Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Highlights from Board Meeting

Beth covered most of this but I wanted to provide bulleted items. (I managed to miss most of the speakers, recording Channel 28, not Channel 26.)
  • UPDATE - Two of the speakers I heard referenced that there would be no more SE Initiative money (this was an RBHS speaker and a AAA speaker). I thought we were in year 2 of a 3 year plan so it was confusing. Anyone know for sure? (My apologies - I skipped over this in my notes.)
  • Center School alum referenced Center School as an "alternative" program. (This may be something that needs to be addressed at Center School keeps moving towards being an alternative rather than non-traditional general ed program.)
  • It looked like an overflow crowd. Michael DeBell thanked the crowd for their respectful attitudes as well as the speakers.
  • Mr. Kennedy went over financials, both revenue and expenditures. He did say something I hadn't heard before; namely, that we might still loss state K-12 money (7% reduction) even if we don't lose I-728 money and that it is nearly equal amounts in any case (about $21M).
  • He stated that as far as central office reductions went that 80% of them would be job eliminations and 20% would be unfilled jobs that will be left unfilled.
  • Once again, in terms of transportation, the subject of bell times was tantalizingly mentioned and then not explained.
  • Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said that the issue of closing a high school is off the table for this round but they will keep it open for the future. She said that there are "significant issues" over creating a 6-12 school or closing a high school. (Really, you mean like Denny/Sealth?)
  • She said there needed to be a "thoughtful" discussion about comprehensive versus small schools versus alternatives. (I didn't know what small schools she was referencing.)
  • Steve Sundquist asked for clarification about closing any high schools and that wouldn't happen before Fall of 2010. Yes, said Dr. G-J. Michael asked if that meant that closing Center School and Aki and RBHS are off the table. Yes, said Dr. G-J. Then Mary Bass asked if that were good for one, why not all? Is Nova off the table? No, the preliminary rec stands. Summit, Meany, SBOC , AAA and AS#1 (all with middle/high schools). All those preliminary recs stand. (Oh, so it's just certain high schools and certain middle schools - interesting how Dr. G-J made a blanket statement about taking high schools and middle schools off the table but had to backpedal...over and over.)
  • Carla Santorno went over the Program Design Team concept. The "purpose is to have a dedicated team charged with successful implementation of new programs and identifying possible questions, concerns and solutions." She referenced staff and students but it was unclear to me who would be on the teams or how they would be found. She said they would have a charge and benchmarks and goals and report to a Project Manager. Interestingly, in answer to a question from Director Carr about scope she said that the teams would try "to continue the culture and best practices from the previous school". (Really? So part of Summit would be part of the new Thorton Creek?) Director Martin-Morris seemed troubled by the scope of the work and said that they should publicly let people know what work would have to be set aside to get this work done. Michael asked who from staff would be in charge and Dr. G-J said that hadn't been determined.
  • As Beth said, Special Ed families will learn about assignment info on Jan. 6th during the final recommendations presentation and those assignments would be per the audit findings.
  • Then the Functional Capacity presentation was given by Brad B. This was very data-laden (and difficult to read). What was interesting was he said, for elementary, it was "about classrooms and class size than looking at seats in general." (I thought Dr. G-J said yesterday on KUOW that it wasn't about class size.)
  • But the presentation ran into a little problem during questioning. Harium said, quite plainly that if the Board received the final information on Jan. 13th for functional capacity and the final recs come out Jan. 6th "I have a little problem. If I have to make a decision based on data...I need the data." (Much applause.) Dr. G-J tried to dance around this with "based on technology we have" "a lot of work to create this" "even if we're a little late, you still have between Jan 13 and 22nd". (What about the schools that may fall into this late window of time - how do they prepare? Shannon McMinemee at this point came over and whispered something to Brad - Shannon is one of the district's legal counsel.) A couple of directors asked why they couldn't have this information for the buildings under consideration for closure but there was a lot of waffling. (Why can't the list be prioritized? You have to wonder why there is any problem doing this if schools' survival is on the line.) Steve said that based on public testimony and public hearings that he sensed it was important to get this information for the Central area and the NE/north but then he kind of shrugged. (Hey Board - this is the MOST important thing you can do as directors outside of selecting a superintendent. TELL the staff that you want this list prioritized and you want this information by the final recs. How this wouldn't have occurred to staff or worse, why it would and they don't do it is a question for all of us.)
  • Michael ended the presentation with a really, to me, odd statement. He said that he had gone thru the process last time with a "tally system with not robust data at all". (Really? I myself thought that using value-added data and a closer look at how schools were doing academically was worth a tally system last time. But this time, it's all about room and building condition and that is becoming clearer by the minute.)
I stopped here so if anyone else saw/was there past 8:15, please chime in.

23 comments:

Melissa 'Liss' Cain said...

I didn't stay past the break, either. I couldn't handle yet another tale of cost overruns. :-/

Megan Mc said...

The board made a lot of comments about how much they appreciate the public input and how the appearance of chaos is actually transparency at work. I missed the first 10 minutes after the break because it was bath/bed time. Thanks so much to Beth and Melissa for your reports.

TwinMom2003 said...

Hooray for Harium - his comment was spot on about making a data based decision without the data.

Hooray for Mary Bass -- Summit was the first school I thought of when MGJ said it was too complex to close a high school this go round.

Hooray for Sherry Carr for following up on the functional capacity review to ensure that those art/science/music rooms that have been converted to home rooms in the NE Cluster would not be lost in the shuffle and counted incorrectly as home rooms.

Overall, it seems like the closure shuffle may cancel itself out as far as potential cost savings. They may save 3 million a year (not this year but in the future) by closing everything currently slated, but lose an equal amount by the loss of students. This is if the percent loss of students this go round holds true to the percentage of students lost with the last round of closures. It that holds true then the district will lose more money from lost students then it will make up from savings in closing buildings.

Even if private schools in the area are full, neighboring districts will accept enrollment on a space available basis - or will admit you if you move to their district.

Why not a more balanced approach? Do close some (not as many as are currently slated) buildings to help balance the overcapacity in some portions of the district - but also look to increase enrollment in the areas where the demand is high such as the NE and QA/Magnolia. Leave some wiggle room in the areas like Central where building permits and other stats show enrollment has a high probability of increasing.

A balanced approach could grow enrollment for the district and thereby revenue. It could provide a good show of faith to the state legislature. And, it could go a long way in public perception of the district if they saw reasoned and logical decisions being made.

Charlie Mas said...

There are two ways to eliminate excess capacity. One way is to reduce the number of seats. Another way is to increase the number of students. Why haven't we explored this method?

Building capacity is so elastic. They could eliminate much of the excess capacity simply by reducing class size, by only using classrooms as classrooms, and by dedicating some rooms to art, music, or other special activities.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

The fact that the Center School will still be an option for us in the Fall will keep our family in play with SPS. That's a win-win for both of us.

h2o girl said...

Melissa, Beth, Charlie - just wanted to thank you all so much for keeping us all informed. I really greatly appreciate all of you.

adhoc said...

Good point Charlie! I know Bryant gave up it's science room/lab this year to squeeze in an extra classroom, and I have heard similar stories all across the NE cluster.

seattle citizen said...

TwinMom says: "closure shuffle may cancel itself out as far as potential cost savings. They may save 3 million a year (not this year but in the future)...but lose an equal amount by the loss of students."
Charlie says:"two ways to eliminate excess capacity...reduce the number of seats...increase the number of students. Why haven't we explored this method?

These two comments point to something that has been gnawing at me for a week or two: They predict 3.6 million in savings this year (and then that much again each year into the future). They also predict 2.4 million in closing costs this year (and we hear last night that there will, additionally, be "design teams" that will cost money somehow; district personnel being paid, at least, contracts with state colleges, as Harium suggested (great idea, incidentally! Let's involve more of the community).

So THIS YEAR we will save less than a million? Right at the beginning of a huge economic downturn we need to rush closures to save a million this year?

Wouldn't it be more senseible, and better planning, to find some other way to save that million THIS year, spend more time planning a pedagogically informed transformation (yes, we might need to close some buildings in a new design) and then implement it NEXT year, when the economy, while not better, is at least more of a known factor?

I don't understand the rush. As TwinMom suggests, we will lose students under such a haphazard plan this year. As Charlie says, we can increase our numer of students if we spend some more time and do it right.

seattle citizen said...

Simply put: "design teams" a good idea if they are designing BEFORE the action, rather than AFTER. Who designs changes to delivery or service AFTER they have made the changes?

(word verification: "wayected" - is this some sort of Zen form of "projected"? I like it. It takes us away from the rationalized "project" and into the more transcendent "way"! Thanks again, word verifier!)

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mr. Kennedy did include more enrollment as a source of revenue at about $1M. I'm a little mystified at their optimism.

seattle citizen said...

more enrollment could be coming from projections of larger school-age population? Rather than improving service?
We hear, loudly, that there are more kids in NE, and also in these posts and in last night's testimony we hear that the Central cluster is booming...
The increased draw we need would stem from increased confidence, which would stem from demostration of planning and design that meets 21st century needs and research

Central Mom said...

Folks, district staff itself is saying that functional capacity is one of the prime considerations in reshaping (closing, moving) elementary programs.

As Melissa notes, and Harium protested, the functional capacity numbers WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE to the public until AFTER the Superintendent's final closure recommendation.

If the District is making data-driven decisions, and I do appreciate this, it needs to keep the playing field level in the distribution of this data.

The effort it's undertaking to get all functional capacity numbers is enormous and likely can't be released more quickly. Therefore, schools should STRONGLY advocate for a delay in final closure recommendations so they can examine these numbers and make counterproposals based on them.

For an administration that has repeatedly said they don't care how many parents show up in Tshirts to advocate for their schools, how else can schools give input that the District considers valid unless they're given these numbers BEFORE the final closure proposal.

Michael Rice said...

Melissa wrote:

UPDATE - Two of the speakers I heard referenced that there would be no more SE Initiative money (this was an RBHS speaker and a AAA speaker). I thought we were in year 2 of a 3 year plan so it was confusing. Anyone know for sure? (My apologies - I skipped over this in my notes.)

Well, all I know is that we are in year 1 of the SE Initiative. This was the first year we had extra money to hire extra faculty to broaden our AP offerings, this is the first year that the math and LA departments had a common prep and this year is the first year that we have concrete metrics that we need to meet that will determine the success or failure of the SE Initiative.

another mom said...

I am confused. If functional capacity is a primary factor in whether or not to close or repurpose a school,and that data will not be available until mid-January, what is the heck is happening here? Why propose anything until all of the data can be evaluated? I am sorry but what is being called transparency is chaos.

I remain in favor of holding off any closure/consolidation decisions until the new student assignment plan is implemented. At that point, all of the data can be analyzed with the new reference areas.

Central Mom said...

Staff said at the meeting that they more or less have the functional capacity numbers, and are making recommendations based on them. But since they aren't quite final, they aren't ready to release the numbers to the public until they are rock solid.

Again, fair enough. But then, move the proposal process back by at least a week or two to allow the communities and schools to respond BEFORE final recommendations are posted.

In the NE and Central clusters, especially, this data is crucial to school communities being impacted.

north seattle mom said...

In many ways, the NE and QA/M already have the new neighborhood assignment plan in everything but name. Since distance is the final tiebreaker, most folks are only getting into the school that is geographically closest to their homes. The great exception to this is all the folks that live too far from their closest school. In other words, folks that live on the edges of the cluster just often live too far from any school. These folks are then bussed to which ever school was able to shoehorn in an extra class.

John Rogers would have been full with a waitlist this year due to the number of families that picked John Rogers first and live close. However, folks in the UDistrict just live too far from any school. So the district mandated that the music room (the only non-classroom in the building) become a homeroom and voila, you have a whole extra class room at John Rogers the furthest school in the cluster for these families that would have gone to Bryant.

They could easily roll out a new assignment plan in just the NE and QA/M. This could be a test case. There already aren't too many siblings to continue grandfathering. Since this process has been going on for years already most of the schools are full of only kids that live geographically close,

adhoc said...

I know families want change and they want it fast. Especially families living in areas greatly affected by lack of capacity, or who only have access to low performing schools. But not grandfathering kids and allowing them to remain in their current schools would disrupt and displace every student in the entire district - that was not attending his/her reference school. Even those attending what they think are their reference schools might be displaced as their reference school may change with boundary changes. I don't think families are going to buy the no grandfathering idea. I know I wouldn't and it's not from a selfish perspective either as my kids are both changing schools this year anyway (moving to middle and high schools).

If we do not grandfather kids and do not allow them to remain in their current schools until they graduate, I think that we would be making a decision that was not in the best interest of the children. It would be inexcusably disruptive to thousands of families. I don't think moving children away from the school that they call home, away from the teachers they are familiar with, and away from the friends they have made could possibly be in their best interest.

And I also oppose closing programs, without moving displaced students as a cohort. For example what they are doing to TT Minor, and proposing for Cooper. Closing their school and then dispersing kids to whatever program has room for them. That is a terrible situation for a child to be in. How could the district do this?

I'm all for a new assignment plan. I'm all for redrawing boundaries, and right sizing reference areas. However, we need to do it as humanely as possible with the least amount of disruption to the students. That means grandfathering kids into their programs until they graduate, and moving kids as cohorts - not separating them from their communities.

zb said...

"Since this process has been going on for years already most of the schools are full of only kids that live geographically close."

In fact, when you look at the numbers, it doesn't look quite so clean. Can anyone explain the numbers? I thought that perhaps the SPED programs (like the apraxia clasroom at View Ridge may play a role in these area resident numbers). But, clearly, at Laurelhurst & Wedgwood substantial groups of students are non-residents, even if we assume that all the SPED students are not area residents, and that they are calculated in the total (and I don't know if they are).

Bryant: 70% (sped 10%)
John Rogers: 50% (sped 14%)
Laurelhurst: 52% (sped, 6%)
Wedgwood: 43% (sped 7.4%)
View Ridge: 47% (sped 19%)

adhoc said...

I'm curious about that too ZB.

Could it be that Spectrum draws kids from several reference areas (At View Ridge and Wedgewood)? Or, ELL (Sacajewea)?

Also, it's much much easier to get into the popular schools at the upper grades. Kids from those schools transfer out to APP, or change schools or move out of district....and the schools get a fair amount of openings. Two years ago when my son changed schools (third grade) we had plenty of great schools to choose from. We could have sent our son to John Rogers, Sacajewea, Wedgewood, Laurelhurst, or Bryant. In fact the only school that was full was View Ridge. We live in the John Rogers reference area.

north seattle mom said...

I had said "geographically closest" which can be very different from the official reference area.

For Laurelhurst, a lot of families come from just the other side of sandpoint way so they are very close to Laurelhurst and consider it to be their neighborhood school. Many of them were too far (this year) to get into Bryant.

View Ridge and Wedgwood have spectrum programs that draw from all over the cluster so for those schools you need to look at only the gen ed seats to make a fair neighborhood comparions.

Also for Wedgwood, it is in center of the cluster. many folk on the outer edges of John Rogers, Bryant and View Ridge are equally close or closer to Wedgwood than their reference school.

Also, as adhoc said, many of the out of reference area families are in the upper grades. If you could look at the grades for just K-1 you would see a very different picture.

So anyway, my point is that as clusters get more and more congested folks wind up being assigned to their "neighborhood school" based on distance already.

BTW, what year are those numbers from?

north seattle mom said...

Adhoc says "If we do not grandfather kids and do not allow them to remain in their current schools until they graduate, I think that we would be making a decision that was not in the best interest of the children. "

I agree completely. During the first round of closures under Raj, Britta Butler-Wall kept telling NE families that they were not picking a school, they were picking a Kindergarten and that most likely k-2 students would be reassigned under the new assignment plan.

Guess what happened. There was zero growth in the NE the following year. When you look at NE enrollment numbers, you can see that they grow steadily every year and then there is this one year that is perfectly flat. There was growth, it just wasn't growth for Seattle Schools. Families want stability. Families don't pick a Kindergarten, they pick a school.

zb said...

Ah yes, I forgot spectrum

AutismMom said...

ZB asks about sped numbers which are non-resident. (and they have sibling which may attend, also non-resident)

In actuality, it's only sped students of level 3+, and in a so-called program, that may be assigned from another area, and according to whims of special education consulting teachers. Usually it means around 50% of these students are non-residents. Anyway, here's the count of those students.

Level 3+ students:

Bryant: 7
John Rogers: 16
Laurelhurst: 0
Wedgwood: 18
View Ridge: 24 (I think)

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Adhoc writes:

If we do not grandfather kids and do not allow them to remain in their current schools until they graduate, I think that we would be making a decision that was not in the best interest of the children. It would be inexcusably disruptive to thousands of families. I don't think moving children away from the school that they call home, away from the teachers they are familiar with, and away from the friends they have made could possibly be in their best interest.


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That has been then the norm for many special education students every year. Check out the December edition of Seattle Metropolitan Magazine which features a kid that has been moved every year (each year he did great, but was still forced out of his school, AND each building actually had services). Cooper, Bagley, Schmitz Park... all simply because of district expediency. The district, after lots of pressure, has agreed to let some students remain in their schools after kindergarten and to provide integrated services to those kids. This is a huge step in the right direction. We'll see how many are allowed to actually benefit from this.