Friday, September 24, 2010

Our District

I got a little irritated this morning because I got an e-mail saying I was nit-picking over the language used by the district for the federal grant for teacher evaluation. Here was my reply (and my frustration) because honestly, what more evidence to people want? Does anyone really, truly believe that things aren't "that" bad? And now, with apologies to Sarah Palin, my e-mail:

"Linda Shaw from the Times called me last night for my reaction on the grant. I told her it was good news and free money for something that both the district and union were working together on. I had good things to say.

I think it worth saying that what the district said to the feds about SPS and what they said in the press release are different. Want to know what they said about our district?

Over the last three years, Seattle has moved from a collection of independent schools operating with little direction and no accountability, to one with clear system-wide performance goals, aligned supports to help schools and staff meet expectations, and differentiated interventions based on performance.

Really? Our district, the district I have been, yes, a cheerleader for as well as a critic, the district that I proudly graduated both my sons from was a hodge-podge of schools with little direction and (hilarious!) "no accountability", this was my district? No, it was not and that anyone within SPS would say that is disrespectful (no matter how badly you want money).

Words have meaning. I tell my readers all the time to choose their words carefully. And, I take what others write seriously so when I hear my district being described in less-than-truthful terms, I speak up. That's not nit-picking.

Accountability? Let's see what the State Auditor says about the leadership and management of this district:

“The School Board and District management have not implemented sufficient policies and controls to ensure the District complies with state laws, its own policies, or addresses concerns identified in prior audits.”

“The District’s Board and Management have placed public resources at risk.”

If that doesn't scare you about how the money and our district are being managed, I don't know what will. Finding after finding shows people not doing their jobs or their fuduciary duty to taxpayers. And yet we continue to give them a blank check.

The levy money will NOT offset cuts to school budgets, reduce class size or restore any school level funding. The bulk of the money in the levy is designated for the Performance Management Framework, NOT to classrooms. You say it won't cover the shortfall and you're right because they have other plans for the money. Note that the teachers contract covers 3 years of raises and yet the levy only mentions 2. Why they don't say that they will be covering all 3 years out of the levy is a mystery.


There is money in the levy for textbooks but there's a catch. Some of those textbooks are for the curriculum alignment going on and with LA that came with a $750K contract for a consultant. That's where some of that money will go. And, to be clear. The state doesn't fund textbooks. That is the responsibility of the districts. Our district has NOT had a line item for textbooks for over a decade. So why are our textbooks falling apart? Because our district hasn't kept up with one of the MOST basic items for student achievement in the classroom - textbooks. And now, hey taxpayers, we haven't kept up so give us more money.


We have a nearly half a billion dollar backlog in maintenance because our district, over the last 15 years, has chosen to cut back and cut back. It was announced at a recent Work Session on maintenance that now 95% of that backlog is capital maintenance. That means it can only be fixed through capital funds which are levies and bonds. At the rate we pass those levies and bonds, we may never catch up.


If it is nitpicking to wonder why we don't pay for textbooks and maintenance for our school buildings, then I am one happy nitpicker. You can look away and make excuses but it is clear that our district is putting lipstick on a pig. We are simply not dealing with the basics of being a well-run and well-maintained district. That fact is clear.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Melissa, you said "Linda Shaw from the Times called me last night for my reaction on the grant. I told her it was good news and free money for something that both the district and union were working together on. I had good things to say."

Last time I checked money from the FEDS is not free. 86% of the federal revenues come from individual income taxes & social security taxes.

This money could have been spent paying off the federal deficit. The SSD will find a way to misuse the grant funds.

I don't think this is good news for hard working taxpayers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well,yes, of course you are right. I just meant it was money given to the district. (awarded?)