Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Board Work Session: Demographics and Boundaries

Thanks to some clever eyes, I got to the Work Session on time (well, they started 15 minutes late so it worked for me). I grabbed the handouts and sank in my seat. Well, I started to sink lower as I read. Excuse the middle school jargon but OMG! Now, wait, it's not bad news but this Powerpoint (down the page under Past Meetings) was one of the most data-heavy I have ever seen and that wasn't even with the presentation. Honestly, I think without some explanation it may not be easy to understand.

I'm tired and don't have the energy now (and I think it's a definite two or three part thread) but basically, Rachel Cassidy, the demographer, laid out many charts explaining where we are and where we are going. I got lost at several points because (1) I didn't always understand the charts and (2) I didn't absolutely agree with her conclusions. More on this later.

There was then a section on capacity management that I'm not sure needed to be here. It seemed somewhat off and that was apparent by some of the Board questioning.

Then Tracy gave a somewhat vague but understandable explanation of how they are digging down to get to specific boundaries. I do think things are becoming clearer but I also think that we (the public) are not going to get much time to think about it and/or weigh in. I get the feeling that the district and the Board are going into a down time for summer.

There was also an interesting high school chart with some dummy data on one side and high school enrollment by cluster on the other.

More tomorrow but you can check out the Powerpoint now.


zb said...

Melissa: Thanks for all your hard work.

I couldn't find the PPT, though. Is it somewhere on the page you linked to?

Oddly, I find it more useful whe people don't post a direct link, 'cause then I know where the files were (i.e. how to get there from other spots on the web site.

momster said...

Here is ppthttp://

momster said...

try again!

Charlie Mas said...

There is a lot of good here.

Demographics. It is good that the District is approaching enrollment projections more scientifically. It is also good that they are disclosing both their assumptions and the sources for those assumptions.

Capacity Management. While it looks very early and rough, this is the start of a Capacity Management Policy. This is the start of clear, transparent set of criteria for how the District will respond to changes in enrollment, what numbers will trigger the addition (or removal) of portables,changing attendance area boundaries, the movement of programs, and even the opening and closing of buildings. I know it all looks really elementary and obvious now, but this is how these things start. This is actually good. I know that we are all impatient about this, but this project work has to happen in extra time around the time taken for everyone's full time job. The key here is the perspective they adopt. Are they setting rights or duties? And who's rights are they protecting? When a school becomes over-crowded, by the definition they choose, does that mean that the District has a DUTY to un-crowd it? Or does it mean that the District has a RIGHT to un-crowd it? Or does it mean that the families in that school have the RIGHT to be un-crowded? This may seem a subtle difference, but it is not. Also, will the District be allowed the full range of techniques listed or will the school be allowed to choose the method? Will the District make a decision about how to deal with the situation or will it be the school's decision - chosen from a menu of options provided by the District? Who decides if the school adds a portable or loses a program?

Attendance Area Boundaries. This one is a sort of bad news/good news report. Apparently they have no smarter way to do this than trial and error. It looks like a TON of work. It looks like a nightmare of falling dominoes. The good news, if you are looking for the pony in the pile of manure, is that the Enrollment team has hit the work hard and is digging hard. They might actually get it done.

For all of these we need to have realistic expectations. Unlike in our fantasies, the demographer is working with some pretty wild uncertainties. The rates at which children are born in Seattle, move in and out of Seattle, and choose public school or other options are stable - within ranges. A little blip up on the birth rate combined with a little blip up in net migration and market share and Seattle Public Schools can be swamped. So let's keep our expectations for accuracy in line. The Capacity Management Policy is just getting started, so let's keep our impatience in check and have a reasonable expectation for when that work will be done. The Attendance Area Boundary work is complicated almost beyond belief. There is going to be some reductionist thinking that will HAVE to happen. Some of the criteria will have to be primary - it looks like Walk Zones right now.

On the whole, it is good to see this work getting done and moving forward.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Thanks Melissa...your dedication to the cause is amazing.

After reviewing the PP, I am just flabbergasted that the majority of HS students appear to live south of the ship canal. It boggles my mind that the District knows this but has not done much to really ensure that the school offerings in the area will attract the residents.

There ARE some neighborhood (RBHS area), for example, has a very large Orthodox Jewish population. Those children will rarely attend public school as their specific needs (Kosher food, religious instruction and a different holiday schedule) would be difficult, if not impossible, for the District to meet. And though they might make a dent in RBHS's attendance numbers, they certainly don't account for 1,200 students.

Roy Smith said...

Regarding attendance areas, it rather looks like this will be a very data-intensive, multiple iteration process. It also appears from the ppt that the public probably won't see the proposed boundaries until they are done iterating, at which point it is going to be very difficult to lobby for changes, because any changes will probably necessitate restarting the iterative process. So I would expect very few if any changes between the boundaries being presented to the public and the final adoption of boundaries.

This might work, if they use defensible data, assumptions, and criteria at every step in the process, and release it all for public inspection afterwards.

The one real trouble spot that I potentially still see is high school boundaries for Queen Anne and Magnolia. It is hard to see how they are going to come up with something that sits well with those neighborhoods yet still makes sense within the context of the entire system.

Roy Smith said...

SolvayGirl, remember that the map in the powerpoint only counts students that are actually currently enrolled in SPS, so those who are not in SPS for whatever reason are not reflected in the numbers on the map.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

RIGHT!!! So that means even MORE students actually live in the area.

I'm curious about the breakdown between public/private. Years ago I kept seeing a stat that went something like "90% of children living south of the ship canal attend public school where only 60% of those living north do. I guess that would account for the disparity in attendance numbers north to south. I wonder how much, if any, those percentages changed? I had always heard that this trend started during the time of forced integration, but I have only been living in Seattle since 1993, so don't have first-hand knowledge of its history. Anyone know?

zb said...

I think the public isn't going to get a lot of say about boundaries, and I don't think they should.

But, I do think the district should address how they're going to manage unpredicted capacity, as Charlie's questions suggest. I think they're remaining vague on the question, and crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. That's a fools game, since the numbers they're working with are highly variable, and what's more, subject to change based on the establishment of boundaries (people will move to edges of neighborhoods with schools that are perceived to be good). Mesh that with the fact that people in Settle have gotten used to not having over-crowding -- since extra students could always be assigned elsewhere, and you have a problem.

They should be straightforward about how they'll address over-crowding issues, rather than just hoping that no issues arise.

anon said...

SolvayG, the Times printed demographic data a year or 2 ago about the private school percentages. It was exactly the opposite of your guess. Most private school attendance was from North of the ship canal. Further, the highest rate of private school attendance was in the wealthiest neighborhoods... Madison Park, etc. It could be that 90% of the white kids south of ship canal are in private school. It always seems that white southenders make this claim.

Dorothy said...

Anon? Um, I think you misread Solvaygirl. She said 10% of south are in private and 40% of north end are. Doesn't that jibe with what you say? Her recollection matches the fact from the newspaper, not some white-centric claim.

anon said...

Ooops. Mea culpa. Indeed I misread Solvay. I'll see if I can find that article.

Sam Hranac said...

Does anyone know if they have an ETA for high school attendance area boundaries yet?