By Charlie Mas, a Washington Middle School parent.
[Posted with the caveat that this is based on the superintendent's preliminary plan to which changes are likely.]
There has been a lot of talk about the closure plan having disproportionate outcomes for students of color, students living in poverty, English language learners, and special education students. And that is true if you compare the demographics of the set of students in terminating programs with the demographics of the district as a whole. The district as a whole is 41% White, 40% qualified for Free or Reduced Price Lunch, 12% bilingual ed., and 9% special ed.
But we're not going to close a school that is full when we're trying to reduce excess capacity just because it has a lot of White students and that will balance the racial mix. Do we want academics and real financial considerations drive these decisions, or do we want them driven by race-based politics?
Since we're really only talking about terminating programs with excess capacity, we should compare the demographics of the closed schools with the demographics of schools with excess capacity to determine whether the outcomes are disproportionate or not.
One way to look at excess capacity is to find the buildings with the lowest percentage of their seats filled. If you were to identify the neighborhood elementary schools with less than two-thirds of their seats filled, you get this list: High Point, M L King, T T Minor, Leschi, Viewlands, Whitworth, Fairmount Park, Cooper, Emerson, Olympic Hills, and Broadview-Thomson.
These schools have capacity for 4,638 students but only have 2,482 students enrolled, an aggregate fill rate 54%. If we define excess capacity by the raw number of empty seats, and we were to identify each of the neighborhood elementary schools with at least 130 empty seats, we would get the exact same list in a different order: Broadview-Thomson, High Point, Emerson, Leschi, Whitworth, Cooper, T T Minor, Viewlands, M L King, Fairmount Park, and Olympic Hills.
So how do these schools break out as far as race, income, ELL, and special ed?
The enrollment at these schools is just under 20% White. About 68% of the students at these schools are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. 13.5% of the students are special education of one type or another, and about 20.5% of them are English language learners.
Not surprisingly, a number of these schools actually are on the list for closures. The school programs to be closed, consolidated or relocated are: The New School, Emerson, Fairmont Park, Viewlands, Graham Hill, E. C. Hughes, M. L King, Orca at Columbia, Whitworth, and John Marshall. Of those ten, only six programs, Emerson, Fairmont Park, Viewlands, Graham Hill, M L King, and Whitworth, are actually being terminated. The New School is being relocated. They aren’t getting the building that they wanted, but I don’ t see how the district can justify construction of a new building when they are closing schools. E. C. Hughes is just an interim site, so there are no students being directly impacted by that closure. Orca is moving to Whitworth, so that’s a relocation rather than a closure. Like the New School, the program will continue, just at a new location. Same for the various programs at John Marshall; they are being relocated, not terminated. Not to downplay the negative impacts of a relocation, but they aren’t anything like those associated with a program termination.
So what are the demographics of the programs being terminated?
White: 18.15%, FRE: 66.72%, SPED: 11.80%, ELL: 20.73%.
It appears that the demographics of the students being directly impacted by closures closely resembles the demographics of the students in buildings with excess capacity. Consequently, I think we can conclude that the outcome is not disproportionate.