The Seattle Times writes that the Seattle School Board, with the exception of Michael DeBell and Cheryl Chow, are incompetent and should resign immediately. You can read their Sunday editorial at this link or below. http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=boarded12&date=20061112 What do you think?
The Times says that the District is dysfunctional. If it is dysfunctional, how much of that dysfunction is attributable to the Board, how much to the Superintendent, and how much to the District's culture which predates all of them? Why does the Times put all of the blame on the Board? The Times doesn't say.
The Times says that the District has been missing a strong Board-Superintendent leadership team. The Times puts all the blame for that failure of leadership on the Board. Why? The Times doesn't say. The Times says that the majority of the Board members have failed in their public leadership because they don't act as part of a group. Is acting as part of a group a defining feature of leadership?
The Times does name one specific example of a pet project that Board members pursued instead of focusing on teaching and learning: working conditions for bus drivers. The Times doesn't think that the Board should be concerned about this at all. What do you think? Out of all of the time that the Board has been in office, how many hours do you suppose they have devoted to this concern? Has it been such a distraction that they aren't attending to other business? Is their interest in the welfare of bus drivers sufficient cause to call for the Board's resignation? If so, that might be true for Directors Stewart, Bass, and Soriano who did devote some of their time to it, but why should Directors Flynn and Butler-Wall resign? The Times doesn't say.
The Times writes that the Board is running our schools into the ground. How exactly? Which of their votes was destructive to schools? The Times doesn't say.
The fact is that the Board has very little to do with what happens in classrooms. The Board is specifically prohibited from getting involved in the District's day-to-day operations or administration. If the schools are being run into the ground, surely the leadership for that direction is coming from the Superintendent rather than the Board. How is it that the Superintendent is blameless for the Times' perceived decline in Seattle Public Schools and the Board, who can only work through the Superintendent, is at fault? The Times doesn't say.
The Times gives the Board credit for funding six periods a day in high schools - noting that neighboring districts fund seven. The Times fails to mention that the State only funds five. All of the credit for this achievement goes to one Board member, Michael DeBell. Why? Wasn't he acting as part of a group? The Times doesn't say.
The Times blames the Board alone for the loss of grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Which action by the Board turned that money away? Again, the Superintendent is regarded as blameless by the Times - why?. Aren't they a "Board-Superintendent leadership team"? The Times doesn't say.
The Times suggests that the Board's scepticism about charter schools will cost the District future grants. Seattle voters have rejected charter schools again and again - over the Times support for them. The Times says that the TAF Academy at Rainier Beach High School will boost the school's tiny enrollment - it won't. TAF Academy will be a separate school from RBHS and is likely to take students AWAY from that school.
The Times says that the Board is a barrier to progress - what vote did they take against progress? I can't remember one. The Times doesn't say.
The Times says that the Board's priorities are completely out of whack with what the schools need - what is it that the Times thinks the schools need that the Board isn't doing? The Times doesn't say.
The Times says that the Board is simply ineffective. What did the Times expect them to do that they have not done? The Times doesn't say.
The fact is that the Seattle School Board has not worked well with the Superintendent. The reason for this is that the Superintendent would not take direction from the Board, would not adhere to District Policy, would not implement the reforms directed by the Board, and, in a number of other ways, failed to do his job and obstructed the Board's ability to do theirs.
The fact is that the Times supported the old Board. The fact is that the Times did not call for that Board's resignation when $35 million went missing - they did not even call for the Superintendent's resignation then. But now they are all worked up over $50,000 spent to explore the possible benefits of District-operated school buses.
The fact is that the Board is not incompetent and has not failed in its duties. The fact is that every Board vote does not have to be unanimous. The fact is that there is nothing that the Times can point to and say "Here is where and how the Board has failed." nor can they identify anything that the Board should have done but have not done. The Times simply disagrees with this Board's policies and values and therefore wants them out. The Times is repeating the lie, over and over again, that the Board is incompetent in the hope that people will come to accept it without evidence. The Times appears intent on talking down the District so badly that the upcoming levies fail - one more thing that they will blame on the Board.
A failed school board should resign, now
The Seattle School District can only move beyond crisis mode and break its cycle of dysfunction when it is led by a new School Board.
Superintendent Raj Manhas' pending departure and the beginnings of a protracted search for the next schools chief highlight what this system has been missing all along: a strong board-superintendent leadership team. The majority of board members have failed Public Leadership 101: entering as individuals and acting as part of a group. Having never risen above the personal agendas that propelled them into office, board members are stuck on non-academic matters while the district veers from one emergency to the next.
A textbook example was the ill-fated push for Seattle to run its own school-bus system. For much of their tenure, board members Irene Stewart, Sally Soriano and Mary Bass have been obsessed with improving working conditions for bus drivers. This issue has nothing to do with classrooms and learning, yet the trio spent $50,000 in public funds on a consultant who studied a plan for the district to buy a fleet of buses and employ its own drivers.
No surprise there. A few years back, while district managers were negotiating new contracts with bus companies, Stewart wrote a Labor Harmony Agreement despite staff warnings it would lead to higher costs.
This city doesn't need a board bent on doing the politically correct thing for adults while students in classrooms go wanting.
We need an immediate change. Board members should cease their cling to power and do what's best for children. Much is at stake, including two money measures slated for the February ballot and a fraying relationship with state lawmakers, who determine the district's funding.
Former Mayor Norm Rice can shepherd us through this rough patch. The board should offer him a three-year contract as superintendent.
Then, save for Cheryl Chow and Michael DeBell, the board should step down: Soriano, Bass, Stewart, Brita Butler-Wall and Darlene Flynn.
Seattle is only as good as its schools. If the board is allowed to run our system into the ground, this city will be dragged down with it.
The board's successes are notable because they are so few. One shining example was the increase of high-school academic periods to six per day — neighboring districts offer seven. DeBell scrambled to find the $2 million to pay for it. Inexplicably, Soriano and Bass voted against the measure.
The message sent to the public: extra money for bus drivers, yes; money for kids, no. This board must go. Otherwise, the district will continue to lose families and supporters.
The board practically lost the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The largest in the world, the foundation has spent hundreds of millions on public schools and bestowed its first dollars years ago on Seattle's schools. But foundation officers declined to renew a $26 million grant and have adopted a wait-and-see approach to the district.
One situation the foundation is watching unfold is the School Board's hesitation on a plan to launch an academy on science, technology, engineering and math at Rainier Beach. The academy was co-founded by Trish Milines Dziko, a co-chair of a citizens committee that advised the superintendent on district finances.
All acknowledge the academy's potential to strengthen academics and boost Rainier Beach's tiny enrollment. But School Board members have long held an unhealthy suspicion of outside philanthropy in the schools. The academy is a good idea that may never happen.
This board has become the barrier to progress. Their priorities are completely out of whack with what the schools need.
The community needs resignations from five board members. A recall sets a bar difficult to climb, requiring a finding of misfeasance or malfeasance. This bunch is simply ineffective.
Upon resignation of five board members, the Puget Sound Educational Service District steps in and a new board is appointed.
We need to be vigilant about attracting a top-quality board. To get the people we want, we have to get rid of the people we've got.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company