Thursday, December 04, 2008

What I Heard and Reacted At To Last Night's Board Meeting

First, it was announced that the Board will have another work session next Tuesday at the headquarters tentatively starting at 4 p.m. and "continuing until we are done" (Dr. Goodloe-Johnson). Check the district's calendar to see if this does indeed appear. She said they would discuss:
  • review of functional capacity numbers
  • review of comments from the upcoming community meetings (tonight and Saturday)
  • review of questions/concerns raised after November 25th
  • review of potential final recommendations (a little early it seems to me and I have to wonder why they would do this except to draw a line in the sand to the Board)
Don Kennedy gave updates on the budgeting, a grim job (it was also announced that he received an award from the Council of Great City Schools for his work as COO/CFO). There finally was a preliminary budget of cuts:
  • 3.6M in building savings from closures (hard to believe you could see this much in one year)
  • Hiring freeze 2.0 M
  • Central Office reductions 5.0(!)
  • Transportation 2.0M (interestingly, there was brief mention of talking to principals about bell times - could later start times for middle and high schools be on the way?)
Even with these cuts, they are still out about $10M (this is based on a roughly $34M overage in the budget if you calculate losing some state funds including I-728).

When pressed on details, Mr. Kennedy had few. I feel like this is a very optimistic savings projection.

Then, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson spoke on closure issues. She again talked about the difference between planning capacity (a formula) and functional capacity (how a building can be used based on programs in it). Later on she went into each building's planning capacity and I was astonished at some of the numbers. One, because I found, just in some documents I have at home, at least 3 different numbers (varying from 2-20) in planning capacity for some buildings and two, because, if true, some of the more popular schools (Roosevelt and Eckstein, for example, aren't overenrolled at all; huh?).

She announced that staff is now currently walking buildings to determine actual functional capacity. She didn't say which buildings but I'm assuming it's only the ones named, in whatever way, in the closure list. She said a team of teachers and principals were doing it. Seems a little after the fact.

She said that the first closure (I'm assuming the one that the Committee did) "didn't address functional because buildings closed had small populations and moved into buildings that had excess capacity." I'd have to check my notes for the validity of that statement because, off the top of my head, I'd say we DID look at functional capacity because we, too, had to consider what programs were in each building.

She also said "We understand the process of closures better now." and that there is less excess capacity in the buildings than before. Again, not sure that's true on both counts.

Then she went through every school's planning numbers. The numbers were very interesting; some schools underenrolled by a lot, some overcapacity by a lot. I started counting and we have at least 20 elementary under 350 and half under 300. That's a lot of small schools. I was astonished to see that Montlake's planning capacity is...200 (even though they have more students than that via portables). (I said this on Harium's blog but Montlake is going to have to be addressed someday. Their building is in terrible shape (despite the portables and pumping maintenance money in) and the site is very small and so it can't be rebuilt much bigger. Something will have to give someday soon.)

Other standouts from this information:
  • AAA's planning capacity is 639 - that's going to make one huge elementary school for Van Asselt. Is this what is needed?
  • Following up on that, why is Van Asselt afforded growth and not Summit? Moving Summit in with RBHS, affords little growth to either program and isn't that the point? If Summit were moved to Meany (813) capacity. At one point, Summit was over 700 students and I honestly believe they could get beyond that number in a central location.
  • the numbers out of the NE were amazing - Bryant 67 students over, Laurelhurst 115 students over(!), Sacajawea 79 students over (I've been in that building and I don't even know how that's possible). For elementary schools, that's a lot of extra kids. Interestingly View Ridge is one kid over but maybe they were maxed out.
  • New School is being built for...1,000? My initial reaction was why and even more so as the report continued.
  • She got to middle schools and yes, the black hole of excess capacity. School after school has too many seats and too few students. Only Washington and Madison are overenrolled. Yes, Eckstein doesn't appear overenrolled because they put their planning capacity at 1267 ( and they have 1193). Please, we need to get past these larger middle schools. Given how underenrolled Hamilton is (950 capacity/670 enrollment), there's room to roll back Eckstein. I doubt it will happen.
  • The high school capacity numbers seemed off to me and I'll have to do some checking. Roosevelt is allegedly 1741 capacity and 1675 enrolled. Huh? I have never seen that capacity number ever on any document. As well, Ballard's is 1554 and again, I've never seen that number before.
Addressing some of Dr. G-J's report, she says that duplicating APP is a good idea. Her statements made it sound like APP was being moved to help these two schools that are underperforming. I'll have more to say about this when I blog about my thoughts on each proposal but I'm hearing a lot of words that indicate that this is going to be a plus for those schools and not much mention of why it's a plus for APP. It has to go both ways.

Can you say backpedal? It may not be "fiscally feasible for Summit to go to RBHS" and they may just close Summit? Did someone not do their homework before suggesting this move in the first place? Again, Summit deserves a chance at a central location and there are a couple but the Board is not pressing the staff on all options (Meany, Lincoln or John Marshall).

Again, astonishing - merge RBHS at Cleveland. A little out of left field but okay.

Another closure? There will be excess capacity at New School so they may close an additional elementary or scale back New School's grade levels. Say WHAT? They are building at this capacity for New School's Pre-K-8 program (which, frankly, would be huge at 1,000) but they also said they did this in case they needed a middle school. And now, they realize it not going to fill and they have to do something about it? They are creating more capacity in the south end? If I were on the Board, I'd press hard on this one.

Close Aki (we were all wondering when they'd get to this given that Aki is level 5 under NCLB and hasn't been restructured or reconstituted as mandated.) Move to RBHS. As well, the Bilingual Family Center would move to RBHS.

Rethinking moving Pathfinder to Cooper. Yes, that should be considered given that the last time staff was thinking about Pathfinder moving they said there were only 2 potential sites in ALL of WS/SW for a K-8 and one was High Point and the other was....Cooper.

Transportation costs:
AS1 and Summit - $936,000 (each)
Lowell $703,000
AAA $290,000

Now, it was pointed out by some Board members that they want to see transportation costs for ALL the schools on the list and not just a select few. I absolutely see that these costs are way out of line but Lowell's is unlikely to get a lot better, AAA is closing, ditto AS1 (and those are still maybes) and again, put Summit in a central location and watch those costs go down.

It was funny but Director Bass asked for those extra transportation numbers and said she didn't know how hard it would be to find them. I thought, "It shouldn't be that hard but I wonder if she has had difficult getting figures in the past." Transportation costs stemming from closures (how kids are now getting from point A to Point B) should be sussed out but I don't know if it will happen.

Director Bass also said that she felt that giving certain "special dispensations" for one school doesn't strike her as fair (not to mention adding a layer of complexity to the assignment plan).

Director Martin-Morris AND Director Carr both expressed concern over the capacity issues in the NE and what losing the buildings that Summit and AS#1 in habit. (Side note: I neglected to write this down but found it in another summary of the meeting: The Northeast Cluster Coalition advocated to keep AS#1 open and giving Summit a central location so the populations of those two schools would not overload the new k-8 at Jane Addams.)

Director Maier said that they need to look ahead at how this will all work with the new assignment plan. It's huge and complex but he's right. I hope Tracy Libros is able to do some forecasting based on the choices made.

Director DeBell carefully pointed out that the district is "an organic whole". He said last time they expected to keep more students and didn't and that they do have $500,000 more because of new students enrolling this year. He wants to keep it that way. He also said that clearly parents want alternatives and the challenge was to provide them while making sure that they have rigorous curriculums.

Director Carr also said at the Tuesday work session she wants to talk about the ELL/Special Ed kids and where they will go. As well, she said they had made a commitment to Secondary BOC from dropping them in BEX III and need to honor that commitment.

Director Bass also mentioned naming opportunities including MLK, Sharples (which is what South Shore used to be called).

Director Chow also said that it was important to remember that they are talking about children's lives. She also said if we want to restrict kids to one cluster or region - 1,000 kids go north for high school - then they had to have quality schools to go to.

It feels like the Board is not inclined to close Summit and is looking for other solutions. I expect some pushback from staff so this should be interesting.

Additionally, there were Board elections. Michael DeBell is the new president, Steve Sundquist is the VP and Sherry Carr is the Member-at-Large.

19 comments:

Roy Smith said...

It seems pretty clear that district staff are pushing hard to close Summit, and are not seriously considering any other locations. Furthermore, I think they knew full well that moving Summit to RBHS was an unacceptable plan, and that it was intended to be a poison pill. Unfortunately, unless the board calls them on this and really goes to the mat on making staff do their jobs (i.e., provide good, feasible recommendations backed up by solid reasoning and data), it may work.

With regards to the transportation numbers, AS#1 and Summit currently share buses, and I am pretty sure the figure given is a combined figure, not $936,000 for each school.

Maureen said...

Isn't APP busing paid for by the state? I thought that was the rationale for yellow busing APP kids to Garfield? That makes the APP costs a red herring. Of course, right now APP@Lowell shares many buses with TOPS so if they can't share, TOPS' costs will increase dramatically. I'm not sure how that sharing works financially--do they average the costs per student or does SPS just pay the extra cost of getting the TOPS kids from Capitol Hill to Eastlake? (I'm guessing TOPS' transport is doomed if APP leaves Lowell.)

I would love to see transport costs for all of the schools.

The more I see, the more I like the idea of Summit at Meany. They might immediately up their enrollment by absorbing some of the Meany kids, and offer an alternative to TOPS for many families. Is the Summit principal up to it? It would be nice to cohouse with SBOC (share those buses). The numbers seem to work out on paper (532+229<1000) but Summit really should grow to 700+ and I expect SBOC classes are much smaller than reg ed ones, so it all depends on the real functional capacity at Meany.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Roy, I get the distinct vibe (especially from Harium and Sherry) that they will fight for Summit. You may be right on that figure; I thought it odd but I copied it down as "each".

Maureen, again, these transportation numbers have to be sussed. For example, one key to Hale's late start time are the yellow buses they can share with Summit. With Summit gone, I'm not sure what would happen.

katie said...

I think they said last night that the state was cutting funding for gifted programs. That may be the cut in APP busing.

Dorothy said...

I could never figure out what it meant to move Summit to RBHS anyway. What is the essence of Summit or any program or school? The philosophy, the kids, the teachers, the administration, the name? As far as I could tell, the only thing that was definitely (hah! and not definitely any more) moving to RBHS was the Summit name.

Any parent knows, in the end, it is not the program or the building that is so important, it's the teacher. Many parents and all teachers know how much a difference there is in a well-managed school run by a supportive principal and a competent, friendly team of teachers. All too many teachers know what it's like to work without a strong, nurturing, organized principal.

All this talk is throwing kids around helter skelter; what about what really matters -- the teachers and staff? I suppose some programs, probably Pathfinder and Thorton Creek, will move lock, stock and barrel and the biggest difference will be address. Elementary APP will probably work out OK as well, but the divvying up teachers and materials --- is that going to be like going through a divorce? You keep the stereo and I get the TV? You get the dog and I get the cat? (Although both halves have to immediately remarry folks they don't know, that will be fun, won't it?)

So, anyone who understands how unions and seniority and all that policy stuff, can you please explain what this all means for teachers and principals? Can principals use moving as a way to shake out staff they don't want? With all this change, how will teachers deal? How many senior ones will be looking for new spots and can they usurp others willy nilly or what? At what point will anyone know even who will be principal at any given address?

hschinske said...

I am not clear on whether the state has ever kicked in on bus money for Lowell and Washington. The Garfield reimbursement was a recent brainchild of someone at the transportation department -- here is what I heard about it:

"This change was made because the District and the State consider APP to be a Special Needs program for students who need the Advanced Learning services offered at
Garfield.

"The State funds transportation for Advanced Learning students in other districts in Washington and reimburses special needs transportation at a higher rate than the general student population. The extra funds the District will receive by busing APP
students will serve to subsidize bus service for other students in the District. Transportation of APP
high school students to Garfield on WMS buses does not use or deplete existing transportation funds--the District is, in essence, gaining more funds by busing APP students."

Helen Schinske

another mom said...

Thanks to both Melissa and Beth for getting this information out to those of us unable to attend the board meeting. You are amazing!

School closures are tagged as one of the primary ways to cut the budget in the short term. 3.5M in the first year looks mighty optimistic to me. Especially when you consider the relocation costs of Van Asselt, APP, Pathfinder, Nova, SBOC,the K-3 Montesorri, and perhaps Summit. Something just does not look right with that 3.5M figure. However, cuts to central office staff will need to be deeper in order to keep money in classrooms. And it is inevitable that staff in school buildings will need to be cut to make the budget work. Which makes me wonder why is the SEA so remarkably quiet about all of this.

dan dempsey said...

Another Mom,
Great Question on the SEA.

The contract negotiations will be coming up. Perhaps they are trying to get the lay of the land before speaking.

Good question about the reality of that 3.5 million ever being realized in the first year of this turmoil.

What have we heard about cuts to the bloated central administration?

another mom said...

Helen,
I am not so sure the APP split will be OK. It may but there were many issues between APP and the neighborhood program when it was co-housed at Madrona. And as the old saying goes, if you don't learn from history you are doomed to repeat it.

Really, there is not much institutional memory left in SPS.

another mom said...

Sorry I meant Dorothy in my last post.

Dorothy said...

Another Mom: I do know the history of APP and Madrona. I did say "probably" and had that perhaps too obscure metaphor of divorce and instant remarriage.

With some of the ideas Charlie has been talking about, the new APP configuration just possibly could work well. We don't know. I think it will take extremely gifted leadership to create inclusive communities at the two new locations. It doesn't appear that Dr GJ has a realistic plan for it, but maybe...

But the real point of my comment is that we talk about moving kids and programs (ie, just the name of the program) all easily because neither the kids nor the names of the programs have any power. It's possibly meaningless to talk blithely about moving or duplicating a program and cruel to blithely move the kids around without good cause. [Logistically, Summit was never going to work at RBHS, Thorton Creek will most likely do well at Jane Addams, and APP's fate is somewhere in between.]

What I really want to know is: how are teachers and administrators going to move around? We don't really know that, do we?

another mom said...

Dorothy,

Yup, I completely agree. The only way APP could successfully split and co-house is with gifted leadership at two buildings. It is an exhausting job even for the most capable of principals. I witnessed the burn out of a talented principal at Madrona. It also requires commitment of district support and resources to make it happen.I am not optimistic about the district support and resources being there. If this happens, parents do have a role and responsibility to help it be successful. But it is not their responsibility to provide the monetary support required.There is talk about providing teacher trainings across programs but where is the money for this?

Your divorce analogy made me chuckle. A messy divorce may be the outcome here. No question that children and their families should not be seen as chess pieces that can be moved from place to place. This goes for all programs and schools in this current proposal.

As you noted, there are so many unanswered questions about this proposal such as the cost to relocate 8 or 9 programs and reassign students from closed buildings and programs. What happens to the teachers and principals indeed. Salaries and benefits are the largest line item in the budget.I have not seen this articulated anywhere, although I may have missed it.

School reference areas are going to be redrawn in the new student assignment plan, which means more disruption and movement of students and $$$.

A friend of mine said that as long as she can remember, District administrators seem to unveil controversial plans in late November and December. A time when everyone is overbusy and preoccupied.

Apologies for the rant.

AutismMom said...

Speaking of transportation, lots and lots of money could be saved with disabilities busing. Special needs (as in special education) students who are in programs, get door-to-door bus service, even if you live in the same cluster you are served. A regular bus already comes to your neigbhoorhood, and that regular bus could take you to your in-cluster school along with the regular kids in the neighborhood. But no, door-to-door means a really special, but different bus comes right to your house... and might even honk if you're not ready. If you live in your school's walk zone, they'll send a taxi (for inexplicable reasons), and continue sending taxi's, even if you chase them away. Not only is all this super transporation a ridiculous expense, it is un-necessary in the vast majority of cases. It does nothing to build independence or basic skills (riding the bus to school, or anywhere else) and separates students from the peers in a basic activity. We all think it absurd that minorities ever were disallowed on buses, or had to sit at the back.... students with disabilities are in that situation now (even though most think they're getting a good deal with the deluxe special treatment).

Mark said...

AutismMom. As an "autism dad", I have to wonder where you're getting your facts. How much is "lots and lots of money"? What percentage is the "vast majority" of cases that are capable of riding a bus independently with typical students?

My kid is not capable of boarding a bus by himself and remaining seated. Sometimes special needs means special needs.

adhoc said...

I have to agree with Mark. My children went to Thornton Creek for several years where there is a large autism program. While a handful of autistic children were able to mainstream, many were in self contained classes. They could not walk down the hall by themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, eat by themselves, play on the playground, or ride a bus by themselves. A couple had a caregivers that picked them up and attached a harness to them just to walk to their car. They had very special needs. We were very happy to be part of their community and have them be part of ours. But with the exception of a couple of kids, there is no way those children could have gotten on a bus alone, and rode home as a typically developing child would.

anonymous said...

As another autism "mom" I could comment on the exclusionary practices that "autismmom" is on about. At a recent IEP meeting, instead of discussing accommodations that my daughter could benefit from, the district person told the team to be sure to get her on a special bus, "it will be more comfortable for her." The district just does all it can to keep the non-disabilities community from moving over a bit and learning how to accommodate and support people who are different. And if you all have read the recent OSPI data you can see that the more popular the school, the more push back they have in making sure that children with disabilities are disappeared. There is a 70% difference in the amount of learning differences in the student populations in the district top most and bottom least selected schools. I think autismmom's comments about exclusionary practices go hand in hand with these numbers and it is happening right there right out under your noses, all you bloggers! I don't think you have to be a blogger of color to feel it your duty to protest racial discrimination but it seems the only people are are really motivated to tell the story are those with the least clout in the district and that is getting us nowhere.

anonymous said...

p.s. I meant "tell the story" about the discrimination and exclusionary attitudes towards childdren with learning disabilities.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous and Autism Mom, I'm horrified by some of the information you have provided about how children in special education programs are being treated in our district.

But I can't blog on an issue I don't know. I have tried to recruit parents/staff with different knowledge and different viewpoints on this blog to help educate all readers on the issues in this district.

Would one of you (or other leaders in the special education community) like to join the blog as a permanent contributor?

E-mail me (bbakeman@comcast.net) if you are interested.

It takes time, and it's not always fun (particulary when reader feedback is negative), but I'd really appreciate you helping to educate the broader community about issues faced by special education students.

anon said...

Beth, one of the things that could help is asking your bloggers to include children with disabilities when they are presenting demographics of "diversity" at their schools. This was a request on Harium's blog. Many people do not realize that once you get beyond resource room levels of support the more popular schools in our district are effectively disappearing children with all but the mildest disabilities.