about education with anyone from the SR. I've been investigating the district since 2007, writing an education blog since 2008, and I published a book about education in 2011. I speak with students, teachers, parents and advocates from around the world. None of this seems to be of interest to the local daily, which has repeatedly trashed my name and reputation without speaking with me.
- In early 2011, some colleagues and I held several public forums on math. After one in which administrators were rude and obstructive, the SR criticized our inability to restrain the administrators and called us district "antagonists." The editors didn't bother to speak with us or explain the objective of our forums.
- In October 2011, during an election, I sent the SR a Letter to the Editor that described the Public Disclosure Commission complaint I had filed on the school district. The editor acknowledged my letter but didn't publish it. Instead, he sent my letter to the SR's education reporter. Two weeks later, when the paper finally published a brief noteabout the PDC complaint, the district had been allowed to respond, but not me.
- In October 2011, the SR published a Letter to the Editor that contained unsubstantiated accusations about a local citizen and a local school board candidate. I asked an editor about it, and he said "that one got by us." However, that letter was published three times – twice online and once in the paper. As of Nov. 11, 2013, it's still on the SR's Web site.
- In October 2011, I painstakingly transcribed an audio recording of a candidate forum. Compare my transcription with the SR's version, which the paper publishedunattributed two months later. The hyphenation, punctuation, parentheses, word choice and spelling are the same.
- In December 2011, without speaking with me, SR columnist Shawn Vestal wrote that a teacher and I had engaged in "vigorous bashing" of a board candidate prior to the teacher's hosting of a candidate forum. Asked for proof, Vestal cited one line from an email between the teacher and me. He said he wasn't "going to hunt down other examples in the e-mails again." (This is convenient; the email he quoted doesn't represent "vigorous bashing" and there are no other examples.)
- In 2012, Vestal emailed to ask for an interview about "the many records requests being filed with the school district." Wary of his intentions, I did not grant the interview.
- Vestal subsequently wrote that my efforts seem "less than fully hinged" and my complaint seemed "conspiracy-minded and poorly informed."
- He noted that my PDC complaint cited district employees for using school resources to promote a board candidate although I had emailed a teacher with praise for a candidate. He added sarcastically, "but that is doubtlessly different." (It is different. I'm not a public employee.)
- Vestal implied that I might be lying about my relationship with local anti-levy advocates, and he said I'm part of the cause of school district's "administrative waste and bloat."
- In 2013, in the online comments for a SR article about the district, a commenter called me a "crackpot," as in "Crackpot hits the jackpot." I emailed the SR about the comment, and it was removed (without a reply to me). This week, I noticed that a similar comment (from someone named "misjustice") has appeared and was not removed.
The SR's education reporter did call me once in 2011 – not to talk about math or education or my blog or my book. She called to complain about my comments about her reporting.
Then there's the Inlander, a weekly entertainment paper in Spokane. Inlander staff members have spoken with me a couple of times about education, and there has been occasional reasonable coverage. However, the Inlander also has:
- allowed the district to imply that some records requesters are abusive,
- subtly encouraged citizens to file a complaint against a local anti-levy group, while also suggesting without proof that I was part of the group (I wasn't).
- claimed I had "caused" commotions at my public forums on math, when it was actually district staff who interrupted citizens and who refused to sit quietly or follow basic rules of etiquette.
- quoted from my blog without using my name, a no-no in journalism ethics.
- openly advocated for the district's last levy, an inappropriate activity for a newspaper.
An Inlander reporter did call to ask for comments regarding the lawsuit. I asked Cheryl Mitchell, a Spokane lawyer, to speak with the Inlander reporter. Here is the Inlander's "coverage." The reporter did not quote Mrs. Mitchell, and his article falls under the Inlanderheading "Friends and Enemies."
"Enemies"?? Wow. That's a new one on me. I've never in my life seen a newspaper call citizens "enemies."
Do Inlander editors consider the school district to be a friend or an enemy? If the district is a "friend," does that make me an "enemy"? I'm just trying to speak truth to the people. The truth isn't comfy to hear, but it is what it is. I didn't build these problems. I also didn't receive a "big payout" from the lawsuit, as the Inlander said I did. The District admitted to errors and made an "Offer of Judgment," which included a settlement offer. Most of the settlement paid for my legal counsel.
Meanwhile, the district:
- Didn't abide by the requirements of the Public Records Act, and continues to employ people who didn't abide by the PRA requirements. School board directors also keep trying to undermine the Public Records Act.
- Has failed for decades to properly educate 27,000-28,000 children, and persistently refuses to give the general public an accurate accounting of student outcomes.
- Wants ever-more taxpayer dollars for a failed system, and refuses to give citizens an accurate accounting of how our taxes are spent.
- Is under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission for election activities.
- Used taxpayer dollars to help support a lawsuit against taxpayers to wrestle more taxpayer dollars from taxpayers (the McCleary lawsuit).
Is none of this worth an investigation? I've tried to hold the school district accountable for what it does with our children and our tax dollars. Is that what makes a citizen an "enemy" nowadays, or "less than fully hinged"?
Since 2006, I've always tried to take the high road with my education advocacy. I've tried to not engage in the petty ad hominem attacks I see so often from avid supporters of the public schools. Whereas backbiters tend to post anonymously or under a pseudonym, I post using my real name, and I support my comments with facts, statistics and hyperlinks.
I'm a frank person, but generally polite. I'm a learner, and I work hard to get my facts in order. I care about the children, and I'm a patriot who is deeply concerned about my community and my country. With training in proper journalism and argumentation, I know how to ask tough questions, how to write well and carefully, and how to put together a solid argument.
None of that matters to backbiters. It's much easier to trash whistleblowers than to hold public agencies accountable. They don't seem to know this, but education isn't about them. Nor is it about me. Education is about the children. Everyone is supposed to be there for the children, to get the children the academics they need. It isn't supposed to be a make-work project, a jobs program, a money trough, a social experiment, or a place for political advocacy.
I'm focused on the children's academic needs and on district transparency and accountability. I haven't had much help from those in Spokane city and county "leadership." This school district boasts a heavy footprint in the city and the state, and has thrown its weight around with impunity and without apparent shame. Decision-making appears largely driven by selfish interests, big government salaries and a half-a-billion-dollars-per-year budget.
Building a coalition to hold the district accountable is an ongoing challenge. Adults would need to put the children's needs ahead of their own interests, and few in leadership seem willing. Most appear to not want to risk upsetting this 10,000-pound government gorilla, its hefty capital budget, its horde of union voters, and its stable of taxpayer-funded lawyers. That isn't a Democrat or Republican thing. It isn't a left or right thing. It's a "Just as long as I get mine" thing. When you see the damaging effect on the children, however, you come to realize how corrupted and perverse it's become.
It's appalling that these people are in charge of the well-being and future of children.
I'm not an enemy; I'm a messenger, and I try to be a good one. Every second of what I've done over the last seven years, in an effort to help 27,000+ children who aren't mine, was volunteered. I did it because someone must and because the newspapers refuse to do it. If they would step up, I would happily step down. They will not do it. Instead, they blame me, criticize me and call me names. They steadfastly refuse to properly investigate this public agency or to inform citizens.
Real leaders accept the blame and pass the credit. This school district and these media outlets have a habit of scrounging for credit while passing the blame – to teachers, parents and the children themselves. Trying to have it both ways, they also claim that no blame is warranted because students are doing as well as can be expected. In actuality, the district fails 27,000+ children in academics every year. As its leadership makes piles of money, their near-absolute focus is on gaining more taxpayer dollars and more power, while adroitly covering their tracks.
The print media in Spokane fail all of us, but especially the children. They refuse to do their job while frequently targeting citizens whom they think threaten their status quo. Now, one media outlet appears to have decided that some law-abiding, well-intentioned citizens are "enemies."
It's irresponsible and dangerous, and it's difficult for media to be more alarming than that.
Laurie H. Rogers has a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a master's in interpersonal communication, emphasizing the evaluation of argumentation and logic. In 2001, she founded Safer Child, Inc., a nonprofit child advocacy information resource. In 2007, she narrowed her advocacy to public education, and in 2010, she founded Focus on the Squareâ¢, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving American K-12 education.
Laurie is the author of the blog "Betrayed," located at http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/. Her book Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do about It (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Besides serving on the executive committee for Where's the Math?, Laurie has a background in finance, journalism and child advocacy. She has volunteered in schools – tutoring children in literacy and math, and teaching chess, argumentation and knitting. She lives in Spokane with her husband, daughter and two cats.
Contact Laurie Rogers at [email protected].