The Board meeting of January 19, 2011 ran from 6:00 until after 11:00pm. I was there until the end.
The meeting was busy and awkward. After the public testimony was a very brief update from the superintendent on audit. Uncharacteristically, the superintendent responded to some testimony by saying that she would meet with members of the Rainier Beach High School community about the IB program that the District is starting there. There had been no communication with the community before that decision was made. Both Dr. Enfield and Mr. Kennedy were out of town so they didn't appear.
That was followed by each Director reading their annual disclosure of financial interests and potential conflicts. Those recitations were long, boring, and kinda awkward. The superintendent disclosed her seats on the Board of the Alliance for Education and the Council of Great City Schools which she had not disclosed in prior years.
Then came some Board remarks including an update on audit response from Director Carr. Here's the short version: It has been six months since the audit was released and, although we haven't taken any action in response to it, we are just about ready to take some action in the next couple months. Director Carr also announced that the Capital Projects audit will be presented to the Board on January 31 at 4:00pm. It is a public meeting and it promises to be very entertaining.
A couple items were removed from the Consent Agenda but all of them were promptly approved and then we advanced to the business of the meeting starting with the amendments to the Transition Plan for the NSAP.
Another year of preferred access to Salmon Bay for Thornton Creek students was proposed by Director Maier. Speaking for the motion he said that there were no alternative middle schools or K-8's in the Northeast for students leaving Thornton Creek. I guess he forgot about AS#1 and Jane Addams. Director Smith-Blum - have I mentioned how I admire her work - asked what we were going to do next year? Will there be a string of annual renewals of this exception or will we seek a systemic, long-term solution? The motion passed, mostly because it was regarded as harmless since Salmon Bay's 6th grade isn't over-subscribed.
Director Sundquist put forward his motion to grant preferred access for West Seattle residents to West Seattle high schools. This motion is antithetical to the very principles of the New Student Assignment Plan, but it was adopted unanimously. I think the amendment found favor because it wouldn't matter anyway - both West Seattle high schools have plenty of space.
Director Martin-Morris proposed a smaller geographic zone around Thornton Creek to improve access for students in other parts of the northeast. The motion was opposed by Director Carr, who wanted to use the geographic zone as a capacity management tool to increase the number of students drawn from crowded schools. Director Patu opposed it because she thought it was unfair to shrink the geographic zone for Thornton Creek and not other option schools. She said that her sense of fairness demanded that "what we do for one we should do for all." This sense of fairness, however, didn't prevent her from proposing that SouthShore be the only option school with a geographic zone last year. Back then it was okay to do something for just one school. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 5-2.
It has become abundantly clear that the Geographic Zones are seen primarily as a Capacity Management tool. The District really painted itself into a corner by promising students access to their attendance area school. Now it is looking for anything they can do to influence outcomes - no matter how weak that influence. The geographic zones and the tie-breakers are used exclusively as capacity management tools. There is no other purpose (fairness, diversity, academic principles, etc.) that merits consideration.
Then came the (now amended) Transition Plan. There were few questions and little discussion before it was passed.
What did get a lot of discussion was the request for a waiver for three days of professional development. The Board really pushed back on this, which is odd because it was written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the teachers. They are becoming concerned about further reductions to instructional time. This is so odd. The Board and the District leadership alternately scoff at "seat time" and wax poetic about extended days. They search for legal loopholes to justify the minimal number of hours of instruction (saying that it doesn't matter) and then they oppose professional development time for teachers (which they crowed about when they approved the teacher contract) because it will diminish instructional time. These folks need to make up their minds.
There was absolutely no opposition to a request for a waiver for three days of instruction for parent teacher conferences.
Then, after allowing a volunteer non-voting member of the Audit and Finance Committee and a few of the construction contract approvals that make up more Board votes than anything else, they got to Transportation.
By this time it was about 10:30 at night. Tom Bishop came forward and peddled his plan. You are going to hate it.
Here's the plan in a nutshell: bus transportation for elementary schools will be provided only for students living within a short distance - 1.25 nmiles - from the school. Beyond that range, transportation will be spotty or absent. They have eliminated the one mile walk zone, so yellow bus transportation will be for all students who live within 1.25 miles from the school and within the service area - even if they live across the street from the school.
In short, the District wants every student to enroll at their attendance area elementary school. Choose something else and you're on your own. They are actively working to kill choice. The only exception is for students in overcrowded schools, for whom they want to smooth the path to another school.
Transportation for ELL, EBOC, Spectrum, and APP will continue pretty much as it has been.
The District has committed to providing transportation to elementary students assigned to a school within their service area. For those who live more than 1.25 miles from their chosen school, the District will set up "intermediary stops". In short, students will walk to a near-by school and catch a ride from there to their assigned school. Some will be able to catch a ride on a ELL, EBOC, or Spectrum bus.
Mr. Bishop says that he really, sincerely wished he had more time and opportunity to do community engagement on this plan, but he just couldn't. He didn't explain why he couldn't. There will be one community meeting on the plan on January 27 at 7:00 at Aki Kurose. They have also set up an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for comments and will be listening for community input at the Board meeting of February 2nd - when they will be voting on the plan and it will be far too late to do anything to change it. In fact, it is probably already far too late to do anything to change it.
This huge change in transportation policy was dumped on the Board at 10:30 at night after four and a half hours of meeting with no notice to the public. They are looking to finalize it in about two weeks. There's a lot of urgency because they want it all resolved before Open Enrollment so people can make their Open Enrollment decision with the full knowledge that the District will not be providing anything like meaningful transportation for people who choose anything but a very close school.
This was followed by a very brief presentation on the new contract with the principals. The principal evaluation process remains to be negotiated.