For those who don't know, McGilvra is a small (269) thriving elementary in Madison Park. Because of the dedication of their parents and being in a fairly well-to-do area, McGilvra has high test scores and a PTA that raises roughly $260,000 a year. Yes, a year. They fund 3.6 FTE.
InJuly of 2000, bought 2 portables for their school to lower class size and to increase the overall capacity of the school. When they bought the portables, they and the district signed an agreement about their use.
So what's the problem? It's a dual one. First, under NCLB, students at schools that did not meet AYP were allowed to leave their school for another school in their same area. McGilvra could not get out of this federal regulation and may have had to take in some students (although it seems like it must have been very few). This is not discussed anywhere at the McGilvra website but I know from other research that it was an issue.
Second, of course, was the New Student Assignment Plan which apparently has made McGilvra even more attractive to those in the neighborhood.
Right now, the principal seems to be trying to figure out how to deal with the increased enrollment and their website reflects the options of looping and multiage to be discussed with parents at a PTA meeting in March.
However, last September, a couple of parents who were lawyers hired a lawyer from the firm of Stoel Rives to enter into a discussion with district legal counsel, Ron English. Here's the letter.
It's cordial but firm. Basically, they feel the district is not living up to the terms of the portables agreement and seem to be obliquely saying if the district doesn't live up to it, the PTA won't be able to fund those teaching positions.
The agreement was for the McGilvra PT to buy the portables ("Portables Gift Agreement") and the district would guarantee that those spaces would be used for smaller classes for twenty years. Under the deal, the district has to pay back the PTA if the district uses the portables for any other purpose. The PTA agreed to fund the extra staff.
The PTA's position is that unless there is no other way AND the rest of the Central area schools have to take their fair share, then McGilvra will grow to even larger. They want to have 20 children per class in K-3 and 22-23 in grades 4-5. They currently have 27 in their kindergarten classes and 23/24 in other grades.
From the letter:
While McGilvra's small class sizes have at times been controversial, the district encouraged the PTA to head down this path a decade ago as part of a 20-year commitment, It is important to emphasize that this was not and is not an elitist approach whereby an affluent neighborhood school has reduced class sizes by restricting access to the school. Just the opposite - with the PTAs purchase of the portables and the ongoing fundraising to support three additional teachers each year, the PTA and district partnership has actually added more children to the school.
One line from the letter was striking:
Without small class sizes, it is highly unlikely McGilvra can continue to raise a fifth of the school's budget.
To be clear, the PTA doesn't want money from the district. They want the district to honor what they believe is their due in the agreement and that is using the portables to reduce class size.
What the PTA desires is for the district to productively engage with the PTA to find ways to maintain and honor their partnership to provide reduced class size and enrichment programs at McGilvra so that the purpose of the contract can continue to be met. If such solutions can be found, the PTA is confident that it can continue to raise funds to support teacher salaries and programs to benefit the school's children.
They also requested a meeting with Mr. English and Susan Enfield. Among issues they wanted to talk about was this:
5. Whether and how the Portable Gift Agreement(and related Grant money) was included in drawing the attendance area boundaries;
6. What would occur if the PTA is unable to fund the teacher salaries at the same level as the current funding it provides the district;
7. Plans for remodeling/recontructing the school;
(Note: McGilvra probably will be on a short list for BEX IV. Unlike Montlake, they have enough land to build to be a bigger school and it would seem they could fill it. As well, their building is quite old (1913).
They don't have a real explanation of whether the meeting took place but reading the minutes, it seems it did. This is what they said:
New administration - different view - they don't like the whole approach. Overall they stayed positive. General counsel who has been around for district for a long time- had a practical approach. His suggestion was- no new contract. A Memorandum of understanding- maybe some things we can tie down.
Felt like we could make the best of it. Sent a draft didn’t’ hear anything. Holly and I spoke with Ron and Ron said basically said it is not going to work. The top of district won’t work with Memorandum and they want to cash you out of portables.
Choices- can sue this under contract. Not a very likely path.
No new contract- new administration doesn’t want to do this.
There's discussion about what the district funds and then this:
They wont’ bring anyone outside reference area- neighborhood schools work.
What's also interesting is in their December minutes they talk about the kindergarten teachers being stressed with 27 students but that the teachers don't want aides (but tutors would be okay). Apparently they were still waiting to hear from the district on the portables issues. They also reference the growing pains over at Schmitz Park.
Harium Martin-Morris attended their Feb. PTA meeting and it looks like he got asked many questions.
Will- what are you doing with the schools are over capacity?
H-Try to encourage folks to make different choices. We spend many nights trying to match up the surges that we see- growing at two small elementary schools a year. MLK- not viable school space- wouldn't have helped.
Cathy- when do you put us up to top of the levy to update our space? H- there are a dozen schools in the same space. This is the biggest growth in more than any other part of the city. We opened up Sandpoint for that reason. It isn't always in the right place.
I do not bring this up to say anything in specific about McGilvra. They have and have had a dedicated, highly-motivated parent base and a good school. I think that many schools would love to have their problems. I would also say there is a danger in these kinds of agreements because of the unknowns of the future. No school should be able to control its place in any assignment plan.
From a district view of the issues raised from this story:
Like Schmitz Park, like Thorton Creek, the issue on crowding for McGilvra relates to public areas like bathrooms and the lunchroom. None of those schools can expand for that even with portables.
There seems to be a theme: functional capacity. I am going to write a thread on this as there were figures given out at the Operations Committee meeting that really confused me. (I want to get the link from Tracy L. so you can see it yourself.) The district has got to quit changing these figures. Yes, programming changes what you can do in a school but there has got to be a baseline number because otherwise, the district can cram kids into a school and claim the enrollment fits the functional capacity.