Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My E-Mail to the Board

Update: Well, look at that, on the News and Calendar page, an item about the upcoming meetings. Except that just looking at the brief paragraph, you might think there is no meeting until Nov. 4 and none after November. They don't have to list everything (that's in a link to the news release) but at least put ALL the dates down). Better late than never I guess.


Dear Directors,

The district has just announced public meetings around the NSAP and the transition plan. I posted them at the Save Seattle School blog. One of the drop-in meetings is THIS Friday. And yet is the meeting schedule on the district home page? NO. In the News and Calendar page? NO.

What the hell do we pay all these people downtown for? Communications? IT?

And this is what passes for so-called public engagement? Don't you dare allow the Superintendent and her minions to say they are doing true public engagement. This is nonsense and you know it.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful but what will it take to hold the Superintendent's feet to the fire?

Look, if she gets offered the job in D.C. (taking over Michelle Rhee's position), LET HER GO. (I have no doubt that she is applying for it as we speak.) She is hurting this district every single day.

Don't ask us to believe this district is doing better. It is not. We continue to be mired in inefficiencies and a terrible culture of bureaucracy that needs to change (and the Moss-Adams report told us that long ago).

What is it going to take?

End of message (except I included excerpts from the Coffee Chats that I thought they should be aware of).

29 comments:

dan dempsey said...

Melissa,

Great idea.

MGJ ==> WA DC .:. luv it.

I liked your letter to the Board so much. It inspired me to write one to Board President DeBell.

I suggested self-reporting of legal violations to the State Auditor's Office. Then we would know the Board is serious about Transparency, Accountability, and those Audit Findings and doing something positive.

I am not holding my breath in anticipation of the start of Self-Reporting.

Here is my blog post and letter.

G said...

I went to the Board work session tonight on the NSAP, and for all you West Seattle folks, Steve Sundquist was really going to bat for the north West Seattle overcrowding. It was not a meeting about specifics, but he made the north West Seattle schools very specifically known. He seems to really get it, and was good at articulating solutions.

Jan said...

G: that is really great news. Historically, Steve has been too quiet on West Seattle issues, and his district has paid a really heavy price for his omissions. Let's hope that his advocacy bears real results in terms of solutions.

Olliesdad said...

Too little, too late, Director Sundquist. Your participation, and collusion in the closure process caused the problem in the first place. We have absolutely no faith in your ability to make the situation in West Seattle North any better. Just Stop, you have done enough. Time for you to be recalled.

Seattle Parent said...

Thanks, G for that information.
What specific solutions was he proposing?

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/10-11agendas/102710agenda/102710agenda.pdf

Here is the link to the two powerpoints covering the two huge issues for today's worksession- one for new graduation requirement proposals by the state and the district, and the other link to a 48 page powerpoint on "Student Assignment Plan Transitions." This is the start of the Capacity Management, so fasten your seat belts.

re: Graduation requirement changes- the 1st power point (13 pages) is by Education First Consulting. Are they actually being paid for this or are they volunteering? It includes a very shallow overview of national trends that the WA State Board of Eductation studied in depth for several years. All of the SBE's research is available online for free...

It looks like the Board is recommending changing from 20 to 22 credits to graduate, starting possibly as soon as 2011? This would be years before the state's recommendations kick in. This is a huge change which really should be undertaken with proper planning and not just rushed out the door along with all of the other changes the district is dealing with. What will fall between the cracks? Seattle's graduation rates are so low, where is the new academic plan to help our struggling students graduate?

dan dempsey said...

Director Sundquist was the director most in favor of closing Cooper and tossing those kids into the wind, so that Pathfinder could move into Cooper.

What specifically does he plan to do to remedy his continuing poor judgment?

1.. Closed Cooper

2.. Voted for the "arbitrary & capricious" HS math adoption.

3.. Supported MGJ's appeal of Judge Spector's adoption remand back to the Board. Even though he was part of the Board that excluded 300 pages of evidence from consideration.

The decision to appeal the Spector remand means that the District refuses to remake the decision using all the evidence.

4.. Approved the NTN contract that did not exist on 2/3/10 and then refused to display the contract to the public and refused to answer questions about the decision.

5.. Approved the $800,000 NTN contract (redo) without competitive bidding on 4/7/10. There was no attempt to satisfy the legal requirements to allow non-competitive bidding. Steve violates state laws on a regular basis.

6.. He Voted to extend MGJ's contract from 2 more years to three more years just after the incredibly poor audit report with a huge number of findings.

Link to Recall filing of Oct. 21, 2010.

Link to Initial Brief filed in NTN appeal on October 25, 2010.

==============
The Superintendent and the Board according to the Audit violated WA state laws and Board policies regularly.

Who buys lemon cars repeatedly from the same salesman?

Recall Steve Sundquist.

dan dempsey said...

Melissa said:

"What the hell do we pay all these people downtown for? Communications? IT?"

The list of people getting paid downtown and providing nothing positive would be extremely long .... and it would include 4 school board members (because they do get a small per diem payment and they are not worth that --- check the audit).

Rosie said...

Thanks for the links Seattle parent. Slide 37 of the capacity management really intrigued me. I had heard talk of an expected increase in kindergartners this year, so that 200 student increase didn't surprise me. But 500 new 1-5? 200 new MS students?

To all you who have been castigating the District for not being able to predict how many new students were going to come in, I'm curious how you think they should have been able to anticipate all these new elementary kids? And I'm curious about where they came from. Influx from private schools? New residents? Kids who were home schooled in early years? I'm sure there are additional possibilities I'm missing, but the first two of these categories would be pretty hard to anticipate.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dan, let's be fair. The Board is basically made up of volunteers. Let's give them credit for that. My problem is not paying them. I think large urban boards SHOULD be paid by the state. The work load is huge.

My frustration is over 7 people I know are bright people and yet somehow things seem to move at a glacial pace in this district with very little concrete/visible oversight.

wseadawg said...

I agree with Olliesdad. Sundquist's belligerence and stunning obstinance in the face of overwhelming "data" that said this overcrowding would happen remains unforgivable.

Are we supposed to feel better that he finally found his smelling salts? Sorry, no thanks.

How convenient, Steve. When you've sucked up to your sugar-daddies and sold out your neighborhood to the point the natives won't buy your nonsense anymore, you suddenly start taking up their cause! What a politician!

This is the guy who supported and advocated for MGJ's SERVE proposal that nearly derailed the union contract negotiations, which would have caused a a strike.

Sorry to inform you, but he takes MGJ's and SPS's side on every issue, always. He is not a friend of West Seattle.

During the last two years, he dismissed warnings and complaints as representing the "loud minority", choosing to believe instead that he had widespread support amongst the "silent majority."

Oh, he's really fighting for West Seattle, now that the water is over the dam. Yeah, right.

wseadawg said...

And let's not forget Sundquist's Math Adoption vote, either.

His infamous words that "the process was followed" (no matter by a stacked, corrupt committee) will ring loudly in my head every night that I struggle to help my children with the cripplingly inept math curricula he voted for, and could have stopped if he had the slightest hint of a spine.

Go along and get along, Mr. Yes-Man. Just do your rubber-stamping in a business somewhere and stay away from our schools.

wseadawg said...

Rosie, the answer to your question is the City's demographer, which has shown baby-booms in all of Seattle's neighborhoods for the past several years. The city is growing, families are moving in, and the birthrates have been increasing as well.

You can't walk a neighborhood in town and not see more kids everywhere than 10 years ago.

I don't expect the district to be perfect, but how they missed the increases, and belligerently disagreed when presented with that information, is dumbfounding.

Central Mom said...

I have to agree w/ Seadawg on the demographics. In 2007/8/9 SPS staff said many times that because of staffing issues and just plain incomplete/old govt. data that they were doing Best Guess for this first year NSAP.

OK, they were forthright and it is understandable.

But what is/was NOT OK was their bullheaded attitude that school communities and civic neighborhood groups could not help supply missing data. Many tried and they were shown the door by central staff. Thanks But No Thanks, You're Not the Expert. Only the NE parents, after A WHOLE LOT of pushing, made some inroads into having staff look at numbers. And that was with foot dragging and whining from staff.

So SPS: This year PLEASE pay attention when city and school communities weigh in. We do matter and we happen to know more details from our areas than you do. Thanks.

Lori said...

Some of the influx from private schools should have been fairly easy to see. The district should have data from the last few years about students who got mandatory assignments to a school they didn't choose and then decided to go elsewhere. This was not uncommon at all in the NE the last few years because the elementary schools in the south part are overcrowded and families were being assigned to schools 50+ blocks away.

I know families who ended up in private schools instead rather than, say, taking a chance on a brand new Jane Addams after a mandatory assignment. This year, all those families were considered "new to the district" and guaranteed a spot at the neighborhood school they had wanted all along. So, some of them came back now that they were guaranteed a spot. No surprise there.

And I absolutely agree with the others about an increasing number of kids around here and the district's disinterest in community input on the issue. IIRC, three years ago, the district did not have a full time demographer (can anyone confirm my memory?) and was *surprised* when a few hundred extra kids applied for Kindergarten in the NE one year. Those of us living here could easily see the number of older homeowners selling to young families, turning over entire blocks to a new generation. We've gone from 8 kids on our block in 2001 to over 20 today. One block. And every adjacent block seems to be growing similarly.

Rosie said...

I don't think it would be wise to rely on anecdotal stories about the fact that a couple of blocks have changed generations, or even that some people seem to see more children around. Are there actually more 5 year olds, or are you just noticing more of them since you now have one of your own? Personally, I notice a huge growth in the percentage of vibrant women in their 50s these days . . . .

I also think that making major decisions based on beliefs that some parents may or may not choose private school based on an assignment plan is pretty unwise. For every person who is now delighted that they can get into their nearest elementary school and who you consequently think are leaving their private schools, how many others are angry that they can't ensure that a sibling gets into a school that's farther away but much loved and so are now sending both kids to a private school?

I just did a quick web search and the most recent census data shows a really modest increase in family size in Seattle between 2000 and 2008. The link is really long so I include it a the end.

I stand by my original proposition.

http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ACSSAFFFacts?_event=&geo_id=16000US5363000&_geoContext=01000US|04000US53|16000US5363000&_street=&_county=seattle&_cityTown=seattle&_state=04000US53&_zip=&_lang=en&_sse=on&ActiveGeoDiv=&_useEV=&pctxt=fph&pgsl=160&_submenuId=factsheet_1&ds_name=DEC_2000_SAFF&_ci_nbr=null&qr_name=null%C2%AE%3Dnull%3Anull&reg=null%C2%AE%3Dnull%3Anull%3Anull&_keyword=&_industry=

Sandy Blight said...

I so agree with Melissa that we should be fair and give credit to the board wherever it is due. However, it is time the board spends valuable time making valuable decisions instead of wasting its volunteer time not making any decisions that will help the district correct its misdeeds. The board currently spends much time in meetings being told how "Processes" are being put in place so that the District can begin to understand what needs to be done. How long will this take? It sounds to me that the board is afraid of taking any actions. There are 2 new board members and they need to start their engines and not become part of the existing inaction team.

Lori said...

Rosie, I didn't say they should rely on anecdotes. However, when you get enough anecdotes from one part of town, you should start forming some hypotheses and looking to see if the collective experience of the community is accurate or not.

It's not rocket science to test some of this. Run a report to see how many families participated in open enrollment, then see how many showed up that school year. Look at those who didn't show up. Are the no-shows equally distributed among the city? What about by grade? Did more K families in the NE refuse their spot than in other parts of town? If so, that might suggest a surge will come back with the NSAP.

I can think of lots of ways to use the data they have to think about these issues. The question is: do they have someone on staff who is doing this? The fact that there was no demographer on staff 3 years ago when 20+ families in our assignment area were waitlisted for our neighborhood school makes me wonder how on top of demographic trends they really are.

mirmac1 said...

Lori and Rosie,

What they SHOULDN'T rely on is their Magic 8-ball cuz it's busted. Clearly, their capacity management plan isn't worth the paper it's written on. But it shur gave the appearance of moving forward and looked good on MGJ's evaluation!

mirmac1 said...

Melissa, email this to the Board. They should allow policies submitted by normal ole citizens like us. We want the Board to do what the Auditor said and start some real oversight. Read the difference between these two district's Board policies. One does not allow the Supt to kick their *sses all over town.

A "Real" School Board's Governance Policy

vs.

Seattle School Board Governance Policy

Central Mom said...

Rosie: Anecdotal demographic info, no. I agree.

But when parents poll every family in their school on pre-K sibs, or knock on every door in a 10x10 block radius and turn in the results with names, addresses and phone numbers for double-checking data, then YES staff should pay attention even knowing the data may not be perfect. 1) Because it's more info than they've got in-house and 2) Because a community obviously cares and is involved and why wouldn't the district want to harness that extra energy to inform a complicated project.

If I could change 1 systemic thing downtown it would be the attitude of Us (staff) vs. Them (the masses). Together we could do so much more for the kids of our District. The attitude of intolerance and actual fear of The Public's Opinion needs to stop.

And no, working with the Alliance does not count as Working with the Public. No offense to the Alliance, but they are but one group and money should not be a calling card for influence in a public institution.

Keegan Blight said...

Oh my God - do you remember that the District had its own auditor? What happened to that position?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Keegan, the State Auditor has someone who is at SPS on a regular basis doing audit work. I think there is someone who works with him but I can't say for certain SPS has its own auditor.

wseadawg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wseadawg said...

It's not exactly anecdotal when it's happening everywhere, Rosie.

But here's an anecdote maybe you'll appreciate. When Meg Diaz spoke to the board about 20% attrition rates and lost per-pupil, year-after-year funding from those lost kids, as occurred with the prior round of '06 closures, DeBell & Co's talking point was "but due to a downturn in the economy, we expect many families now in private school to return to public schools, so by their own words & beloved "data", they expected a bump of private turned public kids. On top of that, according to Sundquist, a survey or census was taken by MGJ's folks right after she got here, because people were saying "don't close schools, more and more kids are growing up in the city,' but their survey showed that "simply wasn't true" according to Sundquist at a meeting I attended.

After the closures, and after early enrollment numbers came in the Spring of '08 (if I have the year correct), SPS made a big announcement that they were now going to start working with and sharing information with the City of Seattle's demographer, obviously because their numbers were way off.

The point of the anecdotes is not to say we should make decisions based upon them, but that when people from every block in the city are saying their neighborhood is growing, and citing proof to back it up, SPS folks might want to take that into consideration.

I lived in the NE, Wallingford, and West Seattle. All have grown enormously in the past decade in terms of the numbers of kids. It's a phenomenon cities across the nation are experiencing as more and more families are passing on the suburban experience and choosing to raise kids in cities.

It shouldn't be shocking news to anyone, and lends credence to the argument that JSCEE has too much of a silo mentality and focus. This is worsened by central administrative initiatives which focus everyone at JSCEE instead of looking and reaching out into the community to see what's really happening.

When all else fails, and they're backed into a corner, they'll blame the VAX.

wseadawg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wseadawg said...

Rosie: Did you really mean to say you only saw a modest increase in "family size"? Its the number of kids, not that single families are having more kids, that we need to look at.

Your link leads to a page that would give one the impression Seattle only grew by 8k between 2000-08, from 563k to 571k. The CB's actual estimates are that Seattle eclipsed 600k about 2 years back and now sits at about 616k total population.

Crunching the data, into a nutshell, it appears the number of kids is growing at a rate of about 1% per year in the city. Combine that with down economy, and that pretty much explains away any surprises in student population growth, IMHO anyways.

seattle citizen said...

Melissa writes, "things seem to move at a glacial pace in this district with very little concrete/visible oversight."

Perhaps because the Board, and to some extent the superintendent, are mere fronts and what they do, compared to what is being done behind the scenes, don't always mesh up. This slows things down: While the state is eagerly changing the laws around TFA, for instance, the district has still, sigh, to go through ITS process. While Burgess and OSC members (and Gates, yes, and Broad) are eagerly working THEIR deals, district is trying to appear independent by going through policy and procedure. These two processes, district agenda and outside agenda(s) are at different paces and planning/implementation stages, so there is the appearance of a slowing down at district level as they try to mesh up to the other agendas. Hence the quickly inserted and just as quickly removed TFA action item on the agenda three weeks ago.

If only, the agents of reform sigh, we could just get rid of this dang public board and initiate OUR agenda post haste! Damn this public process! It's clogging up the machine!

Keegan Blight said...

Melissa - The Seattle School District had an internal auditor. The State auditor has some staff at the District building but the District has an internal auditor whose voice we did not hear after he was appointed. He is the person who presented the Internal Audit Policy.
Remember this...
Jul 05, 2008
There is a lot to like about the new Internal Auditor position that the Board will create this week. This position answers a dire need. This position reports to the Board. This position has a clear mission....

How can we find more about this position - we might get some important information here.

Sandy Blight said...

Melissa - my husband is onto something here. Could the Central office and the board be hiding something by not publicizing the work of the Internal Auditor?