Friday, February 15, 2008

Sowing Bitter Seeds

After the financial debacle of Superintendent Olchefske, I count the closing, leasing and then the sale of Queen Anne High School (for less than market price because of a flawed lease/sale agreement), as one of our district's worst mistakes in recent history. It led to so many outcomes that rippled across our district.

We had lawsuit by QA/Magnolia parents that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The outcome was a minor win for the parents (they got rid of the use of the racial tiebreakers used by SPS) but they didn't get race thrown out for use in enrollment plans. Instead, the district created a small high school, The Center School, which is great little high school but was not what those parents wanted and has cost the district a lot of money (to create and sustain). The rippled out effect are the large legal fees the district is likely to have to pay (and thus we lose money for our district) and to over enroll Ballard and likely Roosevelt and create problems there.

And, those two neighborhoods still have no high school.

The mistrust and anger and unhappiness that act - of closing, leasing and selling QA High - has affected the whole district and is still here years later.

So, why bring it up? Well, because it is likely happening again and maybe in a worse way.

I'm speaking, of course, of the Denny/Sealth project. I could give you a long litany of how this project was flawed, from almost its inception when former Director Stewart gave Board members the impression that the communities involved were all for it, to today.

The latest is that the BEX staff in Facilities has recommended to the Board, at Wednesday's Board meeting, Option 2 which is the one where more money will be put towards Sealth's project (but it's also an illusion because this amount had been taken out in previous discussion and now is basically just being returned). That money, $10M, is to come from other accounts that, to my mind, the staff and Board have no business using for this purpose (they are a fund to pay off the headquarters and two BEX III funds for other projects). This is not an emergency; they are simply trying to buy off a community to continue what they want to do. However, it seems that the obstacles in this project are not really money based so that extra money isn't going to solve these obstacles.

So what does this have to do with the district overall?
  • the district printed one thing in the voter's guide and another in its mailing to 45,000 households. Why would they do that? It was a deliberate decision. This kind of action is just the thing to make voters mistrust the district.
  • this project is going to alter or destroy work done previously on Sealth in the last 5 years. Again, how can voters trust the district to use their money responsibly when they do something like this?
  • If the district can come into Sealth and say that they have to create a new program, without asking parents or staff, then every single school community in this district should worry. Because it means they will feel they can do it anywhere at any time.
  • the first community engagement meeting (at least that I know of) by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is one where a presentation is made, the audience is divided into small groups who get to ask questions and report them back to the group at large but receive no answers. Can you imagine doing this for the meetings for the new Enrollment plan? That is not public engagement and it doesn't bode well for the future.
  • this district preaches about academics driving everything. This project is not driven by any real academic program or outline of a program. We are told there can be academic benefits to 6-12 collaboration. Period. That's not really enough to commit two schools to a 50-year relationship. (Denny is being built for a 50-year cycle so if this great experiment doesn't work, well, the two school are co-joined and it will stay that way.)
We have a BTA levy, I believe, in 2010. So many people in Southwest/West Seattle are really unhappy with this and unlikely to forget about it. (By 2010, Sealth's update will be finished after their 2 years at Boren and Sealth gets to move back into their building only to have their school property become a work site while Denny is being built. I think the neighborhood will notice and remember every single day what the district has done.)

The district and the Board are sowing some bitter seeds of resentment. Surprisingly, Director Sundquist said he already favors Option 2 and said, at the community meeting at Sealth this week, that "the community will have to challenge his beliefs". I kind of think that's backwards. He should be going out and asking his community (at this meeting, they were clearly skeptical) about their beliefs.

I told the Board at last night's Board meeting (paraphrasing) - as you sow, so you reap and if you sow the wind, don't be surprised to reap the whirlwind. I also said, in closing, it's never the wrong time to do the right thing.

3 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I would like to challenge Director Sundquist's beliefs.

I challenge his belief that the budget for other high school capital projects should be increased on demand without discussion, but that any increase in the cost of the Chief Sealth project should have to meet vague and impossible standards.

I challenge his belief that it is okay to outsource the community engagement to the contractor - a party who has no vested interest in learning and incorporating the community's view but does have a vested interest in excluding any outside input.

I challenge his belief that the Facilities staff have provided him with accurate data. Facilities claims that they have done community engagement all along - without mentioning that the community has opposed the merger all along. Facilities claims that Option 3 (rebuilding Denny at Denny instead of at Sealth) would create a 24 month delay for plans and permits when they only started that work eight months ago. Facilities claims that the voters approved a merged campus when there was no mention of a merged campus anywhere in the ballot or the voter's guide.

I challenge his belief that it is his job to advocate for the staff against the wishes of the community instead of the other way around.

I challenge his belief, expressed on the 13th, that the merged campus was part of an effort to benefit the Sealth community. Purportedly, without the merger, Chief Sealth High School would only get the HVAC and safety work, that it would take two years, and the school would return to an otherwise unimproved building. I challenge the belief that the other proposed improvements are only affordable through a merger with Denny.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

These folks just do not care about community opinion they are the experts and we are not. <-- This is very clearly corrrect because they say so.

As the fifth grader said in board testimony, about the math adoptions: It is never too late to correct a mistake.

This can not happen because the board and the administration have clearly never made a mistake.

It is impossible to rehabilitate those in denial.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

As usual they have no relevant data.

Just a peachy keen idea a 1400 to 2000 student Middle/High school grades 6 through 12.

Try marketing those teaching positions to highly qualified applicants. No wonder the district wanted a new student assignment plan so families could not get away from this disaster.

I had concerns when the Times predicted it could cost as much as $50,000 to run for school board in 2007. Since Ms. Carr and Mr. Sundquist raised over $100,000 each and Mr. Maeir raised over $160,000, who will be buying the old Denny site? The same folks who bought Queen Anne?

The Times needs a better predictor. They missed the top end by $117,000, which is 234% greater than their original prediction.

Charlie - you are I have both run for school board once.

I believe for school board elections outside of Seattle in 2007 only four candidates raised and spent over $10,000. Do you see a problem here? The last time four were elected --> Zero of the four returned to their positions after four years. What do you see for Harium, Sherry, Steve, and Peter four years down the road?

The Feb 13th, board meeting testimonies were incredibly well done. It appears that the people like Melissa Westbrook and Delfino Munoz etc. who really know what is going on do not work for the district.

There can be no dialog as the district could not possibly respond intelligently to such well crafted presentations.

I wonder what it would take to convince Mr. Sundquist? Perhaps a lightning bolt from the Heavens striking the JSCEE during one of the Staff's innocuous uniformed presentations about the academic benefits of this move that will be considered someday.

Let all give a big round of applause for “effective new leadership”.

Anonymous said...

experts or a rogue's rogue.


This story first broke in 1999

http://www.riverreporter.com/issues/08-02-07/head3-sulwest.html


It took 8 years before a school board members objections were vindicated.

The AG’s office is expected to put out a report detailing its findings at some point in the future. In 2006, the New York State Comptroller’s Office issued a report saying that the district wasted millions of dollars on construction of the new school at a time when the student population is declining. In November 2007, Hilton presented a report to district residents that projected student population declines into the foreseeable future.

http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=098&sh=story&story=13859

In her letter this week to State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Gunther said that she has received countless complaints from constituents who believe there has been mismanagement at the Sullivan West School District after the merger of school districts in Delaware Valley, Jeffersonville and Narrowsburg, and the building of the new school in Lake Huntington.

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