I attended the City Council Town Hall on Monday and folks, what an opportunity (for those 20 of us who showed up - I was very surprised). Seven out of the nine members were there plus Harium and Peter. The format was going to be to break into small groups to discuss one of three topics; Urban Forests, Excellence in Schools and Youth Violence. And guess what happened? We were such a small group that President Richard Conlin said, "Let's just talk as a group. We'll vote on which topics interest us and drop one if there is little or no interest." This NEVER happens at district meetings so I was amazed at how well they took note of how to make this meeting work best. As it turns out, it was a great meeting with lots of discussion (yes, we asked questions and - hold your breath - the Council answered them. Yes, it can be done).
Interestingly, all the topics tied together in a fashion. There were people from the Ingraham neighborhood who said that the district continuing to move forward to cut down the grove of trees near Ingraham was taking away environmental study possibilities from students. (The district lost on taking down 70 trees but I was told has refiled to take down 30.) There is also the issue of the district not taking care of trees ( and, I might add, other landscaping. A lot of what was installed when RHS reopened is dying from lack of water.).
Sally Clarke (who I am finding more and more to be an extremely effective Council member) was the lead on schools. She mentioned the City's role in education as overseeing the Families and Education levy, public library access for students (homework help, a place to go, etc.), community centers, sidewalk development (to provide more walk routes for kids going to school), surplus buildings (this was interesting and she mentioned MLK only in passing) as well as youth violence prevention. She asked the audience to consider these issues as well as asking "What can we be doing to support education?" (Also attending the meeting was Holly Miller from the City's Office of Education.)
Tim Burgess (another key Council member) was the point person on youth violence. The City has approved $8M over two years for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. It will have a focus on teens who have been arrested for violent acts, who have been suspended or expelled for violent acts (from 5 middle and high schools) or have truancy issues. Their focus is in the SE, SW and Central areas of the city. They have hired a coordinator who went over the features of this plan. And guess what? They will have guideposts for the plan so if something isn't working, they will adjust the plan.
So I spoke up about the district. I told the Council they should re-start their joint meetings with the Board. (These got discontinued about a year or so ago; one Council member told me it was a dog-and-pony show where the staff would do a feel-good presentation and the Council felt frustrated with it.) I told them that their contiuents were the Board's and that if the Council was hearing from citizens about the district, then bring that to the meetings and ask staff and the Board about these concerns. Two, I told them they could help with the SAP by continuing (and not letting up as happened in the mid-'90s) with the focus on gang-violence prevention. Three, I also asked them to use their power to fast-track any permitting needed to open previously closed schools in the NE to help with capacity issues. I said I felt (as does Charlie) that the City should take over SPS property management (I mentioned the upcoming BEX audit from the state auditor).
Councilman Harrell asked me about property management. I mentioned how many interim/closed buildings we had and the upkeep on them (as witnessed by the stripping of the copper wiring from Viewlands) as well as the issue of putting in the tennis courts/softball field at Denny just 3-4 years ago only to tear it out now for the Denny/Sealth rebuild and then pay again to put them back. Councilwoman Drago was visibly perturbed.
Issues brought to their attention:
- more sidewalks in the north end
-having a specific person in each high school to mentor kids who might not graduate (not a counselor)
- the issue of the new SAP possibly cutting off south end kids who currently attend a north end school and how to fill the time for them that they had previously spent on a bus ride
-Peter said that the district could use help with property issues and could the district be a "priority customer" for the City
-Harium talked about needing Pre-K to help more kids be ready for school
-Not enough Metro buses for students and with coming budget cuts to King County Metro, possibly even fewer buses
- the need for more music programs - should the Families in Education levy be directed to support this?
-how to keep kids from rejecting school? Make school more relevant and specialize for certain populations if you need to
-do an energy audit of the district "turn off lights during the day"
-a City "honors" program specifically for students who achieve academically (there is a Mayor's program for middle schoolers)
-a house swap program for parents who want different schools but don't live near them
Council members talked about wanting to make Seattle School district a district of choice for incoming parents and/or newcomers to the city and they asked about barriers to success in schools.
Sally Clark said they were working with the districts on the permits they did control (but not things like fire codes which are state).
Harium said that the City's demographer (and this post was only recently revived - the City had not filled the position in years) will work more closely with the district's.
Honestly, this was one of the BEST public meetings I have ever attended. I got to talk with Richard Conlin and Tim Burgess as well as Jan Drago (who is running for Mayor). These people came up to talk with me. You just don't get this kind of access that often. They are holding another one of these on Thursday, June 25th over in West Seattle. Take advantage of it if you can.