Sunday, May 03, 2009

Upcoming District Meetings and District Announcements

  • "Staff, families and community members are invited to attend quarterly community meetings on May 5, 6 and 9 for discussions and updates on the School District's Strategic Plan Excellence for All, development of the new Student Assignment Plan, information about upcoming levies, as well as other key topics.

Tuesday, May 5, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Ingraham High School Library, 1819 North 135th Street

Thursday, May 7, 6:30-8:30 p.m.at the Filipino Community Center of Seattle, 5740 Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, May 9, 10:00 a.m. to noon at the John Stanford Center, Auditorium
2445 3rd Ave"

  • This was on today's News and Calendar page:
"Sunday, May 3: New guidelines from Public Health - Seattle & King County were issued today. Public Health will no longer order schools to close based on one case of probable and/or confirmed H1N1. +
Seattle Public Schools is working with public health officials to decide whether there will be a change in status for Madrona, Aki Kurose and Stevens. Families and staff will be notified by phone, Web postings and media announcements of any changes."

  • The Board is having a Work Session this week on Wednesday from 4-5:30 followed by the regular School Board Meeting from 6-9 p.m.
  • There is also a 4-hr (pack those snacks!) work session Wednesday, May 13th from 4-8 p.m. about BTA III planning.
About the levies. So these are two levies coming up for a vote in Feb. of 2010. They will be the only items on the ballot. One is the all-important, can't-fail Operating Levy from which we receive almost 25% of the district's operating budget. (Seriously? C'mon, is this any way to run a school district? The state should be ashamed.)

The other is the BTA (Buildings, Technology and Academics) levy. This is a workhorse levy, every bit as important as BEX (Building Excellence) because of the large number of schools that received upgrades from it.

However, the BTA is a bit problematic for me. I don't want this levy to fail but there are some dark clouds gathering that could really hurt it (and possibly, scarily, the Operating Levy). One, this district has shown little real public accountability to how they have spent the money from BEX and BTA levies. Money is constantly moved around from project to project, fund to fund (look on either Board meeting agenda this month and I'll bet you'll find yet another request from staff for movement of money) and the public (and parents) have little idea of where the money eventually ends up. Do all the projects get done? Which ones and as described in the voter pamphlet? Who gets left off and why? You have to be a detective to figure it all out.

Now there may be some who say that all-emcompassing phrase, "But it's for the kids so who cares what buildings get what as long as they fix the schools."

But it does matter.

Schools get promises from the district that don't get carried out. I'll bet everyone reading this is at or knows a school that has real building problems. It also matters because this is PUBLIC money. We all, from the lay taxpayer to parents in the district, have a right to know how the money is spent and in detail.

What else is a problem? Well, that State Auditor's report on BEX is a-comin' and now that it has grown more complex (this according to the State Auditor's office), it will come out later in the year which puts it much closer to the levy vote. That could be dangerous. If the public perceives that the district is not handling these huge sums that BEX votes generate, they might show their disapproval at the polls. We're in a failing economy and taxpayers see the cuts coming from the Legislature and then they see a report, from the same group that audited the Port Commission, about BEX spending that is (to my mind) likely to be very unfavorable? Not good.

Right now the Seattle Council PTSA is asking PTAs to give donations to the levy campaign now and in the fall as well as find levy chairs from each school and likely, work phone banks in the fall. I have no problem working hard to support the district. But I wish the Seattle Council PTSA would say to the district that we, as a parent group, would like some accountability to back up our money and our hard work. What about a quarterly report from the district explaining the timelines, what is scheduled, what is done, what isn't done, money spent, money remaining and any projects not likely to get done? Is that really asking too much?

I don't think so. It certainly might make the public at-large to feel better about voting for the levies (no matter the outcome of the state audit of BEX) to know that the PTA, as a parent group, is asking for accountability and will be monitoring the BTA money.

11 comments:

zb said...

"It certainly might make the public at-large to feel better about voting for the levies (no matter the outcome of the state audit of BEX) to know that the PTA, as a parent group, is asking for accountability and will be monitoring the BTA money. "

I doubt it. I think there might be a few people who don't vote for the levies because they think the money is being mis-spent. But, I think most of them vote against it because they don't want to spend the money on a service they think they don't use (i.e they don't have a kid in the public school). Accountability isn't going to help with that voting.

emeraldkity said...

nice
seattlepi.com/soundoff/comment.asp?articleID=405850

Charlie Mas said...

Those who are going to this Strategic Plan update meeting expecting to hear an update or status report on the Strategic Plan, will, of course, be disappointed yet again.

Just the same, it could be worthwhile to go and ask, just to let them know that they aren't fooling anybody.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

Please be careful Melissa. If you would like to criticize how the levy or bond money is being spent -- do it AFTER the levy/bonds are approved.

Seattle schools NEEDS the levy and bond money. No one questions that. There will be plenty of time to talk about how to spend the money after we know we have it.

Criticizing the use of levy/bond money during the campaign is simply very poor strategy. I expect better of you.

Charlie Mas said...

The tactic that Isabel promotes was promoted during the last levy and bond vote as well. A number of people suggested the same thing then - "Let's secure the money and then we can have a discussion of how it will be spent".

However, that tactic proved false. After the election, all discussion of how the money would be spent was completely shut down. People claimed some sort of obligation to spend the money as planned (unless their plans changed). So there was a lot of resistance (claimed) to changing the spending plans for Denny/Sealth - but, of course, no resistance to more than doubling the spending on Garfield, eliminating the S.B.O.C. project, or shuffling money around like the pea in a shell game.

When will that discussion come? Who will conduct it? Who will be bound by it?

The suggestion that we can discuss and determine the spending after the levy passes is disingenuous at best. It is actually down right deceptive. There will be no discussion nor any opportunity for discussion nor any interest in discussion about spending priorities after the election. You're not fooling us, please don't fool yourself.

Keepin'On said...

You know what Isabel? I agree completely with Melissa. This district has NO accountablility, plays fast and loose with the numbers, and is probably going to fail the BEX audit. They move money around from account to account, take from one ledger to the other, and no one knows what they are doing or why.

When do we, as parents and citizens, ever have the chance to hold this district accountable? I know that I cannot vote no on the operating levy, but I sure as heck can vote no on the BEX. And I plan to.

Hopefully the citizens of Seattle will act as one, stop drinking the district kool-aid, and apply accountability with a levy failure. Then the district will realize that it's past behavior does have consequences, and they can put the levy up again, after they make some long-overdue changes.

adhoc said...

So, what happens if the BEX levy fails? Have we lost the money, just gone? Or, does the district have a certain amount of time to come up with a better proposal? If the latter is the case, what is the time frame for the new proposal?

Our schools and children desperately need the BEX levy money, and I wouldn't vote no if the money would just be gone. I might consider voting no, if I knew the district had a set time frame to come back with a new proposal.

I won't penalize the children and schools because of irresponsible spending and planning on the part of the district. I'm wondering if there is a way to get the money, and hold the district accountable?

Melissa Westbrook said...

We can all agree that we need the money for both areas - fixing school buildings and for the operating budget.

And yes, we could try the "let's talk after we get the money" but really, that's a fool's errand. The district WILL NOT talk after the fact and they have proven that time and again.

Ad Hoc, BEX isn't on the ballot this time; it's the BTA. What would happen if either of the levies (or both)failed is that the district would try again the next year (as they did in the '90s when they had failed levies). And maybe they'd think about where they went wrong.

This is public money and we have a right to know how it is spent.

Keepin'On said...

Sorry - I meant BTA not BEX.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's something interesting...

During the Capacity Management Project, we heard all about the buildings that are inadequate, the ones that have ratings of less than 80. There were some that had ratings under 50.

So we should expect that the BTA levy money goes first to those schools with the lowest ratings to bring them all up to at least 80 before any money at all is spent on schools that have higher ratings, shouldn't we?

Is that how the BTA levy money is going to be allocated?

Why wasn't the BTA and BEX money allocated that way in the past? If it were, we wouldn't have schools with such low scores. If that were how the facilities improvement money were doled out the Mann building (and others) would not have been allowed to fall into such disrepair.

So why wasn't money allocated to the Mann building (and other buildings in poor condition) in the past and how can we be sure that those buildings get what they need this time?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I really don't know for sure how they decide BEX or BTA.

For BEX some of it is making sure there are projects in all directions. Facilities staff have stated to me that their focus has always been on the high schools first and indeed, all of them (comprehensive) have been touched (some more than others but most have had major renovations save Rainier Beach). Ingraham, for example, has been on all three BEXs. After BEX III, they are probably done with high schools for quite awhile. Unless Rainier Beach enlarges their population, they may never be totally renovated.

I don't think that worst condition really comes into play as the number one reason (not even for safety) for BTA. I think they need to:

- distribute the wealth
- cover health issues like HVAC
- shore up closed buildings (that's why you see new roofs on closed buildings)
- try to find parity for technology

I think parents are worried about trying to advocate for their building (or, in the case of Nova, may have feared their program moving or ending if they said too much). Why shouldn't teachers, staff and parents who are the people in the buildings most be allowed to say "Please add us to the list of considered projects." I did that with security cameras at RHS and did so with no shame. It's a security issue and I hope it would rank up there but since there has never been any transparency on this process I don't know what our chances are.

I'm not saying vet the BTA list; it's usually long. But you never know for sure if the worst buildings are getting helped as you might expect.

I AM saying we should vet the BEX list. The district should have some realtransparency in how they come to these decisions because their public reasoning often doesn't match what they say later on.