Friday, October 24, 2008

Talking Heads Said It Best

In their song, Life During Wartime, Talking Heads sang:

This ain't no party
This ain't no disco
This ain't no fooling around...

That was pretty much my reaction to seeing on the district webpage - Building Closures Being Considered - the letter about building closures that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson sent to staff and community members and the FAQs on building closures.

The district once again (and for once, not of their own making, well, not entirely) is in a bad way financially. From what I have seen and heard over the last week or so, there is a sober mood at the headquarters.

As I posted recently, the district is facing $24M in budget shortfall for 2009-2010. (Now why it's that much, I don't know for sure.) However, it could nearly double if the Legislature pulls back on I-728 money. Washington state's economy is doing poorly (better than the rest of the country but not great) and voters may send a signal to the Legislature to pull way back on spending. Since education is a huge part of the general fund, that's where the hit will come. And, if I-985 passes, there will be less money for education (as part of the general fund).

The message I am getting is streamline, reduce and pare down. The district and the Board seem to be looking at closing buildings as a way to get there.

As clearly as I can state it, the district wants (needs) to close buildings in order to save money. You'll note I said buildings, not schools. No doubt, there will be some programs (schools) that will end. But I think part of the effort may be to combine/co-house programs in an effort to save them (give them one last chance) while cutting building costs (and likely some personnel costs).

Also, as I previously posted, Don Gilmore in Facilities recently told a West Seattle group that the district might want the Denny site for a future new elementary (while closing 3 unnamed elementaries). That seemed quite odd and off balance to me initially (yes, build a new school in the south end while the north end needs capacity). However, what I'm thinking is that the district is drowning in backlogged maintenance. The Facilities folks may perceive it more cost-efficient to shutter 3 buildings AND build a new one than try to keep up 3 buildings that are in poor condition.

BUT, this approach does have its problems.

1) there is a legal process to close a school. Now moving a program may not be the same as closing a building so I'd have to check to see. But I know that legally, it's about a one-year process to close a school. There's no quick savings to be had.
2) the district would save money in closing buildings. However, they have a tendency to be lax on protecting those buildings (in use or not) and we end up with vandalism and rundown buildings. We should not keep a glut of buildings that are not being protected. Problem is, we don't have due maintenance on the buildings in use so shuttered buildings are the last on the maintenance list. And, which ones to sell/lease?
3) the State Auditor did not just point out that we have too many buildings for too few students. He also pointed out how top heavy in personnel the headquarters is. I'd like to see some cuts there as well because it seems unfair to make school communities the only ones to lose. It also seems, now more than ever, a little unseemly for the Board to have given the Superintendent a raise after less than a year on the job.

Also, as clearly as I can state it - there will be NO sacred cows this round of closures/consolidations. There will be consideration of the success of programs AND condition of buildings.

Wait, you say, didn't that happen before? Yes, it did but now I believe it will be considered in a different manner. The district not only needs to save money but needs to get more students in the district.

Melissa, that's crazy talk. Close buildings AND yet attract more students? Yes, kids, that's the scenario we need. And there's a couple of reasons why it could happen.

1) the economy is going south. I hear that private schools are still doing well here in Seattle but penny-pinched folks may take a harder look at public schools (and thus an influx of new students)
2) give the people what they want. If you have more traditional schools in decent buildings AND predictability in the assignment plan, bingo! I think you'll attract more people back.

So how does that jive with buildings? The district may not only decide to close/consolidate some programs, it may MOVE some programs if it perceives it needs their building for more traditional capacity. For example, say there was an popular alternative school in a great building in an area that needs more capacity (especially to get back private school parents). Said area has little capacity and several of its buildings are in poor condition. You could move the alternative program to another building and create a K-8 or large K-5 to serve that area in the great building.

I'm just tossing out scenarios here but the reality is coming at us like a runaway train.

This district is going to experience some profound changes over the next 3-5 years. The amount of political courage that the Board is going to have to show will be great. They will have to face people from all corners even those who might least expect it. It will take a great overarching vision to make it happen and every decision needs to be explained in that context (and if it can't, it shouldn't happen).

33 comments:

S. said...

This may be my own bias as an alternative-school-parent-who-first-considered-private-school, but it would really surprise me if private school parents were terribly interested in switching to a traditional public school. In my experience most private school parents, especially those looking for K-5 placement, are looking for programs and pedagogies that are more likely to be found in alternative programs -- small class sizes, unique program focus or areas of study, more individualized options, etc. -- as opposed to what a traditional school might offer. Unless the traditional school was known for high levels of achievement (and no brand new program is going to have that reputation) I really cannot imagine there'd be much of a draw.

reader said...

This reasoning is exactly the opposite of reality. People, especially those in private schools, do not view education spending as a luxury, and do not choose to scrimp there... scrimp on vacations yes, tuition no. Most private schools are bursting at the seams with applicants. Private school enrollment is likely to increase if people perceive public schools to be in trouble, or digging themselves into all sorts of holes, and who could deny that they are in trouble?

As the economy worsens, and funding for public schools (and other public service) is depleted, we're going to see the district implementing cost saving measures. We can have a ton of meetings, but it will all boil down to increased class sizes and a reduction in transportation costs... which means reduced choice. This is exactly why people go to private schools in the first place.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, I said it was the scenario we need (not that I think it will come true).

I don't have much experience with private school. My only read on it was from closure and consolidation when we heard from parents in areas where there was high private school enrollment who said if the district just had decent buildings and predictability in assignment, they might give SPS a second look. With all the economy turmoil maybe it won't even be worth a second look.

reader said...

I don't really think attracting private school students is the scenario we particularly need. It's a wash. The district is already the largest in the state, with more than adequate economies of scale. You could argue, it's too large and is therefore inefficient. We have the among highest pupil-central office administrator ratio, 40% higher than average. For example, if the district can't figure out transportation efficiency with 45,000 students, adding 15,000 more students to the mix will not add anything except, well, more students.... not some big budget boon.

Denise Gonzalez-Walker said...

Last night, I attended a private school open house where parents eagerly crowded around the math teacher's table. Foremost in their minds--did the school teach traditional math?

It's not just buildings and class ratios driving parents to private schools; it's also the curricula and how decisions about curricula have been made. In Seattle Schools' case, the district hasn't appeared to care one bit about what families want in math education.

To expand this to the broader picture, we are headed into tough times where we will be asked (or forced to) make compromises at home, at work and in the schools.

Making these compromises and maintaining your confidence is much easier when you trust your team, your captain, so to speak.

What's the level of trust between the district and families like yours?

This question is rhetorical, but reflects my own apprehension about the district's ability to make those tough decisions that Melissa talks about.

I agree with Reader--in the face of all this uncertainty, private schools can look like a safe, albeit expensive, bet.

dan dempsey said...

Denise,

You hit the nail on the head.
The SPS seems to be the operator in the ancient Lilly Tomlin Sketch.

We don't care. We don't have to; we are the phone company.

hschinske said...

In many cases the tuition is affordable only because both parents are working -- and the kicker is that you don't get financial aid at all if either parent is not employed. So all it takes, for many families, is one parent losing a job and not getting a new one within a few months, and private school goes poof.

Helen Schinske

White Center Now said...

Thanks for the link to the building closure letter. Following up on our reporting of the "future elementary school at Denny" revelation here, I received a note tonight from a worried mom who says rumors are sweeping her elementary in West Seattle that it's on the closure list - and at the time I read her note, I hadn't heard any more about closures. Looks like we'll be covering the October 29th board meeting ...

WS said...

Oops, for the record, the previous comment was on behalf of West Seattle Blog. We also edit the news for White Center Now (whitecenternow.com) and didn't realize we were signed into that account while commenting here! -- Tracy from WSB

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yikes! I was terribly remiss in not saying that I learned about Mr. Gilmore's remarks about the future land use for the Denny property from the West Seattle blog. They are right on top of so many issues and I look to them for information. I certainly don't want to make it seem like I am at every meeting - I'm not. We all work together in this district and this city to make it a better place and I am grateful to the West Seattle blog for their part in that effort.

classof75 said...

People, especially those in private schools, do not view education spending as a luxury, and do not choose to scrimp there... scrimp on vacations yes, tuition no.

Agree.
Our kids went to private school for K-2, my youngest then switched to public but oldest stayed private through college graduation. Even though we are a lowish middle income, blue collar family and even though we suffered through periods of un/under employment- education was a priority more than vacations, more than upkeep on our house or cars. We also could get scholarships for education- and our kids had more support during tough times than they would in public school.

And frankly- if I knew what our family would have had to go through to get our youngest daughter a passable education in public schools- I would not have chosen to do so- despite the financial hardship.
There are other sorts of hardships besides financial & my kids only have one chance at their childhood.

qa_parent said...

A note came home in the backpack today about "capacity cluster" in QA-Mag. Besides the 3 ideas the district has proffered up to solve the capacity problem, the cluster's principals have a new, better plan.

Here's the district's state options for QA-Mag:

1) Ship new kids to BF-Day in Freemont.
2) Turn Blaine K-8 into a K-5. Middle Schoolers move to McClure.
3) Send forth and fifth graders at John Hay to Old John Hay. (Or possibly, send 5th graders from Lawton, Coe, and Hay to Old Hay.)

(of these, only #2, seems vaguely passable)


Now, why would the principals be sending home a note... saying all the cluster principals have had a secret pow-wow and discovered a better solution.... but then, NOT tell anyone what the big plan is... until the big meeting on the 29th???? So what IS the big secret plan? Why wait until the 29th... who knows what other plans people might support, not knowing about this. Does anybody have any inkling what the QA-Mag principals have been thinking of?

Melissa Westbrook said...

That's quite interesting QA. Why indeed? Are they going to spring on the Board? I don't have any idea what they might be thinking. I checked the QA/Magnolia school websites but didn't find any concrete information.

classof75 said...

http://www.neclustercoalition.org/

something about this really disturbs me.

Its great that people who live in Laurelhurst/Wedgewood/Hawthorne Hills want to send their kids to their neighborhood school.

But what about families whose neighborhood schools aren't as well funded/supported?

I would like to see busing for economic diversity.

adhoc said...

So classof75 what exactly would you like to see?

You want all city busing for kids who attend the "lower funded schools" however if you look at school funding you will see that the "lowest funded schools" are actually the schools that serve the highest amount of middle and upper class children. The schools that receive the highest funding, are the schools that serve the highest amount of low income children. They receive significantly higher funding than the schools that serve the middle class (even when you factor in their fund raising dollars), in fact the difference is over six figures in most cases. If you go back through the archives of this blog you will find posts where Charlie Mas has broken it down - it's shocking to say the least.

However, if you still offered expanded busing to children from lower income families would it be to any school in the entire district? Could a student in SE Seattle choose a school at the far end of the north cluster? And, what if just one student chose this option, would you send a whole bus to transport that one child?

How about minority children, would they qualify?

And how about children from single parent families who are at a disadvantage as they don't generally have a stay at home parent to transport them?

And students with social/emotional issues, behavior challenges, or whom are at high risk to drop out for any number of other issues?

How about children of immigrant families, or kids for whom English is not their first language?

How about for all of the kids that have failed the WASL?

How about kids who are in foster care or transitioning?

How about kids who have overcome a significant challenge, such as a medical condition, death of a parent?

What about kids who are performing well above their peers but who are not being challenged in their neighborhood school, and yet don't qualify for APP?

What about kids who have specific interests, like music at Eckstein, or the international program at Hamilton?

Or????

Don't all of these kids have needs? Aren't all of their needs equally as important? Should we bus all kids all over the city? Or, should we insist that our neighborhood schools meet our needs as best they can?

classof75 said...

assignment of students for economic diversity is legal in our state and has been successful in other areas.

While assigning APP students to Washington middle school and Garfield high school isn't called, an attempt to increase economic diversity- that is definitely a byproduct.

Resulting in increased opportunities for all students and increased performance.


from the NYT 9/25/05
RALEIGH, N.C. - Over the last decade, black and Hispanic students here in Wake County have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country.

Jenny Warburg for The New York Times
Schools in Wake County, N.C., are economically diverse by design.

The main reason for the students' dramatic improvement, say officials and parents in the county, which includes Raleigh and its sprawling suburbs, is that the district has made a concerted effort to integrate the schools economically.

Since 2000, school officials have used income as a prime factor in assigning students to schools, with the goal of limiting the proportion of low-income students in any school to no more than 40 percent...



Low income and minority students are being educated outside the mainstream and IMO remain after they leave school.
In February 2000, The Century Foundation published an idea brief on Economic School Integration (www.policyideas.org/Issues/Education/School_Integration.pdf), which argued that the best way to improve education would be to give every American school child the chance to attend a middle-class public school.
This Idea Brief provides an update of the substantial research and policy developments that have occurred over the intervening two and half years.

The number of students attending public schools with economic integration plans has jumped from roughly 20,000 in 1999 to more than 400,000 today.
(By comparison, the number of students attending private schools with publicly funded vouchers remains at about 14,000.) 1 And a growing number of research studies published in the last few years make the case for economic integration stronger than before.
equaleducation.org/

Chihuahua said...

I think you look at each school and each child and circumstance individually.

If Madrona is not performing well then we look at why they are not performing well. We don't give the school a free pass by putting their kids on a yellow bus and shipping them to another school that is performing better.

We know that low income and minority children can achieve as is evident by the outcomes for children attending Maple, Beacon Hill, The New School....Lets see what they are doing and copy it. Lets demand it from the other schools in our district that serve the same populations.

Instead of shipping our kids all over the district and making bad schools worse, lets crack down on the schools that are NOT DOING THEIR JOBS. Lets hold them accountable. Let's give them a time frame to turn things around, and if they don't lets intervene, change leadership, change teachers/staff, close the school or whatever else may be necessary.

SE mom said...

Historically, busing has not worked. In fact forced busing was a total and complete failure here in Seattle in the 80s, as it was across the nation. Do we really want to go down that road again???

Choice in Seattle should remain, and everything thus far that the district has proposed has kept choice intact, just reduced transportation. In other words anyone, everyone, can go to any school in the entire city regardless of income, color, or anything else.

If you offer extra busing to one group (low income, minority) then you have to offer it to every group. You can't discriminate against kids based on race, socio economic status, gender, sexual orientation or anything else.

My kid is white, and middle class, but we live in the south end in an area of very low performing schools. If low income, or minority kids get a bus out of here, why shouldn't mine?? Why am I penalized because I work and provide (a very modest) income for my family? Low income families may not have a car to transport their kids across town to the north end, but guess what, I have a car, but can't do it anyway. I have to at work at 8AM, and can't drop my kid off at a north end school at 9AM, and then be back there to pick her up at 3PM. Why does a low income kid get transport and not mine? Does that seem fair to you? It kinda stinks to me.

So I agree with above posters, don't single groups out for extra services. Offer them to everyone or to nobody, but not just to pet groups. It's disriminatory

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, cracking down on schools is the stick part of NCLB. If a school reaches a certain level under NCLB, a child DOES get a free pass to another school (Madrona is a case in point.) The district has to do this under federal law.

I agree with holding schools accountable. I brought up, at the first assignment plan meeting, the idea that if there are programs that are working and popular (i.e. in elementary, Montessori and foreign language), then parents should have some district plan to be able to go to their principals and say, "We want program X to start being developed."

I always feel confused as to why this takes so long. It took years for a second elementary school to have foreign language (at least through the district - I know that many schools have their own after-school programs) and both of those are at reference schools (and not alternative schools where more kids might have access to them). If you want to make your nearby school better, then parents should have some way to get clear answers on how to bring popular and proven programs to their area.

qa_parent said...

Historically busing has been great for desegregation. Sure, people resisted. Sure, those that didn't want to desegregate left. Is that why it has been proclaimed a failure? I'm not sure what measure semom is using to proclaim it a failure. At this point, nobody's suggesting forced busing, just the opposite: neighborhood schools + limited choice, due to the cost of busing. Currently, we already have fairly diverse neighborhoods. Seems that now people want to use busing and choice to resegregate along many different lines.

In any case, word on the street is that QA-Mag principals want to make each school in the cluster buckle down and find a classroom. Sounds like a great idea. I wonder why they weren't asked in the first place.

Semom said...

Why was busing proclaimed a failure? Because it was forced. Because many many families left the district for the suburbs and for private school because they did not want to ship their kids across town, out of their neighborhood, away from their freinds - to a school they may or may not like, that may or may not have been performing to their satisfaction, in order to desegregate the city.

The Seattle School District themselves acknowledge busing was a total and complete failure.

Nobody liked it, not the white families or the black families. Not the families in the north or the south.

Now, that is certainly not what the district is currently proposing, but it is in line with what classof75 proposed.

classof75 said...

actually while I haven't analyzed the assignment process in districts that use economic as a criteria for placement- I agree that assigning students without input from families is not going to be quietly tolerated- just look at the bristles I raised when I suggested that families can make a difference to struggling schools.

However- as we had assignment by race, that was by choice- although it was thrown out by the courts- I don't see why a number of spaces couldn't be held at each school to insure economic diversity- just as spaces have been held to insure racial diversity.

Garfield was made into a desirable program, when it was given support by the district. Giving acclelerated progress students priority over neighborhood students and the chance to participate in a large selection of advanced placement classes for example.

Ingraham, was deteriorating until the International Baccalaureate program was added to attact families ( in Bellevue they did the same at Interlake- 10 years ago - it was the lowest performing school in district)

However- I empathize with the wish to reduce busing/ transportation costs & I suggest that redrawing boundaries can both limit buses and increase economic diversity in the schools, which will benefit all students.

Maureen said...

"I suggest that redrawing boundaries can both limit buses and increase economic diversity in the schools, which will benefit all students."

I hope that redrawing boundaries can help--the fact is that families with money have choices that poor people do not. Look at Leschi or Madrona--the boundaries are not the problem--their reference areas are diverse--but you can't force someone with money to go to public school. Guaranteeing those families a seat at one of those schools will not guarantee that they go there.

Semom said...

Re-drawing the boundaries is something that we (classof75 and I) can definately agree on. I think that would help diversify our schools, without giving any one group any advantage over another group and without adding transportation costs.

Classof75 is right in that Ingraham and Garfield, with the addition of attractive programs, have become diverse communities. There is however, some segregation happening amongst the students themselves - APP students upstairs at Garfield VS regular ed students downstairs, and IB students at Ingraham in their self contained program VS regular ed students. Still these are two prime examples of diverse school communities. There is no reason that attractive programs couldn't be placed in all of our high schools. Imagine if RBHS became a science and math magnet school, or Cleveland became a high tech academy, or?????

As I said in my earlier post, if schools were held accountable to perform to a satisfactory standard, and they had attractive programs, the community would naturally be attracted to them, and since many Seattle communities are diverse, our schools would surely reflect that diversity.

Melissa Westbrook said...

At the Assignment plan meeting I attended, I was pleasantly surprised to hear several groups say that they wanted high school assignment to remain open because the high schools are so varied in their offerings. Michael DeBell did say that there could be "open choice" lottery seats (but then you have to win the golden ticket to get into a school). His range was 10-20% of a school's seats. I said nothing but boy, I know at Roosevelt there would be howls of anger of even 10% of our seats were open lottery. But if it were that way at all the high schools, I suppose it would be fair.

I have wonder about why kids so far south would go to Ingraham (and are most of them in the IB program?) if they could go to Sealth which also has IB?

Adhoc said...

Is there really open choice in high school now? I wouldn't really consider the current HS assignment plan "open choice" when there are only two tie breakers - sibling preference and distance of your home to the school? In fact I would consider high schools to be neighborhood schools if they use this criteria to assign kids to them?

Of course if a high school does not fill with neighborhood kids, then seats open up to the greater community - but that doesn't happen at the high performing schools like Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield. So, maybe we do have open choice, but only at less desirable schools or lower performing schools like RBHS, Cleveland, Franklin, Hale and Ingraham?

I too would like to see the HS assignment plan stay as is, but I would hardly call it "open choice".

Melissa Westbrook said...

Actually AdHoc, you're right. It's open choice on paper but not really in reality. The one area it is more open is that each school's ELL is a different list than the regular enrollment. I believe these kids can pick any ELL program to be in and thus get into more desirable schools. But again, that may change under a new assignment plan.

Maybe having the 10% lottery option is the most fair way for everyone to get a chance at a particular school. Hmmmm.

TechyMom said...

Re-drawing boundaries probably will help in the north end, where all the schools, even the less popular ones, are pretty much ok. Including Summit. People in the North seem to (mostly) want predictability and a short commute.

In the central cluster, people in the reference areas for the the unpopular schools (Madrona, TT Minor, Leschi, Thurgood Marshall) already have a guarenteed assignment there if they want it.

But they don't want it. And it's not because they don't want diverse schools. Let's look at Madrona. Do you really think families that don't want diversity would have chosen to live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Seattle? It costs just as much if not more than some mostly-white neighborhoods with mostly-white schools. I know quite a few people from Madrona who have their kids at St. Therese, which is a very diverse Catholic K-8, 2 blocks away from Madrona K-8. So what's the difference? Programs. Academics. Extra curricular activities. Time for other things besides getting kids from a WASL 2 to a WASL 3, things a developing mind needs.

Adding programs works to get families to sign up for those schools. TT Minor has a waiting list for K in its Montessori class.

TT Minor Montessori will be on my choice form in February, along with McGilvra, Stevens, Montlake and TOPS. So will Summit, including an hour bus ride. All of these schools have time for science and history and art and recess. Some have foreign language and drama and hands-on learning experiences. Madrona doesn't have any of these things, and will not be on my list even though I can walk to it and would be predictably assigned to it.

The way to fix the Central Cluster is to put some attractive programs in the schools that aren't attracting students. If you do that, and also push the cluster boundaries south, then maybe some kids from the U-District could find space at Montlake or Stevens or McGilvra or Madrona or TT Minor, several of which are closer to them than John Rogers.

Adhoc said...

Do you think Madrona would become a more popular school if the boundaries were redrawn and choice were limited? With choice families can opt out of Madrona, which perpetuates segregation, and makes a bad school worse. If limiting choice leads to more neighborhood families enrolling at Madrona coupled with boundaries that are redrawn to encompass the diverse community surrounding the school, wouldn't that diversity be reflected in the school population? The focus of the school may no longer be raising kids WASL scores from 2 to 3, because those kids would only represent a portion of the school community not the entire school community. The school would naturally have to reflect the needs of the new population, which would now have more diverse needs. If the majority of parents say no to uniforms, insist on more art or a garden, or recess, or whatever, wouldn't the school be under pressure to provide it? Just wondering?

TechyMom said...

Well, as I understand it, that's what happened after the new building was completed, and the current principal pretty much told those parents to go take a hike. Which they did. To McGilvra.

I would not send my child there unless I saw programs in place, running, and supported. I'd be uncomfortable sending my child there under the current principal, given that she sees her missing as creating WASL 3's. I just don't think she has the right mindset to run the kind of school I want.

I care much more about a well-rounded education than about WASL scores. I'm pretty sure my daughter will have no problem passing the WASL. Even in a school with a weakness (such as Math at Summit), I can supplement. It's much easier for me to supplement Math and Reading than to supplement Art, Drama, Music, Science, PE, History, French, time outside, and critical thinking, and a willingness to question authority. I work full time, there just isn't enough time in the day to supplement all that. I need her to get it at school.

Kindergarten is the topic of the day amongst my friends and neighbors. I hear a lot of the same concerns from others with preschool kids and two working parents, who could afford private school but who believe in public schools and want to support them.

Maureen said...

"It's much easier for me to supplement Math and Reading than to supplement Art, Drama, Music, Science, PE, History, French, time outside, and critical thinking, and a willingness to question authority."

yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes! Is this the fundamental divide in Seattle Public Schools?

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Maureen and Techymon...
You have nailed it! That's exactly why my daughter went from public to private for middle school. I did not want her in a school with a main focus of raising WASL scores rather than rigor and enrichment. I live in the southend where raising WASLs are important for much of the population--but our family wants and needs more out of school.

TechyMom said...

TOPS is first choice of most of the families I talk to. Why won't the district expand that program?

I bet TOPS 2 at Madrona would fill the building. Madrona is about a 10 minute drive from the U district. It might even draw some kids from NE into Central where there's room.