Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sinking Seattle Public Schools

I know that this blog is titled "Saving Seattle Public Schools", but what if someone had a beef against the District and wanted to make trouble? Think of the SOCKED folks who dragged the District into Court over the school closures claiming, among other things, that the closures violated anti-discrimination laws and the notice provided prior to the closure of Rainier View was inadequate.

SOCKED made use of RCW 28A.645.010 which allows people to have school board or school official decisions, actions, and in-actions reviewed in Superior Court. That's quite a hammer to be swinging around. The law is pretty vague about what sort of things can be appealed. It's also unclear about what remedies the Superior Court can order. The one thing that is for sure is that this law is a gold-plated license to be a royal pain in the ass.

Take, for example, a routine School Board vote, such as the one taken on November 15, 2006 in which the Board voted unanimously to approve the 2006-2007 Building Transformation Plans. With this vote, the Board attested that the school transformation plans were all complete and that they satisfied the requirements of WAC 180.16.220. Well anyone who has read any of the school transformation plans and has also read the WAC knows without a doubt that the school transformation plans don't begin to meet the requirements of the law. So imagine if a person, or persons, either severally or collectively, aggrieved by the vote on November 15, filed an appeal of the vote in superior court within the thirty day deadline. The District would lose and lose hard. The State Board of Education doesn't review the plans; they accept the Board endorsement without independent verification. The superior court, however, would actually check. The net result would be that the District would lose their entitlement to state basic education allocation funds. Seattle Public Schools would be seriously up the creek with no paddle in sight. Every school would have to scramble to draft a new school transformation plan that actually satisfied the legal requirements. No matter how much the District harangued them, I bet it would be MONTHS before some schools complied.

Is it irresponsible of me to point this out to the general public? Or is it irresponsible of the District to ignore the law, irresponsible of the Chief Academic Officer to endorse the School Transformation Plans to the Board without confirming their compliance with the law, and irresponsible of the Board to endorse the plans to the State Board of Education without confirming their compliance with the law? For what it's worth, I did advise the District leadership of this failing and I didn't appeal the vote before December 15. Maybe now that they have been put on notice they won't leave this door open next year.

There are, in fact, dozens of similar events and opportunities in which the District fails to comply with their Policies or the law. Their work is actually pretty sloppy. In addition, the District staff don't really know the District Policies very well. I think they pretty much ignore them. This speaks to the Board's ineffectiveness as a policy-making body, a condition that is directly attributable to their inability to enforce Policy.

If I had access to affordable legal counsel, say a lawyer/parent with an axe to grind, I could keep the District in Court much more than they would care to be there and I would beat them most of the time. Of course, I would forbear if the District would alter some specific decisions that I might name...

I would consider such extortion solely because no other method of negotiation or conversation has proven effective. I don't want to have a contentious relationship with the District. I want a cooperative and collaborative relationship, but they refuse to even talk to the community, let alone cooperate or collaborate. What other tool do I have to bring them to the table?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Superior Court does not have as much power as you think under this law. A person appealing a board or offical decision must establish that the decision was arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. There was an intersting article about this back when the West Seattle Alumni Association sued over the students voting to change the mascot's name.

Anonymous said...

Grind that axe, baby!

Anonymous said...

As the first anonymous poster says, it's not quite as simple as all that, Charlie. The RCW does give people the right to go to court, as you say. But it doesn't say anything about how courts should address the merits of such appeals. Section 28A.320.020 gives the school boards "broad discretionary power" to run the district. Judges won't want to get involved in most decisions if they can possibly help it. You'd have to show that the board did something completely outside its discretion or otherwise contrary to state law. So even if you can find a lawyer who agrees with you, running around filing lawsuits about every board decision will likely get you nowhere. And if you think the superintendent and the school board ignore you now, you'll get even less response if you are a litigant.

Charlie Mas said...

I think the example I gave, in which the Board endorsed the school transformation plans as meeting the requirements of a state law when, in fact, they don't even come close, would meet the requirement that the Board action was contrary to state law.

The Board may have broad discretionary powers, but they are not allowed to violate the law.

I wouldn't propose hauling them into court for every single freaking decision. I'm only interested in airtight cases such as the one I described. Even being selective like that, it is a target-rich environment.

Marie said...

Charlie, your idea of "airtight" is not necessarily going to stand up in Court. I suggest you talk to the folks who supported the lawsuit you mentioned, as well as Eric Dawson. Both were promised certain victory by two different lawyers only to lose.

How about this, if you dislike how things are being handled RUN for the School Board, don't waste tax payer money on the Courts hearing (and the District defending) cases that are filed simply because you want people to listen to you.

Charlie Mas said...

Marie,

I DID run for school board in 2001. I was endorsed by the Weekly, the P-I, and the Stranger but finished third in a three-way primary.

My next opportunity to run will come in 2009 and, depending on my work situation, I may choose to run again.

Why is it that a citizen has to be on the School Board to be heard?

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised that nobody is listening to you, Charlie. If memory serves, you wrote on this blog that for awhile you were writing two or three times a week to the superintendent. (Correct me if I'm wrong on that.) But that's nutso stuff, and I'd ignore you, too. Plus, calling people names (I see "liar" and "incompetent" thrown around a lot on this blog) is going to further put you on the IGNORE list. And your latest speculation about lawsuits on a blog will just make that all worse. You're hurting yourself and your cause, even if you mean well.

Anonymous said...

Coming out and saying that you are considering extortion is high on the nutso factor, in addition to being an admission of itent to committ a crime.

Anonymous said...

"If I had access to affordable legal counsel, say a lawyer/parent with an axe to grind, I could keep the District in Court much more than they would care to be there and I would beat them most of the time."

Really? Name one lawsuit under this statute in the last five years in which the District did not win.

Frankie said...

The school board and district may hear what we say as individuals, they may even pay attention when we come together as a group, but acting on our requests and demands is a different story. The school board hears from so many parents, with so many different perspectives. Though we all have the best interest of our children at heart, we, as parents don't agree on much. One parent may be fighting to save and strengthen alternative education, and the next parent is convinced that alternative ed. and the all city draw transportation that accompanies it is draining the districts resources and should be eliminated. One parent thinks we should close underenrolled schools, another will fight to the death to save each and every school. Who is the board to listen to?? How could they possibly act on every parents demands, let alone respond to every parents requests? I have only had one opportunity to deal with the school board. I was able to make appointments and sit down with every school board member individually (though some were harder to pin down than others). I found Brita Butler-Wall to be extremely responsive. She listened to what myself and others from my community had to say, and she acted on our requests. She brought forth our requests to the board, and policy was changed! Would I expect her to do this for every little thing I disagree with or find unattractive. Of course not. That would be unrealist. I'm not saying that the board or admin. have the right to blow us off. They don't. But you have to have realistic expectations.
Frankie

Charlie Mas said...

Here's a funny thing. Someone tells a lie, and I call them a liar. Then, all of a sudden, the great offense is not the lie, but the fact that I called someone a liar.

What is the polite and inoffensive way to try to hold someone accountable for telling lies?

As for the nutso factor, what is the sane reaction?

Anonymous said...

Charlie, if you call people names, they just won't listen to you, even if your name is accurate. Kind of a basic concept of courtesy and manners. It happens all the time in the the business world that people say one thing and do another. Usually the best approach is to quietly point out the discrepancy to others involved, without calling names, and try to suggest a constructive solution. Calling names, in fact, just makes it more likely that people will think that YOU are the problem, not the liar.

As for what would be a sane reaction to school policies you don't agree with, I'd pick the one tha matters most to you, express your views clearly, concisely (and politely), and then organize like-minded people to join your advocacy on your issue. But if you write incessant letters, they won't listen to you about any of it. Imagine if Manhas wrote to you two or three times a week about how to be a better parent.

Charlie Mas said...

See, here's the thing. I did all of those things.

I did quietly (and politely) bring these discrepancies to people's attention - they ignored them.

When I spoke directly with Mr. Manhas about a set of promises he made in a letter to thousands of families, his response to me was "Well, you know, I didn't write that letter." That is a direct quote. When asked, he did confirm that he had read and signed the letter. But then he denied any responsibility for implementing the promised actions saying that it was other people's work. When asked, he denied any responsibility to manage the people that he claimed had the job of implementing his promises, and denied any responsibility to confirm that his promises were fulfilled.

So, following that exchange, what's the next step on the polite and inoffensive track to effective advocacy? Or, at that point, would you conclude that this person is a total write-off?

I am, for the most part, civil, courteous, and constructive. If you have seen me give testimony at Board meetings you will see that. In fact, the idea that my behavior is the problem didn't arise until fairly late in this thread.

First came legal questions, then came the suggestion that I run for the Board, then, finally, came the suggestion that my demeanor is diminishing my effectiveness.

Let me assure you, that's not the problem. I wrote frequently to the Superintendent about that one issue (the letter full of unfulfilled promises), and that was three years ago. Writing less frequently is no more effective.

The problem is that people have an extraordinarily difficult time getting a coherent response out of the District staff or the district leadership about ANYTHING. Everything just goes into a Black Hole.

The problem is that the District staff commonly show bad faith to members of the community. They refuse to collaborate, they refuse to provide timely accurate information, they often refuse to even tell people about their decisions.

The problem is not that people, actual flesh and blood people, have normal healthy emotional reactions to being treated dishonestly and disrespectfully. The problem is the dishonest and disrespectful treatment.

I'm glad that Frankie had such a good experience. That story, however, is extraordinary. Perhaps that is the model to follow: make appointments with each Board member and speak to them one-on-one about your issue.

Kate Martin said...

Charlie-

Thanks for everything you do and your diligence in pointing out the black holes.

I personally hate being sucked up in black holes and I really hate it when people label me as crazy when I ask about black holes. Part of the marginalization of truth-tellers so flagrant today.

The school district has an extended history of ineptitude if not thievery and and most of the school board have been bought in exchange for their pet projects.

I super appreciate your ability to watch it and I learn a lot from your commentaries.

I guess all I can hope is that CPPS and A4E will not successfully place more school board members who can be bought and that the Mayor will be unsuccessful in his efforts to eliminate electeds on the school board. His people are at the core of the problems.

How about that fraud investigation?