Monday, December 05, 2016

Director Blanford Starts a Fight (and to what end?)

The South Seattle Emerald newspaper has an op-ed piece from Director Blanford that is, well, pretty incendiary.  The title of the piece (I don't know if it is his or the newspaper's) is School Budget Deficit Too Heavy A Price For Our Children.  Which children Blanford is talking about becomes clear as you read the piece.

He starts by explaining that in mid-November, the Board had been informed about the budget deficit.  He says it's the biggest one the district has ever experienced and could not be solved by McCleary. 
The SPS’s financial staff advice to the board was clear: Using the Strategic Plan as a touchstone, the board must commit to exercise financial discipline in order to manage current and future expenses. Otherwise, projected teacher layoffs and program cuts would be catastrophic in our classrooms and schools.
Now I stop here to interject that when the district had this so-called "underspend" last year of $11M, staff could not find enough ways to spend it.  To his credit, Director Blanford had wanted to not spend all of it.  And, staff has continually thanked the Board for allotted the bulk of that money towards Strategic Plan initiatives.

He goes on to complain about the $1M voted in by the Board majority for transportation costs for grandfathering.

Wait, what?

He doesn't explain that the overwhelming majority of the deficit is due to the levy cliff?  That makes it sound like the district/Board are terrible managers of the public's money.  He doesn't help the public understand that action needs to be taken to prevent this from happening.  No, he says nothing about that.

He goes onto describe the Board meeting where the Growth Boundaries were voted on. 
Afterwards, we moved to the business portion of the evening, hearing from a long line of angry parents clamoring for special treatment of their children’s schools with revisions to the Growth Boundaries Plan. Various members of the board, acceding to their demands, then put forward 12 separate amendments to the staff-generated plan. Not one of these amendments addressed conditions at any of our South End schools or clearly articulated the financial costs of implementation. And the amendments did not provide any cost savings, or even remain budget neutral. 
I'm not sure that it's "special treatment" for parents to want their child to be able to finish school where he/she started.  And, that many of those parents clearly spoke for parents who could not attend or did not have the ability to advocate for their own child.   Anyone watching that meeting would not say it was a bunch of NIMBY parents.

As for not addressing conditions at South End schools, I can only say that what was being discussed and voted on that night were growth boundaries for mostly the north end as that is where the majority of change would happen. 

As for the costs, well, staff didn't put forth any amounts for how much it would cost to move 800 kids around from one school to another so how would anyone know the real costs versus savings?

He went on to explain how big budget cuts would likely hurt students of color most of all.  I think we could all agree on that.  That newer teachers get laid off before more senior teachers.

But then he veers off into an attack on the rest of the Board and their motivations.
Secondly, based on recent history, I have come to believe that the school board that I serve on is not sufficiently oriented to or motivated by the need to eliminate the gap, in spite of the fact that the majority of students (53%) served by Seattle Public Schools are students of color. Obviously, not every student of color is in the gap – in fact, many students of color outperform their peers. But for those that don’t, there was very little outrage or even discussion when the board learned of our national ranking in a story that was reported back in May. I’ve frequently seen members of the board disregard advice from the staff and parents when it conflicts with the narrow interests of some of their constituents. 
Betty Patu, who has served far longer than anyone on the Board, doesn't know or isn't motivated to eliminate the gap for students of color.  And Scott Pinkham, who is a Native American SPS parent, isn't motivated to close that gap?  Not to mention all the rest of the directors who have stood up for students of color including voting for the Strategic Plan and its focus.

I would have to think that his assertion that the rest of the Board doesn't seem to care about children of color might just violate the standards that the Board has set up for themselves about how they interact with each other.

Why the lack of clear information to the public about the reasons for the deficit?  Why no call on trying to get the Governor or the Legislature to extend the levy for another year when that would be the one real solution, not cuts?

My spidey radar tells me there is more here than meets the eye so my real question would be, how does this help the budget situation, Director Blanford? 

Seattle Schools This Week

The district's info on buses and inclement weather for what may be an up-and-down weather week.

Also, two items of note to put on your calendar.

One, a community meeting on Cedar Park and its designation as an Option School.   This is on Thursday, December 15th at Cedar Park Elementary from 6:30-8:30 pm.

The other is an Option School Fair that the district will be holding on Saturday, January 28, 2017 at Cleveland STEM High School from 10 am-2pm. 

Monday, December 5th

Student Assignment Plan meeting from 6:30-7:30 at JSCEE.  

At UW, Education and Society Film Series: Starving the Beast.  Sponsored by University of Washington College of Education Master in Education Policy program
Kane Hall 120 from 7-9 pm.
Some of the most pressing issues facing America's educational systems will be discussed during the "Education and Society" documentary film series. Watch "Starving the Beast" and join a conversation about the funding of public higher education. 
Examine the ongoing power struggle on college campuses across the nation as political and market-oriented forces push to disrupt and reform America’s public universities. The film documents a philosophical shift that seeks to reframe public higher education as a value proposition to be borne by the beneficiary of a college degree rather than as a public good for society.
The event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, December 6th
 There is notice of a possible School Board quorum as the Board has been invited to a luncheon with Superintendent-elect Chris Reykdal.  

Wednesday, December 7th
School Board meeting at JSCEE, starting at 4:15 pm.  Agenda

- the Board is slated to approve grant funds from the Seattle Foundation/Vulcan Foundation of $465,000 for two projects.  One is the Creative Advantage/CTE Media Arts Skills Center program and the other is the Creative Advantage Regional Arts Showcase.
- election of new officers for the Board.  I'm thinking that it's likely the Board will continue on with Director Patu as President.  I believe she's likely to leave the Board when her term expires in Dec 2017 (but I have no inside knowledge of that.)
- one-page narrative of Superintendent Nyland's second year of work for SPS
- introduction of the Student Assignment Plan that already has one amendment.  This comes from Director Peters and is to grandfather all rising 8th graders with transportation affected by the opening of Robert Eagle Staff Middle School and the reopening of Meany Middle School.

Thursday, December 8th
Audit&Finance Committee Work Session, JSCEE Board conference room from 4:30-7:00 pm.  No agenda yet available.

Robert Eagle Staff Middle School Family and Community Planning meeting from 6-7:30 pm at Loyal Heights Elementary at the John Marshall building.

From Washington STEM and the League of Women Voters:

Have you ever wondered about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs in our schools.  What does it mean to be a STEM program? How are they implemented?

 Join the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County, 1620 18th Ave, Suite 101, from 11am to 1pm.

Friday, December 9th
BEX Oversight Committee Meeting, from 8:30-10:30 am, JSCEE, Room 2750, no agenda yet available.

Saturday, December 10th
Community meeting with Director Peters at Magnolia Library from 11 am-1pm.

Contact the Governor NOW

I'm going to offer the simplest advice I can on the levy cliff. There is NO reason it has to happen. 
I urge everyone to call 360-902-4111 or,
email or 
tweet @GovInslee 
and tell him to put pressure on the Legislature to have a one-day special session to extend the levy deadline from 2017 to 2018.

Remind him that until the Legislature completes McCleary work, districts should not suffer even more from a lack of fully funded schools.

Yes, contact your own legislator as well but I'm hoping that if the Governor feels the full force of citizens begging for this, he can make it clear that whatever the Legislature wants to get done when they do convene their regular session, nothing will get his signature.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

2017-2018 Student Assignment Plan

Or, as more commonly referred to, the SAP.

The district created a new Student Assignment Plan in 2009 that was approved by the Board.  It was a big change, primarily because the district went from a choice plan to a neighborhood plan.  I know that many of you don't like this form of SAP but, at the time, many parents were clamoring for a neighborhood plan because of the assurance of knowing what school their child would be assigned to.  The interesting thing I wonder about is that under the choice plan, 90% of people received their first choice.  That's a pretty good percentage but was that their desired choice or just the best choice they felt they could make in terms of knowing where their child would be?  I haven't heard any numbers on the choice within the neighborhood plan.

Then, with the explosive growth in the district, the plan had to be tweeted and so there was a Transition Plan.  What is confusing to me is that the district is still in a growth mode plus opening new schools even after school year 2017-2018.  Why they would not continue having a Transition Plan until all those new schools are open is a mystery.

Legislature Needs to Act Fast

Email your legislators right now by clicking here and ask them to fully fund public schools so they don’t lay off teachers this spring.

Dear friend,

Please email your legislators right now and ask them to fully fund public schools so they don’t lay off teachers this spring.

Across the state, already-underfunded school districts are being told to prepare for a new round of budget cuts. You may have received letters or emails warning about the possibility of teacher layoffs or program closures.

Let's be clear: this is unacceptable. And it's unconstitutional.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Open Thread

The big news is that the City of Seattle announced three new homeless encampments to be established in early 2017 and one of them is right by the Wilson-Pacific complex that will be home to Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, Licton Springs K-8 and Cascadia Elementary.  The location is 8620 Nesbit Avenue North and it will have up to 50 tiny homes, serving 60-70 people (Nesbit is one block east of Aurora.) The other new encampments are down in Georgetown and White Center.  (The one in White Center will also be near an elementary school but with enough distance that it's not the issue that Wilson-Pacific campus is.)

I think we can all agree that the homeless crisis in Seattle is a major issue.  But I am shocked the City would choose a location in an area that is already problematic AND has so many school children nearby. As I previously reported, RESMS planning principal Marni Campbell announced at a community meeting this week that the City is giving the district $1M grant to improve safety in that area. Well, this would appear to be one reason why that happened. 

The district tweeted out a story from Mind/Shift from KQED about West Seattle High School and a program to reach students who may learn in different ways.
“How do we make the system fit the child instead of trying to make the kid fit the system?” she asked. Teachers at her school are exploring this question in a variety of ways, including through a pilot advisory-type program that began with a cohort of 25 tenth graders.
As I tweeted back to the district, this is great but how come they didn't announce this themselves?

Hey DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) WA is looking for a new director.    Just to note, DFER has endorsed the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Education secretary in the Trump administration while simultaneously criticizing Trump.  It does not mention DeVos love of vouchers but supports her love of charter schools.    From Diane Ravitch:
The reformers are in a pickle. They can’t claim fealty to Trump, because they pretend to be Democrats. But Trump has embraced the reformer agenda, lock, stock and barrel. This statement is one way of handling their dilemma: embrace DeVos–a figure who finances the far-right and wants completely unregulated, unaccountable choice, and simultaneously chide Trump for his hateful rhetoric. Pretend to be Democrats while saluting her.
Not so coincidentally, DeVos gave money to DFER. From ed blogger, Mercedes Schneider:
Well, because DFER already has a relationship with both a DeVos’ nonprofit as well as a DeVos-chaired nonprofit– a financial relationship.
There is a meeting tomorrow about Robert Eagle Staff Middle School at Northgate Elementary from 11 am to 12:30 pm.  

Need to do some holiday shoppingThe Stranger has a great list of fairs/shops to buy locally made gifts.

There are no director community meetings tomorrow as the Board has a retreat at JSCEE from 10 am-3 pm.  The agenda reflects discussion around the following:

- the 2017-2018bbudget (recap of discussion and/or decisions - if any- to date), compilation of recommendations from stakeholders and staff, discussion of additional/new information, recommendations and consensus for pessimistic and optimistic budget scenarios
- eliminating opportunity gaps
- discussion of work of Community Engagement Task Force
- assignment of Board Committee assignment preferences (the Board will be voting in new officers soon)

Based on the worrisome budget next year, I think I may be buying this holiday gift for the Board and Superintendent.

What's on your mind?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Understanding the Dire State of SPS' 2017-2018 Budget

Update 3: partial from letter sent to families that has new information:

Next Steps

Between Dec. 5, 2016 and Jan. 4, 2017 we will continue to solicit feedback on budget priorities from staff, families, and community partners. I would like to thank the Seattle Council PTSA for hosting three regional meetings for families to provide feedback on budget priorities. 

Community Budget Gap Meetings
Tues., Dec. 13, 6:30 - 8 p.m. Ballard High School
1418 NW 65th St.

Thurs., Dec. 15, 6:30 - 8 p.m. South Shore PreK-8 School
4800 S Henderson St.

Tues., Jan. 3, 6:30 - 8 p.m. Franklin High School
3013 S Mt Baker Blvd.

Interpretation will be available. To request interpretation please contact with your requested needs. 

Additional details regarding the budget deficit, budget development timeline, and actions you can take will be posted to the 2017-18 budget webpage by tomorrow, Dec. 2. 

If you have specific questions or concerns about the budget shortfall please email the Budget Office at

end of update

Update 2: at the end of this thread is the district's press release about this issue.  It has no new information.

end of update

Update 1: the Times now has a story on this issue and the district is talking about lay-offs.  A message went out to teachers on Wednesday from Superintendent Nyland. 
....Nyland said the problem is based primarily on a $23M increase in labor costs and the fact that the district could lose about $31M under the so-called "levy cliff.

The budget gap is the largest the district has faced since the 1970s, Nyland wrote in his message.
Information is to be sent to families today, according to the Times.  As well, from the Superintendent's letter to teachers:
Additional details regarding budget development and actions you can take will be posted to the 2017-18 budget webpage by the end of the week.
But here's what legislative wonk (and all-around smart guy) Robert Cruickshank says in the comments to my story:
It is important to keep in mind this is a fake budget gap. SPS does not have to cut a dime. The legislature cannot push districts over the levy cliff - doing so would be unconstitutional and the state Supreme Court would reject it. The legislature also promised in the 2016 budget to either provide new money to replace the lost levy authority OR extend levy authority for another year. That's a promise and not a law but it suggests that SPS will not actually have to cut anything.

So what should SPS do? Nothing.

SPS staff should NOT be planning for cuts. They should NOT be asking parents to fight amongst each other to decide which programs and teachers stay or go. They should NOT be preparing layoff notices.

Why? Doesn't SPS have to plan in case they lose state money?

No, because again, it's not actually possible for the district to lose that money. Whether through legislative action or court action, SPS will get the money they need.

We must insist that SPS - staff and board - refuse to undertake a divisive, unnecessary, and unconstitutional exercise of planning for a budget cut that is legally and juridically impossible to actually happen.
end of update

Here's some information on what the levy cliff is and what you can do to try to head it off before our district falls off that cliff.

I do note that I'm not sure how much of the $71-74M deficit projected by staff is due to the levy cliff.  All? Part? If so, how much?  I'll have to ask.

From John Freeman at the Washington's Paramount Duty Facebook page (editor's note - I rearranged some of the information):

Robert Eagle Staff Community Meetings

I attended the community meeting for Robert Eagle Staff  Middle School on Tuesday night.  There were maybe 5 parents there including one father with his daughter.  Marni Campbell gave the presentation with Executive Director, Jon Halfaker, in attendance.  There were no handouts.

She led with the phrase "dream ambitiously."  She also referenced the heritage of the Wilson Pacific site that SPS wants to honor. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Garfield's Report Card Conferences

I actually don't really want to write about this subject because it's pretty tiresome. I've done some research and frankly, I'm appalled at one big issue.

According to the GHS website:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Open Thread

OSPI had (seemingly) been rushing to submit its plan to the US Department of Education for the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which is the NCLB replacement.  They announced yesterday that they are allowing 60 more days for public comment.  From Superintendent Dorn:
After consultation with Superintendent-elect Chris Reykdal, Deputy Superintendent Gil Mendoza, Gov. Jay Inslee and various stakeholder groups, I am delaying the submission of the Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated Plan to the U.S. Department of Education.
Here's a link to OSPI's ESSA page including a summary document in seven languages and a link so you can make your comment.  OSPI did have a listening tour but that happened last week.

In something of an oddity, there is this call for volunteers at Garfield to go over report cards with students.  I'll have to ask the district about this because it would seem to me there are privacy issues here especially if parents don't know that their child is sharing their report card info without the parent's knowledge. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Nathan Hale's Basketball Team Looks Super

The Times had an article yesterday about the new head boys basketball coach at Hale and what looks to be a very competitive team - as in competitive at both the state and national level.  Hale is now ranked as 22nd in the nation.  Two of Hale's games this year will be televised nationally.  Sixty students tried out and 14 made the team.

I had reported earlier this year that former NBA All-Star Brandon Roy was taking the head coaching job at Hale.  He receives $6,000 a year for his work, just like all the other SPS coaches.  Roy had wanted to coach at UW but chose to coach at Hale.

Coach Roy appears to have made his presence at Hale known to top high school boys basketball prospects and got one of the most highly-sought after high school players in the country, Michael Porter, Jr., from Missouri.  Porter's brother, Jontay, is also playing on the team.

Sunday, November 27, 2016