I was browsing the SEA (Seattle Education Association) website (looking for one thing but finding others). I found this interesting paper about their views on how the district got to closure and consolidation and some grievances they have about the direction the district took over the last 15 years. This is from a paper called We Will Keep Our Eye on the Prize" dated Feb 2005. From the paper:
"As news stories have noted in recent weeks, Washington’s schools do not receive the state funding needed to ensure success for all students. School per pupil funding ranks 42nd in the country. Seattle, the state’s largest, most urban school district, has its own unique budget challenges. Seattle’s budget shortage is $12.2 million in 2005 - 06 and $30.3 million in 2006 -07. Board Directors are in the process of figuring how to address this huge problem. (Despite criticism from some quarters, the Seattle School Board consists of caring, intelligent, committed people who do exhaustive work on behalf of the children of our city. They believe in the staff of this district and showed that by trusting that staff act as professionals, make decisions that are sound and are capable of doing what is necessary to raise achievement.)
The Board is working to adopt a five-year plan for closing the achievement gap and establishing benchmarks to measure progress. That five-year plan with the groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement between the district and SEA will set the bar by which our efforts will
This is interesting because (1) the SEA certainly seemed to be very supportive of the last Board and (2) the last bit about the 5-year plan. That Board worked very hard, with Superintendent Manhas, on this plan and yet, new Board/new Super and it all gets tossed aside and they start over. Interestingly, the Super is the one creating the plan and not the Board.
"Decentralization has brought with it some significant problems. One of the most glaring is Seattle Schools’ inability to access state special education “safety net funding” because buildings have not spent all of the special ed money that comes into the building on special education. The safety net administrators look at the budgets and say “you don’t need safety net you haven’t spent all you budgeted”. The outcome is we spend 20 million dollars more than we receive on special education, some of that money could be recouped through safety net if we simply accounted for the money budgeted in a better way. Another example is the near loss of $3 million from the state last year when staffing ratios fell below the minimum required K-4 student/cert ratio by independent decisions made in schools. This problem was caught and rectified in time to recoup the money."
This is important because the issue of decentralization (or site-based management) now has the attention of the Super and Carla Santorno. I didn't know the SEA had found it a problem. This example of the Special Ed money is troubling but maybe a teacher out there can explain to me how this happens.
"Another area that the Administration and Board are reviewing is the choice programs throughout the district. The transportation costs alone make this approach prohibitive in the current financial situation. Further, the theory that competitive schools will increase enrollment in the system has not proved effective. The percentage of students in Seattle enrolled in public schools has remained constant (about 77%) since 1987.
We believe that children would be better served if families participated in school instead of encouraging parents to move their children from school to school in hopes of finding the best educational setting. This goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to make every school a quality learning environment.
Research clearly shows that every time a student changes schools the student loses 5 to 7 months of educational value, so a system that encourages nomadic education has the opposite effect of the original intent. Research clearly shows that when there is a real ownership of the school by families and community issues like discipline, expectations, attendance, and truancy are better addressed. Put another way, when anonymity and isolation are replaced with
recognition and community, good things happen."
Again, another interesting thought from the SEA. I didn't know that their stance was that it would be better to reduce the choice system. (I certainly never heard this during closure and consolidation.) I'm not sure that parents are "encouraged" to go look for another school; I believe the offerings are out there and savvy parents look for what they feel is best for their student. (I would like to see the research that says a student loses 5-7 months of educational value by just changing schools; I wonder if that research is about students changing mid-year.)
One last thing to keep in mind; the teachers will be renegotiating their SEA contracts next year. This is likely to be another huge challenge for the new Superintendent and Board.