Friday, January 26, 2007

Why I'm Voting for the Operating Levy and the Capital Bond

With just a little over a week before the vote (2/6), the public conversation about the Seattle School District levy and bond (Proposition 2 and Proposition 1) is heating up.

I am voting for both the operating levy and the capital bond.

I am voting for the operating levy because passage of the levy is crucial to the operation of all schools. The state should be funding education differently, but until that change happens, a vote against the operating levy would be a vote to cut 1/4 of the operating budget and destroy Seattle Public Schools.

I am voting for the capital bond because the buildings in Seattle are in such poor shape that any improvements are worthwhile.

I am voting for the capital bond despite my frustration with the list of projects slated for the Capital Bond and the lack of openness and responsiveness of Mark Green and others in providing information and engaging the community in conversation. I am voting for the capital bond despite the fact that Pathfinder K-8 has had the entire middle school in portables on the other side of the parking lot from the K-5 building since it became a K-8 in the fall of 2000, has a building that is is truly horrible condition (only a tenth of a point better than the South Shore building according to the district's own assessment) and it will be another seven years before Pathfinder even gets the chance to be on the next capital bond.

I listened to Mel Westbrook (contributor on this blog) and Peter Maier (Schools First) discuss this issue on KUOW's Weekday this morning. I was impressed by the research Mel had done and how clearly she presented her argument. I respect and appreciate her work. But, I think opposing the bond would send the wrong message.

The problems that Mel has identified with the capital bond do point out the need to keep arguing with the district about which projects are actually built, but don't, in my opinion, merit voting against the bond. Voting against the bond sends a message to the community and potential superintendent candidates that we don't support our schools. That is not a message I want to communicate.

Voting against the bond also sends a message to the school district that we are angry and don't like the list of projects, but I think we can communicate that message in other ways. I know Mel is confident that the list of projects could be "fixed" and voted on again in six months. I, personally, don't want the district to spend the extra time and money necessary to hold another election. I don't want parents and community volunteers to be asked to give lots of time and money again. And, most importantly, I don't believe that if opponents of the capital bond are successful in convincing the public to vote against the bond now that 1) consensus could easily and quickly be reached on how to create a new, better list of projects; and 2) that public opinion could be turned back around quickly to then vote for bond they recently opposed.

If you want to learn more, below are some resources to check out:

35 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

I appreciate Beth's well-thought out reasoning. She has been very fair in reviewing my stand. I wish everyone would be.

It is an odd thing that this stand should be as hard as the CAC work. I am just one person putting out information and yet I've managed to get personally attacked.

When the closure and consolidation meetings were going on, parents came from all directions "the district date is skewed/misinterpreted/wrong". Now when I say this about the district data and this projectlist, I have been castigated for even saying anything.

I think superintendent candidates are far more pragmatic than Beth gives them credit for. I'll bet they have seen Board members come and go, levies fail, financial disaster and all sorts of troubles. It's part of the landscape that superintendents face. Sure, a levy failure might give them pause but if they looked at the overall record of levy passage, it would just be a pause.

I will repeat what I said on KUOW; you are voting for a pot of money, not a list of projects. The district can legally do anything -in capital projects - that they want to with the money. They did, in BEX II, not do projects they identified to voters, moved money around from one project to another and told voters they were doing one thing with a sum of money and did a 180 degree turn and did something else with the money. (That last one is a reference to New School which, for the last time, did not exist in 2001 and the money alloted to South Shore did not include language for a K-8. To say money was there for either New School or a K-8 is just not true and, in fact, in oversight committee minutes, the commitee worried about the public finding out that they weren't spending the money as they said. "The possibility was raised that this recommendation might open the District to charges of mismanagement because the resolution might open the District to charges of mismanagment because the resolution is not what was originally intended by the levy." "Because the levy language was vague, these groups all feel they should have a piece of this project", referring to New School and South Lake.)

I was startled this morning on KUOW when a listener said that the size of a student population should make the decision which building gets fixed - Hale versus Nova. Because Hale has more population, it should get fixed first even if Nova's building is worse?

Also, Facilities staff, when presenting the Board with options, stated that if the district waited a year for the elections, the following could happpen:
-"Bundles comprehensive review of space utilization, facilities guidelines, and long-range planning with any changes to student assignment and transportation planning" Both of these are coming this year.
-"Allows for full review of the CACIEE recommendations
-"Allows for more planning time"

There are pros and cons to each option but I have to say those above items are compelling (and it doesn't even list that the district would be able to see how closure and consolidation affects facilities use).

The consensus you want is easy; fix the buildings that are the most unsafe and in the worst shape. Read the Meng report, they are easy to pick out.

Parent said...

Sorry for the Hurt Feelings, But We Need to Maintain Our Schools

Ms. Westbrook, it's unfortunate if you find that people are getting personal or attacking you. Debates over public policy should remain civil and focus on the issues. But they often do not. In this case, you have taken a very public and strident position against repair, replacement and improvement of public schools. If it's your kid whose school is moldy and falling over, this is an extremely distressing position. It's also difficult to take your position seriously when you make completely inaccurate claims, like "Why does the New School need a separate kitchen for the PTA? Why would they need an Alumni room for a school only in existence for 4 years?" The plans for the school are essentially complete, and they include neither a PTA kitchen nor an alumni room. When you make claims like this, it is indeed very frustrating. Elsewhere in the blog when people have questioned some of your points, you are unwilling to accept that you could be wrong. Your response is, basically, "Well, that's what the public record says." You are, in other words, not willing to be responsible for your words.

And in this case, the plans for The New School building--the only public record that really matters--is completely at odds with what you say it is. So yes, when you attack schools, based on incorrect information, people will get frustrated, and with you.

I think even more disturbing than these niggling little points is that overall, you are quick to condemn this large and very complex plan, but you don't really have a better alternative. You lately suggest that we could just assemble a building package based on the district's Meng analysis, and vote on that. It's almost certain that such a levy, however virtuous and narrowly technocratically accurate from a facilities standpoint, would fail completely at the polls. Why? Because it would almost inevitably concentrate resources in some areas more than others, and might well leave entire parts of the city without any substantial capital spending at all for the next six years. (It might also very well create more of the situation that seems to disturb you--spending on buildings with declining enrollment, nearby facilities in good condition, or where it doesn't otherwise make sense.) So, you propose that we reject this carefully thought-out proposal in favor of a vague one that you like better, but that would probably never pass, and could well have the same glitches as the current plan. How is that constructive? How does it help our kids to propose a lovely levy that will never pass?

A capital levy is much more complicated than running down a stack-ranked list of school conditions. The district rightly weighs a lot of factors when putting together these packages, because ultimately it's not about buildings, it's about schools, and communities. The district has to balance educational factors, building age, a variety of programs, regional and racial equity, and a lot more. And they have to get the thing passed, or nothing else really matters. Politics? Yes. Absolutely. That's what happens when people go to vote.

Your opposition also seems to assume that we can just change our plans on a dime, and go in a totally new direction. Assuming that you had a better plan, it's just not realistic to propose breaking ground on a host of new projects that haven't been considered to date. When it comes to actually building something, the only thing that really matters is the nitty gritty reality of which projects are moving their way through the planning, design, and construction process. Whatever your favorite projects are, they can't jump into a queue if they haven't been planned and designed. That's typically two or more years of work. Should we stall all the planned projects while we wait for some new proposal that might pass later? The kids and teachers can't afford to wait.

Melissa Westbrook said...

You assume I have a dog in this fight. I don't. That's what makes it okay for me to step up and challenge assumptions. I don't want to be right; I want to see the right thing done for our district.

I am absolutely standing by my words. I do put a disclaimer in my report stating that I did my best to get information from the district but was repeatedly stymied by staff. What I can tell you about the New School plans comes directly from School Design Team minutes from New School (interestingly, there are SDT minute from New School a full year before there was even a BEX II Oversight Committee). I had to file a Public Disclosure form to even see most of the minutes which are from public meetings. You might ask yourself why that might be. I have asked Facilities staff over and over to see schematics for New School and I have never been allowed or given the opportunity to see them. So if I am wrong, it is because the district would not allow me to see information that would provide a clear path for their process and decision-making. You can blame them and not me because they had many opportunities to allow me to see, what should be, public documents.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Thank you, Beth, for your excellent post! I too am supporting both measures, regardless of my concerns (and I do also have concerns). But I too realize that we can't sit around and wait for the perfect proposal when there is so much work that needs to get done... there is no more time! Continuous improvement is too important for our children and communities. As Melissa says herself, there is nothing stopping the district from changing their plans for the money. She should focus instead on constructively working to get to the best possible solution rather than destructively campaigning against the hard work of so many. She should know from her closure committee work that reaching consensus isn't always possible, so you at least try to make positive progress.

Melissa--I'm sorry you are feeling personally attacked, but I hope you realize just how many people feel like you are the one doing the personal attacks... the health of our schools is very personal, and many perceive that you are threatening that health, despite your intentions. You are not just objecting to this proposal, but you are actively campaigning against it, provocative sound-bytes and all. You are so smart, so articulate, so passionate, and you've worked so hard on school issues... but in this case, I think you've gotten so immersed in the details that you've lost sight of the big picture. The bottom line is this: You are arguing that the school district should not get that extra pot of money you know they need... you say they have to wait to get it. I don't want to hear any more about silly rooms in a new building design, poor responses to your information requests, and your examples of faulty data. What I want to hear more about now is: If you successfully defeat this measure, then what?? Does your closure commitee experience tell you that consensus on these issues will be easy? Is your ideal proposal even possible? And, do you think all of the time, money, and energy to support another ballot measure is the right trade-off vs. trying to work constructively with the district to fix issues with the current proposal?

Anonymous said...

Response to parent - when you say "the plans for the New School - the only public record that matters", are they posted somewhere that we can see? That would quickly answer questions about what rooms are or are not included. And seems a reasonable request for $67MM of taxpayer funds -

I would be interested to hear what constitutes a "carefully thought out" plan - and would also like to see the district's criteria for placement on the bond and how all of the potential projects lined up and were selected. Is that on the district's website?

I would be interested on which points (besides her characterization of the rooms) Melissa is "wrong" and "unwilling to accept personal responsibility for her words"? (The latter is an interesting charge from someone posting anonymously - and yes, I am, as well - but not making any accusations.)

I admire Melissa for the research she's done and the lengths she's gone to be able to vote her conscience - most of the rest of us vote simply on reflex or self-interest, if we vote at all. It's astonishing the level of personal attacks (even veiled ones like Andrew Kwatinetz's "I'm sorry, but", "I don't want to hear anymore", "silly rooms", etc).

I wonder what everyone thinks she's doing this for, except personal conscience and civic responsibility.

Beth - thanks for your reasoned position.

Anonymous said...

wouldn't a replacement levy be for the same amount.
Oh right inflation.
Has your income gone up to compensate for increase in taxes?
Because assessed value has rapidly increased- despite that I haven't been able to put a dime into my 110 year old home for years- the combination of increased in reported value plus the dollar amount increase in tax seems like people like me who haven't seen a real increase in their income for years will be hit even harder.
( however- we already know that the district listens to those who have money first- why else would they maintain the midwinter and spring breaks after we just had a long winter break extended by snow days- oh thats right- some people had travel plans booked-
well some of us don't have travel plans cause its a little chilly in february to go camping- the only kind of vacation we can ever afford- however extending the school year into summer will interfere with our kids summer jobs- which they need to contribute to our living expenses

Im voting no for both-until they reduce the top heavy administration of this district.
It is much larger than other districts of comparable size- why should I pay the salary of someone who only has a job because its easier than paying them to leave.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Hmm, look who's fanning the flames now... I've got my name on my post & I'm happy to discuss this with Melissa anytime. I respect her hard work and I know she believes what she is doing is right. But, I disagree with her strategy and my words were all chosen to further the debate. "Silly rooms", for instance, is not an insult at her... I am agreeing that the rooms she named were silly, I just don't think that's what we should be debating when there's a larger issue at stake. It's RARE that proposals as complicated and far-reaching as a city-wide capital improvement budget make everyone happy or have no details that remain to be worked out. That's not news. But in a society where we spend billions on questionable investments (like war), does one really need to actively campaign against money for schools because they think the wrong falling-apart buildings were chosen to fix? We should pass this measure and then work out the issues and find ways to fix more buildings rather than conclude that everyone gets nothing until everyone is satisfied, if that is even possible...

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Anonymous #2 is a great example of the danger of Melissa's position. Note how they said they are voting no on BOTH measures.

Brita said...

I would truly be interested in seeing data supporting the claim that our admin costs more than comparable districts--thanks!

Anonymous said...

"Comparable districts" presumes districts outside of Washington, as there is no comparable district in Washington. In that data would you account for the same CBAs with unions? The same cost of living? Last I checked most cities as large as Seatlle have a bevy of Assistant Sups and a mindnimbing level of mid-management. Seattle has one Sup, three COs, and the managers/directors.

Anonymous said...

We are SPS parents and you could say we have a horse in this one as we could be Denny/Sealth parents someday. Nonetheless, we are voting FOR the operations measure, AGAINST the capital measure, and we have explained that to our friends and acquaintances who do not have children in district schools yet also will be voting ... stressing that the operations measure is just to keep things going. We do not agree that "any improvement is better than no improvement." We haven't seen any clear explanation that this list is the absolute top priority for repairs/replacements needed in the district, and that's all we want to spend our money on. The campaign will be wise to stress the operations money rather than the other one, to at least avoid having both go down to defeat.

Anonymous said...

The simple fact of the matter is you can't please everyone. If a package were to come together that was to Ms. Westbrook's liking, it may very well displease another.

Individuals who amplify their voice for individual gain and at the expense of Seattle school children are reprehensible. Is a seat on the school board really worth all of the time, energy, and resources which would be wasted by failing this bond?

Anonymous said...

anonymous - do you have evidence that melissa is voicing her concerns for personal gain, or because she is planning to run for school board? Please provide it if you do.

Anonymous said...

Melissa's agenda seems fairly obvious and I agree reprehensible in it's destructive rather than constructive nature.

Anonymous said...

I don't know her well, but have spent enough time with her to surmise that if she ran for school board, it would be to work on concerns like this from inside the tent rather than outside - which seems laudable rather than reprehensible.

I may not agree with her on every issue, but I would never question her motives or integrity - I'm not sure how people can impute things like that without knowing a person.

I'd just say that a person doesn't work on the school closure committee (Meany town hall, anyone?) or put in the hours she does for personal fame, ego, or a bid for the school board (as if that's the brass ring - this witch hunt would be good practice).

I kind of hope she does run - we could use her level of due diligence and respect for data on the school board.

Anonymous said...

Too many of the existing board members are advocates who ran for the board to "work on concerns like this from inside the tent rather than outside".

The result is a highly dysfunctional board with board members loudly using their voices to "advocate" for their issues.

We need school board directors that can work for constructive solutions, find ways to voice their opinions without margainalizing communities, schools, staff members, superintendents, and other board directors, and provide leadership.

Beth Bakeman said...

I'm getting really tired of the "Melissa-bashing" happening on this blog and elsewhere.

If, like me, you support the operating levy and the capital bond, please spend your time and energy between now and Tuesday talking and writing about about WHY you support them and why others should as well.

Contact your friends, talk with your co-workers, chat with people while you are in line waiting for coffee. That would be a much more productive use of time.

Anonymous said...

to the last anonymous - I see your point - but I guess, for me, what I've seen of Melissa's due diligence and research orientation takes her out of the company of the board members you describe.

And as a practical matter, it's hard to imagine someone running for the school board without some convictions that are issue-oriented - and that doesn't have to supplant political sense about what it takes to get things accomplished within a heterogeneous group.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am not running for school board.
If I was, I couldn't think of any more stupid thing to do to a board campaign than to speak out against school levies/bonds. And, in fact, I had decided, long ago, that this would be the year I would step back from activist work. It looks like I'm making the right choice.

I ran into Danny Westneat from the Times at KUOW and asked him if he had read my report. He said, "Yup but I'm still voting yes on the capital bond. I don't care on who or how it is spent, I just want the money." So, that statement makes things clearer to me but if people don't care if safety is the primary issue (when we have air, water and seismic problems) and yet aren't addressing all the schools with those problems or if one school can be put ahead of others in worse condition who have waited longer (thereby setting a precedent for private entities who come after this) or if we load up one area with programming it likely can't support, all the data in the world won't change minds. (And before New School gets upset again, I will state, for the last time, when we voted in 2001 for BEX II, New School did not exist. So, no, we weren't voting for New School. Also, the levy language never stated anything about a K-8 so that, too, wasn't what people were voting on either. We voted to reconfigure the South Shore building. Go back and read the levy language. District staff themselves worried aloud in the oversight committee minutes whether they were opening themselves up to charges of mismanagement for not doing what the levy said. Again, this is in my report.)

And by the way, I never have had my own list. I have no idea why that keeps getting said.

In closing, I see now that if I had just blogged my concerns here, among teachers, parents and at least one Board member, that would have been the acceptable thing to do. Keep it among family so to speak. But stepping out into the general public to speak out, now that's being a traitor. On any other measure, we all have the right, no the responsibility, as people who live in a democracy, to examine the issues and speak out. But if you're a Seattle Schools parent it stops at examining the issues.

I've been schooled.

Brita said...

Melissa is a person of tremendous integrity. It is very important for her to speak in public forums/the media about her concerns regarding the bond package. I have appreciated her raising these questions and I have followed up with staff to get answers. I respect her views, even though, in this case, I do not agree with them. We would be very lucky to have her as a school board member.

Dorothy said...

Brita, to answer your question on Seattle's top heavy district, see this report from The Hoover Institute dated 2004
http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/3344781.html

The article describes how decentralization can reduce costs and make for a better district. Seattle led the way for decentralization with the weighted student formula. (However the WSF is an actual sham because salaries are not considered.) But of the nine districts discussed, Seattle has by far the least efficent central office.

"In the public districts, Seattle is an outlier, with a relatively large central staff. This may be the result of the dramatic decline in enrollments in Seattle after the onset of forced busing, during which enrollment dropped from nearly 100,000 in 1970 to only 39,000 in 1990. The district has yet to downsize its central staff to match that decline in enrollments."

Kirsten Wild said...

I apologize if it seems I have been "Melissa-bashing" - I do respect the time and effort she has put into this. I intend to further research the question of 25-year construction on some projects, in particular. This is not enough to cause me to vote against the Bond measure, however.

The issue for me is that when one chooses to go VERY public with one's feelings on something as critical as our kids' schools you really need to get the facts straight. This is hard enough to unravel without false information being presented in an authoritative tone. There are plenty of folks ranting about Proposition 1&2, but you can usually spot them from from a mile away and hear their information with skepticism. To Melissa's credit, she is not a ranter, which is why I find it so disturbing when I hear false information coming from her.

I am on the School Design Team for the New School at South Shore. I did not recall an alumni room or a PTA kitchen ever being voted on at a New School PTA meeting or being discussed in a SDT meeting, but I asked the question of the District's Project Manager, Martha Turnbull. According to her, there is no alumni room. There is a kitchenette in a PTA room - a small room to store PTA materials and snacks. According to Ms. Turnbull the kitchenette was added by the District because "no one outside the District union employees are permitted in the production kitchen." So now I've learned something.

On the matter of whether the New School has jumped in line somehow, I can only say that the fact that there was a SDT and official SDT notes prior to the one that I am presently one, as noted by Melissa ("interestingly, there are SDT minute from New School a full year before there was even a BEX II Oversight Committee.") indicates that at least we at the New School were being told that the South Shore Building was to recieve BEX II money. It is true that at that time we were looking at a remodel for a Pre-K-5. Due in part to that design process, it was determined by the District that the cost to remodel the building was not feasible with the money allotted to us in BEX II (we were close to the end of the BEX II line so we couldn't borrow against other projects as sometimes happens).

You can read more about why The New School is in this bond measure rather than BEX II, from the PI. As I noted in an earlier post, when it became clear that we were competing for funds, The New School met with the South Lake High School parents’ group to come to a solution. We agreed that we would propose to the school board that they use the remaining BEX II money (minus already spent urgent building repair costs and design costs) for a stand-alone South Lake High School, to make sure that they could keep at least one project on track, opening the possibility that the New School could expand to a Pre-K-8 on site. That left The New School without BEX II construction funds.

For more on this, see http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/248710_schoolweb17.html.


One more issue to keep in mind in thinking about this is that the New School is in an unusual situation in that we are growing by a grade a year. We can't simply hang out in a run-down building until BEX IV because we are quickly outgrowing the existing space.

I hope this clarifies a few things.

Anonymous said...

"The issue for me is that when one chooses to go VERY public with one's feelings on something as critical as our kids' schools you really need to get the facts straight."

Melissa should not be held to a higher standard than the school district. The fact is that the district has been less than organized/coherent in their approach to the "facts."

Agree with her or not, Melissa's integrity and quest for the facts is laudable. It is too bad that few school supporters seem willing to hold SPS to the same standard that they want to hold her to.

This is again a question of district culture...it would be unfortunate if the experience with school closures and the bond ended up reinforcing this well intentioned but myopic and bull headed organizational culture. Instead it should be a clarion call for change. Good on you Melissa for speaking the truth in the face of adversity. Kids will benefit from this kind of long term thinking and fight for real change.

Anonymous said...

still wondering about "the plans for the New School - the only public record that matters" cited by parent above. Are they posted or otherwise available?

and the ranking of buildings, Meng analysis scores, etc against BEX objectives?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ms. Wild correctly points out that New School was told it would receive BEX II money by the district. This is not the same thing as voters being told this and that is what the district is continuing to put out as the truth when it is not.

New School was given at least two choices of other sites to move to and be a K-5 (which was the district's choice 18 months ago) but wanted to grow to a K-8. That was always New School's plan and I don't fault them for wanting to stick with it. But the district is responsible for making programming decisions. I think the district may have recognized how difficult it would be to have two K-8s, one already underenrolled, just over a mile apart.

Alumni room and PTSA room and kitchen are cited on SDT minutes from March 2003, May 2003,June 2003. The design may have changed since then but later minutes do not reflect that it did. I'm surprised that anyone on a SDT team wouldn't have read all the minutes that came before they joined the team but this is probably explained because the district probably never made them available as they didn't to me until I filed the Public Disclosure form.

Another thing I noted in my report is that the original BEX II money was to reconfigure South Shore because it was an open concept building. Imagine my surprise to find out that the district has since built several open concept elementaries (Wing Luke for one) and that New School SDT discussed a open versus a semi-open plan (SDT minutes March 2006). This, of course, meant bringing in an acoustic engineer. As I said, I didn't get to see the schematics so I don't know if the open or semi-open concept won out but it is very ironic that one of those will end up being the design of the school.

Lastly, in the BEX II Oversight Committee minutes from Nov. 2005, "If the levy doesn't pass South Lake HS would still be built and with $2M of repairs, the South Shore building would last another few years."

Anonymous said...

I just listened to Ms. Westbrook on Weekday, and, am, frankly flabbergasted. Ms. Westbrook's comments are basically logically inconsistent; in the same argument she suggests voting against the capital improvements levy because of the specific projects, and complains that the list of projects isn't required.

I'm flabbergasted because it's specifically this kind of infighting among supporters of the schools that drove us out of the system (and into private schools). School levies are almost impossible to pass, without a united front from supporters, they fail, to the detriment of the children in the schools.

I don't have any children in the Seattle Public Schools. And, yet, a levy has to be pretty terribly flawed before I'd consider voting against it. So, my ballots will go into the mail with a yes on both measures.

bj

Kirsten Wild said...

In response to a couple of anonymous postings asking about "plans for The New School". See the below link. This includes a good deal of information for the New School and others - projects which are in the planning/design stage using BEX II money.

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities/SchoolProjects/BEXIIschools.xml

As regards The New School, please note that the meeting minutes dating back to 2003 are for a previous unbuilt project - these do not reflect what is presently being designed for the site. And, obviously the most recent meeting minutes date of 9/28/06 indicates that recent meetings (I believe the last was in mid-December) have not yet been posted. Plans are not posted. Models of a number of the BEX III projects are temporarily at the Schools First headquarters. I will try to figure out if plans for The New School project and other BEX III projects are publicly displayed anywhere (real or electronicly) and will post that information when/if I track it down.

Beth Bakeman said...

Kirsten,

I'm glad to have you on this blog sharing helpful, specific information about the New School. I am a huge fan of the New School, and would like to see some of the best practices there replicated elsewhere.

On an earlier comment, I said I was tired of the "Melissa bashing." What I didn't say was, I appreciate you and others who oppose Melissa's viewpoint by presenting your reasoning, data, and thoughts. And I appreciate those who support Melissa's viewpoint in the same way.

What I can't stomach is people who feel compelled to stoop to personal attacks over a difference of opinions. I recruited the contributors I did for this blog because I want different opinions aired here. I want this blog to be a place where people feel free to share their ideas and opinions, even when (or especially when) the opinion is not popular.

Anonymous said...

Leslie here -

Beth - thank you for this reminder - I am terribly distressed that Melissa Westbrook is being attacked for her opinions based on what she has been able to gather. She advised at the top "Based on what was available to her" and that she had requested several times information from the district that has not been given.

THAT piece of it seems critical to me. The lack of information and public access is a divide and conquer and fight over the crumbs set up to us each one and our individual school communities and our community as a whole. I believe it is incumbent on all of us to DEMAND real access to information that we are paying for, uploading of committee meeting minutes, plans, etc. E.g. the much discussed missing Transformation Plans.

Have been ruminating over an idea/process to bring it to the Board to take proactive action on these concerns and in an attempt to change what Charlie calls "the culture" and have pasted below posts from the "Appted School Board" thread.

I will be drafting a proposed resolution to the Board to address the uploading and dissemination of information, committee meeting minutes, etc. within the next 30 days to circulate it to the Board for possible introduction and if need be testify about it as well.

If anyone would like to assist with proposed language my email address is Harrislsh@aol.com.

Last, I do have a dog in this fight, as a Pathfinder parent watching an extraordinarly inept system in place for improvements, planning and/or location of our terrific K-8 Alternative program - I would appreciate ideas and insight from the great minds on this blog as to how the Pathfinder community can grab hold of some of the BEX II or III planning funds to move forward. We are still in a building that should be condemned, still offering a terrific program in spite of that and still need to look toward the future.

Despite my extreme concerns about the bond offering and HOW the projects are chosen in the dark (apparently as the process is not at all clear) I will vote for it. I do though feel that this is a perfect opportunity to change the process to allow for real input and real transparency to move forward - - if we don't, this half-baked planning (no K-5s, no Closure relationship, no CACIEE relationship) will just continue to all of our detriment.

Thanks for listening.

******
Anonymous said...
Leslie here

What is to prevent the Board from budgeting for and adding one or two staff analysts to report to them? Do we know of another legislative body that does not have staff directly accountable to the legislative body?

Also what is to prevent members of the general public from drafting and offering resolutions to the Board, e.g., draft policies and requesting publicly through the public testimony portion of the meetings for the Board to review and consider? Don't interest groups/lobbyists do this every day? Then, one would hope that the accountability issue of the draft policies being ignored or completely changed would be transparent.

Perhaps the first draft policy should be to develop a mechanism to address a process for policies coming coming from a party other than the SPS Administration or a schoolboard member, the second might be for hiring staff accountable to the board for independant information; and third, if not prohibited by statute or WAC - give the boardmembers raises - (at least in other legislative bodies the current board can't give itself raises but would kick in w/ new members and/or during the next term . . .)

Feedback?

11:29 AM

Charlie Mas said...
There is a process for proposing Policies or drafting resolutions. The District has it on their web site. Unfortunately, the Board web pages are messed up right now.

The problem with the process is that it requires a Board member to introduce any proposal.

10:50 AM

Anonymous said...
Leslie here,

Charlie I understand that - but the idea is like any other legislative body/interest group - we draft policies, send to the Board and/or advise of same in public testimony and request that the Board review, analyze and address in the future. Just like in Seattle, King Co Council, Legislature, etc.

Then it is incumbent on us that have issues to deal w/ them constructively and the Board to be responsive.

Thanks for listening - others - Feedback?

12:20 PM

Anonymous said...

BJ-

You write that “School levies are almost impossible to pass” (I admit I was a little confused by the punctuation in that sentence that might change the meaning) and I am wondering where you come up with that? My understanding is that levies in Seattle traditionally do pass. I was unable to quickly come up with statistics. Does anyone have these?

I am also the type who will pretty much blindly vote for school levies because I think there is never enough money allocated to education. However, I think that given the history of mismanagement in the past, it is the imperative of the electorate to determine if the school district is correctly allocating these funds. That decision is yours. Melissa obviously thinks they are not, Andrew and Beth think the levy is basically good enough and desperately needed. I don’t think that any of these people are wrong for having their opinion. However, I do think that blind support of any school district plan has not done our children any favors in the past.

-Gabrielle

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gabrielle is right that our levies traditionally pass very easily. There was an operations levy failure in 1975 and our last failure was the operations levy in the mid-90s (under Superintendent Stanford)that passed on a second try a month later. The capital levy (bond) has only been in existence since 1996 and the first two went through.

I myself am puzzled over the blind faith and following about the capital bond measure. I get that for the operations budget. Look, you can stop anyone on the street in Seattle, anywhere, and ask them; tunnel or rebuild? They will immediately launch into their preference, why, the costs and the benefits. Why do so many people trouble themselves to learn about this issue? I mean, in the end, something will be built so why trouble yourself to learn about the options? Why? Because it does make a difference. Because if you say to me that by opposing the capital bond measure some kids will not get their schools fixed, I'd say to you if you pass it, the same thing will happen. Some kids in the worst buildings will not get their buildings fixed. There are 7 buildings that have severe seismic problems and yet only Hale is being addressed. Tying this back to the Viaduct, we have played chicken for the last, what is it?, 8 years since the earthquake, hoping we won't get another major one that will cost lives. If you are an insurance actuary that's your job, playing odds. In the case of schools, we're talking about students' lives. If we only fix one building this round with severe seismic problems, what do we say after a major earthquake to the students and parents in the other buildings? Seriously, what would you tell them? We thought the district knew best?

I was really shocked both on the radio and on the Seattle Channel show that I got asked twice why Nova shouldn't wait. The first time I was told the district wanted to do all the traditional high school buildings first and then the alternatives. What difference should it make what program is in a building if a building is in bad shape? Then, on KUOW, someone said Hale should be first because there are more students there than at Nova. So again, we act as an actuary and say we do safety depending on the number of students in a building rather than the condition of the building?

A friend was critiquing my stint on KUOW. (Her child is in private school.) She asked me if I had considered supporting the bond measure but at the same time getting parents to sign on as a group to ask the Board/staff to address some of the concerns I raised AFTER we passed the bond measure. Of course I did. But I also know that the only power we have as parents and taxpayers is before the vote, not after it. They wouldn't listen. How do I know this? Years and years of experience. I've had conversations with at least 4 Board members and I see no willingness to consider anything different.

Lastly, at least you know now that you are not voting to help students leaving their schools that are closing, you know that,in BEX II, you spent $100M for Roosevelt and it will last 50 years and in BEX III, you will spend $80-90M each for Sealth and Hale for 25 year buildings. Lastly, we set a precedent by allowing a private entity to influence what schools get on the rebuild list by putting New School on it. This will make every private foundation that comes after believe that they can get what they want because they are pumping money into the district.

As long as you know that (and you do because someone went out and did the research and you are. at least, a better informed voter than before), then you can, of course,vote your conscience.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Melissa--I don't get it:

On one hand you speak like your facts are so obvious that even an idiot should see how flawed the plan is.
But then you go on to say that you can't get a single Board member (who are also very educated on all of the issues) to agree to follow-up on them. And, you are convinced public pressure wouldn't help at all!
And yet, you've continually gone on record to defend the Board as not in crisis, and have said there is no need to reconsider how we appoint them.

It just doesn't add up.

Furthermore, don't insult contrary opinions by calling it "blind faith". I am far from having blind faith in the district.

But, I don't take the support for levies for granted like you seem to. There is little certainty that the failure of this bond would lead to an easy passage of the next bond. The notion of withholding money from the district to teach them a lesson is growing in popularity--even for the operating levy.

I simply don't believe the list is so bad that we are better off starting a whole new campaign from scratch (wasted time, effort, and money) instead of working on the list we have. Let's aim for forward progress--not stopping everything in the hopes that restarting will somehow make everyone happy (it won't!)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Andrew, just because the Board doesn't listen to me doesn't mean they are in crisis. As for all of them knowing this bond measure, Cheryl Chow didn't even know, at a recent community meeting, all the figures on the measure such as the fact that Sealth is going to be a 25-year building. As for why I don't believe the list could change after the election, you should go and read the Moss-Adams report to get a good understanding about the culture of the bureaucracy at the Stanford Center. It might then become clearer. (Moss-Adams is the independent report about the district after the $35M mismanagement crisis. Their number one concern was the number of staff who had moved money, not followed procedures, etc. and the excuse, every time, was "it was for the kids".)

And by the way, how come no one has pointed a finger at Ed Murray for his ill-timed legislation for the ability to change how boards are made? Do you not think it sends yet another signal that all is not well? What about the Mayor and his lack of courtesy to the board in announcing who he thinks should be superintendent?

Progress forward is not forward progress. Doing something, anything just to say we are is not exactly a service to students in bad buildings or taxpayers who are being asked to provide us with almost half a billion dollars.

My mission, all along, was to give information. As I said before, if you take the information and still vote for the bond measure that is your absolute right as a voter.

Anonymous said...

Andrew-

To be fair, I was the one who first brought up “blind faith”, and Mel was responding to my comment. I certainly don’t believe that everyone who votes for the levy votes on “blind faith” (and I don’t think that either Mel or I stated that). I was just stating that we have reached a point with the school district that we should be looking at all of their plans critically. I believe that you have done that and still chose to vote for the levy, and I respect that.

-Gabrielle

Anonymous said...

Andrew - are you suggesting they aren't listening to Mel because her analysis is flawed?

My feeling is the board members are far from "very educated on all of the issues. For one thing, there aren't enough hours in a day, and for another, research and data don't seem to be their long suit - not a crime and not uncommon, but they are not likely to be conversant on the details of the capital plan.

Aside from the possibility that they don't understand all the details (see above), you've probably worked with them enough to know they (understandably) work within a confluence of influences and forces - including what it takes to achieve a majority vote on any subject in front of them.

It doesn't faze me that Melissa defends them on some issues and not others - I do the same thing. I don't think a "my country right or wrong" position is really necessary when it comes to the board, Raj, the capital bond, or anything else SPS.

When you say "work..on the list we have" - you mean, spend the $500MM on this list, then work on the next set of buildings in 2012, not vote for the bond hoping to modify the list later, right? I hope so, because the latter isn't possible.