Thursday, December 18, 2008

Time to Apply some Accountability

There is a historical trend by Seattle Public Schools whereby the administration forces change on a community and eases the change - or supresses dissent - with promises of mitigation. Then, when the time comes, the District fails/refuses to fulfill those promises. This has been played out countless times.

The District gets what they want right now in exchange for what the community wants some time down the road, then the District doesn't actually come through with what the community wants, but the community has no recourse.

We are seeing this story again with the current round of closures. Communities are raising a lot of concerns - legitimate concerns. The District is answering those concerns with promises. We need to document those promises and we need to put some meaning into them.

How? The only promises from the District that count - that are in any way enforcable - are things the Board resolves. So the language of the Board resolution to approve the closures and consolidations should include the promises that the administration is making to communities. While this does not guarantee that the administration won't rescind the promises in the future, it does make it more difficult for them to do so. It certainly requires them to acknowledge that they are doing so.

Please contact the members of the Board and ask them to include specific language in the resolution that documents and mandates the promises the administration is making to these school communities. This would include promises to address specific concerns through "design teams". We - the communities impacted by these closures - need accountability and having the promises included in the Board resolution is the only way we can get it.

12 comments:

beansa said...

Charlie,

What is the best way to contact the board about something like this? It seems like they are being flooded with email right now. Is snail mail better? Are multiple letters better than one letter with many signatures?

Thank you for the idea.

uxolo said...

I have received a reply from two Board members since writing this am, folks I have never heard from previously.

I suggest that we hold off on closures until the assignment plan is determined. I think this may be an acceptable idea if enough people support it.

Administrative cuts and the classroom cuts that are inevitable will be plenty for us all to manage. The central office is unlikely to be able to manage a new assignment plan and all the new programs and mergers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think snail mail is a good idea as their e-mail box is probably flooded. Handing it to them personally also might be good. I also think getting it to them by mid-January, before they vote, would be a good idea.

I'm with you on this one, Charlie.

T. said...

From the end of the 2006 closures, there are some school board member promises, of lessons to be learned before the next round of closures. Go back to the final Oct. 18th, 2006 school board meeting (streaming video is still available on the bottom of the school board page).

After literally hours (60 people spoke) of testimony, Irene Stewart put a motion to "postpone indefinately" the motion to close the schools in phase 2. The school board members then discussed for about 30 minutes what they hoped the district & board would learn, and apply to the next process of closing schools in the future.

The discussions by the school board members, from my notes included:

Let's do it right, with the communities involved in finding real solutions, so we have facilities that work for our kids, that provide the most effective academic programs possible, and something we can live with. (I. Stewart)

If we don't look at that history, look at reference areas (of the schools), put those cards on the table and look at all the issues, we will keep making the same mistakes.
(S. Soriano)

We need to learn all the lessons we can from this process (phase 1 & 2).
(M. DeBell)

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. I think we can figure out a collaborative process, that is fair and inclusive and transparent. That is my goal. (B.BWall)

We need to look at what kind of program placement will attract more students to that building. We have to do it right, have the time to plan. We'll get it right next time.
(I. Stewart)
.........

Well, no one seems to remember this discussion. I agree with Charlie's accountability points and also Uxolos' post- the closures should be postponed until PROPER planning and assignment plans are settled. This seat of the pants, fly in each day with a new direction is not what our kids need. It's not in the best interest of our kids, and it doesn't even sound as if it will save much money. Go back and start again.

Beth Bakeman said...

posting this for Les Harris who is having technology issues

"Why have we not used the time honored lobbyist (and many community groups, good gov't, enviros, etc.) tradition of drafting draft resolution or policy language and gifting it to the Board. As it stands now, staff does all the drafting and look what that's gotten us. Could this be worse - at least it is in draft form and sending word docs in so they can be edited etc. might encourage boardmembers to edit, propose and take a concrete leadership role. E.g, Legislative types that send info. to the Apropps. Committee and the Code Reviser's Office for review, impact -- heck we could also put fiscal notes on them as well.

It's a time honored tradition in a democracy.

It gives Boardmembers an option, a concrete option, to rely on other workproduct other than staff's. It would also be most interesting to see staff read and synthesize the policies instead of "just wouldn't work." It's not my idea of communication listening, replying, synthesizing, iterrative back and forth, but its closer to that goal.

A key would be to identify all other policies affected that would be affected by a proposed policy, statutory authority, hx, and fiscal impact.

E.g, the MOU for the SBOC. MOU for the New School - - (haven't heard much lately on that particular topic have we - sorry I digress. . .BUT that is in fact, the power of this idea - they negotiated, they got a document, they got action something some of us are still craving and waiting and waiting and waiting for.)

With the I think rightly, brilliant minds at work on this blog, it couldn't hurt and we could even "vet it" online.

Charlie - - take the gauntlet PLS.!

Thx for listening and educating me. It is hugely appreciated.

other ideas - "roll up Thornton Creek one year at a time with the attendant science labs, (do they have lockers over there already?), Middle School Libraries, software, and the like - Middle School targeted improvements. Then, the design teams will have actual measurable targets to use the current lingo.

It could be utilized for the upcoming BTA levy (which project ideas were due 12-01 - too bad some of us don't know if our building will be open or whether we'll be in our building, if open) and dare I say it Bex IV.

Absolutely the Board could tube it later like all actions, but at least its on paper and like the Alternative Ed policy it is a tool for us to use and for us to use as a history/educational tool for new staff, boardmembers, etc.

It's not rocket science."

Sahila said...

"Absolutely the Board could tube it later like all actions, but at least its on paper and like the Alternative Ed policy it is a tool for us to use and for us to use as a history/educational tool for new staff, boardmembers, etc."


I love it that you included this reference, Les Harris (Mr/Ms?)....

now, can you tell me how you get the Board to stand by and honour its policy commitments to alternative education - it sure as heck isnt in this round of closures, so what are citizens to do - mount legal challenges, which we at AS#1, and here on the blogs also, have been reminded isnt the 'done thing' to do???

Or does SPS only have to honour its commitments to the larger groups of constituents, the ones that are able to make lots of noise ?...

Charlie Mas said...

I think the idea of every school and community impacted by the closures getting an M.O.U. is a brilliant idea.

This effort will require a couple of big jobs:

1) We'll need to get the Board to accept the idea.

2) We'll need to catalog the elements of the M.O.U.

2a) The expectations for the District and the Schools must be specific and quantified. You cannot imagine how slippery these people can be. The language and the numbers must be totally unambiguous. No squishy words. For example, the T T Minor Montessori program relocated to Leschi shouldn't ask for "adequate" support. They should say exactly what that support must entail - at a minimum.

2b) The M.O.U. should include contingency actions in case the requirements of the M.O.U. are not met. So, again for example, if the school does not fulfill their obligation to support the Montessori program at Leschi, then some penalty is due - such as moving the program back to T T Minor, and reopening the school as 100% Montessori.

It is pointless to have requirements if there are no consequences for failing to meet the requirements.

This blog isn't a great place to collaborte on these things, but let's do get in touch with the Board and plant the idea of an M.O.U. for each school. The M.O.U.s would, in a pretty real way, set the charges for the design teams.

Lara said...

What is M.O.U.? I've got the gist, but I can't stop wondering what it stands for...

adhoc said...

an MOU is a memorandum of understanding

seattle citizen said...

it's the sound a French cow makes

Charlie Mas said...

Yes, an M.O.U. is a Memorandum Of Understanding. It's what the District has instead of contracts with other entities. For example, the District has an M.O.U. with The New School Foundation that describes each party's rights and responsibilities toward each other. It is essentially a contract.

I'm not certain if they can be enforced in Court and I'm not sure who would sign as the counterparty - a PTA perhaps. The other party to the M.O.U. cannot be the District or a subsidiary of the District, a principal, for example.

M.O.U. is also the sound a French cow would make. Or, given the season, "a most unducklike sound. A mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow."

T. said...

re: MOU's
A search on the district's website contains several mentions of MOU's inside of legal contracts such as union contracts (i.e. using the term "this MOU", instead of "this contract"). Outside of formal contracts, MOU's are rarely binding when put to pressure, making a false sense of confidence.

From Wikipedia-
A memorandum of understanding (MOU or MoU) is a document describing a bilateral or multilateral agreement between parties. It expresses a convergence of will between the parties, indicating an intended common line of action. It most often is used in cases where parties either do not imply a legal commitment or in situations where the parties cannot create a legally enforcement agreement. It is a more formal alternative to a gentlemen's agreement.

In some cases, depending on the exact wording, MoUs can have the binding power of a contract; as a matter of law, contracts do not need to be labeled as such to be legally binding. Whether or not a document constitutes a binding contract depends only on the presence or absence of well-defined legal elements in the text proper of the document (the so-called "four corners"). For example, a binding contract typically must contain mutual consideration—a legally enforceable obligations of the parties, and its formation must take place free of the so-called real defenses to contract formation (fraud, duress, lack of age or mental capacity, etc.).