Friday, May 11, 2007

Board Elections & School District Governance

Starting this week, "Meet-up" discussions about Seattle school district governance are happening around the city, sponsored by Washington Appleseed, Community & Parents for Public Schools Seattle, and Schools First. (see Host a Spring Meet-up and Education Meetups In May)

At the same time, discussions about School Board elections are heating up. (see Who's running for Seattle School Board?, Candidate Forum and School Board Candidate web sites)

I've heard a lot of anti-incumbent rhetoric about the current School Board members, and even indulged in a bit myself at times when I was most frustrated. But I don't think having a large turnover of School Board members every two years is good for our district. I hope that voters do some research and think carefully about which Board members should stay on and which should go.

However, since no incumbents have officially announced they are running for re-election, this might be a moot point.

Geov Parrish wrote a piece on this topic recently that sounds like it could have been written by Charlie Mas. Read Seattle's great school hoax (Beacon Hill News) for a good reminder that while it is easy and fashionable to bash the current School Board members, the criticism is not necessarily well-founded.

18 comments:

Kathleen Brose said...

Mr. Parrish said that the schools are actually funded fairly equitably. Actually, more money has flowed into the south-end schools with the student weighted formula. More money goes to schools with students with IEP's and free and reduced lunches.

I'm getting tired of the "bashing" of the PTA's and their fundraising efforts. These parents are doing the work of the District and the State by providing art, music, supplies for the teachers and a multitude of other things and services. When I was the PTA President at Catharine Blaine, we rewired the school for voice and data. We even bought the school a new phone system to replace the Lilly Tomlin switchboard. We probably saved the District $100,000 by this year-long effort.
That is money that they were able to spend elsewhere.

Yes, all the schools need better funding. I wish the media would quit picking on the PTA's that are pumping funding into these schools. Just think about the District without our wonderful PTA volunteers and fundraising efforts.

I'd actually like to see the District hire a person to help develop stronger PTA's at the struggling schools. PTA's do more than fundraising. They also help create links/bridges to the community surrounding the school.
A strong PTA can improve the school
in many ways.

Charlie Mas said...

I would add to Kathleen's post that schools with high concentrations of students living in poverty also receive additional funding called "compensatory education". This amount is often more than almost any PTA can raise.

PTA funding is not the source of inequity, particularly when it is matched or exceeded by compensatory ed and the weighted student formula.

Money is not the source of the inequities.

The sources of the inequities lie in family support, in the migration of the more experienced and more qualified teachers to the schools with students who are better prepared for school, and, more than anything, in the expectations that the teachers set for the students.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying Kathleen, and I'm tired of the bashing too, but I think it's also important to point out that when PTAs raise money THEY get to determine how it's spent. The extra money that comes from state and federal programs goes to specific uses (and not always to best either) that are outlined by the feds, state, and district.

When you have an educated body of parents who can also raise dollars for specific needs that actually DO benefit their children, then no amount of state/fed money can compare 'cause that money is like welfare money.

So, you're right, we shouldn't bash PTAs for raising money, but don't make assumptions about the weighted student formula dollars that aren't true.

Dorothy said...

The third commenter has it right, that you really cannot compare PTA money and WSF money. Too dissimilar for a direct comparison. However, Kathleen Brose is wrong when she says that more money goes to schools based on IEPs and FRL. On paper, in theory, yes. In practice, no.

The Weighted Student Formula hides a lot of inequity. More money is not flowing into the south end schools. Schools with a high concentration of senior teachers get more money that schools with a high concentration of younger teachers because the weighted student formula does not account for salaries, therefore schools like Bryant are getting a hidden subsidy, while schools like High Point get more money on paper than they do in real life.

I believe the district is talking about changing the funding model, but I do not understand what sort of an impact it will make on equity.

Schools do not have to account for actual salaries in their budgeting, they only have to budget on average salaries.

District wide averages (2006 data)
newest teachers (1 to 5 yrs) 25.8%
most senior (more than 10 years) 38.9%


Bryant:
1 to 5 years: 14.3%
more than 10 years: 54.3%

High Point:
1-5 years: 41.5%
more than 10 years: 23.5%

Salaries are by far the biggest piece of the budget yet they are not factored into the weighted student formula. Can we get the actual school funding data anywhere that includes actual salary cost for schools as well as compensatory funding?

Anonymous said...

But all that money goes to salary and a school isn't going to be able to tell a teacher of 10+ years that they need to go teach somewhere else so they can have more money to pay for something else. Is it the school's fault that teachers like it there and want to teach there long term? I might add that my child has a first year teacher this year and she is amazing - she is the teacher to get for next year's class.

I understand the inequity of the teacher's salaries, but you still need money outside of salaries and the PTA has to make up that money regardless of how much the teachers make. That's a union issue, not the school's issue that a teacher wants to teach there because they perceive it as a place they would prefer to work in.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm surprised that the PTA at Bryant would have had to pay for that voice and data system. Those kinds of upgrades are supposed to be in the BTA levy. But, when the district goes about moving money from one capital pot to another (to pay for cost overruns that could have been foreseen had they comprehensively looked at their project), then schools with technology problems get to wait. That's why the capital fund and Facilities needs to have more oversight.

Dorothy is right about comparing the experienced teachers with inexperiences teachers and where they end up teaching. I'd bet that new teacher in the last post is at a school with many more senior teachers who can mentor and support her. That's the key. New teachers all lumped together cannot get the mentoring they need just from a principal.

I think Geov Parrish got a lot of it right and horray for a journalist that finally will say outloud what some of us think. It's okay with me if people want to vote against all the incumbents who run again but at least be fair about it and consider them on an individual basis. There has been forward movement in this district. I wish there had been more and maybe in different directions but if you read in the Times that the last 4 years have been a disaster then you'll know it's not true.

Last, Beth stated that no incumbent has officially announced but Sally Soriano has made it clear she is whether or not it is "official".

Dorothy said...

Yes, brand new teachers can be awesome and yes some senior teachers can be dreadful. I do suspect, however, that when the overall staff average seniority is higher, the overall learning experience is improved. New teachers have access to more mentors. It's probably also true that new innovative teachers might find resistance to change as well. I don't know the data.

I do not have any agenda about moving teachers around for equity's sake. I do not have any wisdom about how to improve that inequity.

All I want is for people to recognize the truth of the way money is distributed to schools and stop claiming that the weighted student formula figures accurately portray reality.

Kathleen Brose said...

Thanks for this information, bloggers. This is a great discussion and I hope someone from the District is reading it as well.

Anonymous said...

"More money goes to schools with students with IEPs." I am sorry Ms. Brose, but duh.

Staffing a special ed class at a 8:2:1 ratio is necessarily going to cost more than staffing a gen ed class at 25:1. That is not even considering the high needs students, or that parents demand 1:1 aides, even though they result in student isolation from peers and cost more than 10 times what the district gets per special ed student.

Anonymous said...

To:Anonymous at 512P

Do you really have to use the word duh. It's so rude. You could have written the same information without the insulting comment. Perhaps, you didn't notice Ms. Brose's post above yours where she thanks fellow bloggers for sharing information, and acknowledges that this is a great conversation to have.

Just because you are anonymous doesn't excuse you from having manners when corresponding. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

The often-raised complaints about inequality due to PTA fundraising strike me as shallow. Does anybody really believe that if the stated $1000 per family (to take the high end of PTA funding) were allocated as per-student increase by the state to all schools, that the PTAs would stop their efforts? Of course they wouldn't. So the goal post moves, and in a year or two the complaints are revived.

The logical outcome of these complaints is some sort of means-testing for public education, where well-off families subsidize struggling families. Now, this may in fact be a good idea, but it's certainly not one that's spoken of openly. And of course, it won't be discussed, because it's obviously doomed from the start. But if you follow the logic (such as it is) of the complaints, that's actually where you end up.

classof75 said...

Re SPED
yes I hope that schools are spending more on SPED students than on other students-

After all- they get three pots of money for each student

One is the money that is received for each student in the district
Another is the money from the State to serve the need of that student
and the third is money from Federal for that student

However- with site based management- I have participated on budget committees where the inexperience of the principal in writing the budget resulted in the money that is earmarked to address IEPs first, be deposited into the general fund of the school- rationalizing that what benefits the school, will eventually benefit the IEP student.

When districts need more funds than what is available for SPED they can apply to state for safety net funding.

Vancouver Wa a much smaller district for example applied for and recieved $500,000 in safety net funding.

HOwever- since Seattle has been sloppy with their budget accountability, they have only been able to apply for a small portion of safety net funding, because they are still working on keeping track of where the money is going.

http://www.wssec.org/

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:42 and Class of 75 each raise points that I think are key to the future of SPS:

1) PTAs with money helping PTAs or schools without money, and

2) SPS and sloppy accounting.

If SPS is going to reduce school choice and move to a neighborhood school system, they'd better be prepared to give every school the monies they need for their students. If we need more New Schools, make them happen, but make sure that schools without this kind of partnership aren't left hanging. This should be simple, but apparently it's not.

As so many have said before, when will the district listen to what parents want? Instead of making schools like John Stanford and the New School brass rings to fight over, make more of them. Instead of driving parents to lie about where they live in order to get a seat, build what they want where they live. The baggage that goes with living south of the Ship Canal should have been done away with after we stopped bussing!

If a student has valid reasons for choosing a school outside their neighborhood (ex. to fulfill their IEP, or for AP of IB programs), they should still have the right to apply to that school, but overall, their education and support services should be close to home. Not to segregate them, to serve them.

SPS can’t fix neighborhood crime or income. That’s perhaps where the city can stop threatening SPS and do their own job. Really, are we ready to demand that all schools become beacons in the face of citywide gentrification? Will Greg Nickels help make this happen? If we’re a green city, then why should kids spend 2-3 hours a day on a bus?

What’s happening in Seattle if happening everywhere: low and moderate-income families are being driven out. SPS, meanwhile, is protecting their own hothouse industry called equity and race relations.

I think SPS needs a paradigm shift because their demographic is all about income at the end of the day. When you consider the incomes of families who choose private school, or make the sacrifice for it, it would seem that SPS has succeeded in driving away the very demographic that Nickels and company prefer to serve. They can talk about social justice all they want to. The fact is, they talk about it don’t deliver on it. They can’t.

When parents rail against a foundation that wants to bring tech education to RBHS, it’s tragic, because they’re railing at the wrong people. They should be at SPS headquarters, demanding someone’s head for the decade-long ruin of their school. Then they need to get as savvy as the parents in Laurelhurst and put into action what equity is all about.

Finally, since the tenure of Olchefske, how many audits has SPS had? Where does that levy money really go?

RE: PTA funds, if parents want *more* at their school, their goals should be your greatest indicator of what that particular school needs for their kids. The so-called extras can also be an antidote to the issue of equity, not a detriment.

Every PTA should be a strong voice for parents, and if they need help with fundraising, then we certainly have evidence of volunteers and foundations who can donate seed money and provide expertise to help parents build their PTA as a power center.

I've heard quite a few stories here of parents who felt like outsiders when they tried to participate. This shouldn't be happening anymore. For schools that have small PTAs with low participation, they should do everything they can to bring more parents together. Host parenting lectures for parents, have a bbq at a time of day where the most people can attend. Get people talking.

Until every school has a successful PTA, I'd be happy to donate more to my PTA if I knew it was going to help another school. I don’t see anything creepy in that equation. Nobody looks at me funny when I write a yearly check to Hopelink. They helped me when I needed it. Now I give to them because I know they’ll do a great job helping others.

Outside foundations and PTAs shouldn’t be cast as the enemy if they’re bringing value to the school. On the contrary, if the bureaucracy of SPS were capable of making every school a good school, giving every child the basics for learning, they would have done it by now. WenG

Beth Bakeman said...

WenG, I really like your post and many of the points you raise. What I struggle with is "Where do we go from here?" In other words, you've made some good concrete suggestions, how do we work to get them (or at least some of them) to happen?

Kathleen Brose said...

The office of the Seattle PTA President might be a good place to start a dialogue.

Charlie Mas said...

Beth asks "In other words, you've made some good concrete suggestions, how do we work to get them (or at least some of them) to happen?"

This brings us right back to the fundamental flaw in Seattle Public Schools: there is nothing that we can say or do that can cause anything to happen. Seattle Public Schools is culturally and structurally incapable of responding to the needs of the community it purportedly serves.

The most effective thing you can do is find a principal or education director who will champion your idea. If you want another John Stanford International School (or Montessori, or IB, or whatever), the only way to do it is to find a school principal who is willing to create the program at his or her school. It cannot be mandated at the District level, so there is no point talking to District people about it.

It makes me wonder how AE1 or Nova or Orca or any of the alternative schools were created. I can't imagine any of them being created today.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I totally agree, Charlie. There's a good mystery to ponder but your idea of it likely being a principal willing to take on change because it would benefit his/her school is probably right. I, too, cannot imagine any school changing now without district staff pushing it.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm getting an idea.

From the maps on the Student Assignment Plan web site, it is clear that there is a terrible shortage of middle school seats in the southeast part of the District, particularly in the far southeast. Right in that area, the District will close the Rainier View at the end of this school year.

Also, the middle school choices in that area, Mercer, Aki Kurose, and the AAA, whether they deserve the reputation or not, are not well regarded for academics.

It seems to me that if someone came to the District with a plan to develop a new middle school housed at Rainier View, they might find an audience both with the public and with the District.

Yes, some capital would have to be spent to make the Rainier View building appropriate for use as a middle school - installing science labs and larger fixtures. Yes, it would, by necessity, be a small middle school. Alternatively, the land space there is HUGE, with plenty of space to build something new, such as a new middle school building or a K-8. It would be the fourth K-8 in the Southeast (AAA, New School, and Orca are either K-8s or expanding to become K-8s), but it could be the first non-alternative one.

The District could do it with BEX III money. Hey! I just remembered that the District said that they would spend some of the BEX III money to build a K-8 or middle school in the Southeast. This could be it!

Now the $64 million question: How could this new K-8 or middle school at Rainier View be different from Aki Kurose or Mercer?