Superintendent Banda was gracious enough to give me a little time last week to talk. (I note that the office looked quite stern with Dr. Enfield's ducky collection gone.)
How's it going?
He said he had adjusted quickly and he is enjoying Seattle. He said that he felt like he got a good grasp of the district and its needs early on.
Math is a big issue to many parents and when they see a few schools going off-script (and getting good results), they want to know how their school can do it. Any plans around that issue?
He said it was a challenging area. He mentioned that Wendy London had resigned (so she is definitely not in the district) and that are working hard to find a new permanent T&L executive director.
Could more schools access a new math program through the Creative Approach system?
He said that may be the best way to do it. He said it could be a resource issue for some schools.
Have you read I-1240 or has anyone in the district read it and provided you analysis on it?
He said he not read it nor had anyone given him any info.
Special Education is also a top issue given the lack of a permanent director for that program. What is happening on that front?
He gestured to a white board behind him with a grid of positions. Next to T&L and Special Ed were red checkmarks. He said that indicated the key positions to get filled and filled soon. He said he was looking for seasoned people (meaning, that the position would not be their first shot at such a level). He said they have good people in place for now. He said the current Special Ed Director, Ms Caldwell, was working on placements and transportation for the current year.
I asked him about federal funding for Special Ed as I had attended a convention where Diane Ravitch had spoken and gotten the biggest applause line for saying the feds needed to provide full funding for Special Ed as promised.
He said that he also thought that was true. He said it funding Special Ed is a huge encroachment on the General Fund and that when he was in Anaheim, he did some work to see if there was anyway to scale that back in a way that wouldn't be detrimental to Special Ed students.
I asked him what he did.
He said one example was that a classroom had an IA for a couple of students. Somehow when those students left, the IA stayed and it was a cost the classroom didn't need. He said another example was checking on bus service. He said that it had been automatic for Special Ed students to ride their own bus and when they asked parents, there were enough who said, yes, my student can ride the regular bus and there were enough students to affect a cost savings.
I asked him about the new Program Placement policy and whether Charlie's assessment that it is only for programs or services that impacts on budgets, hiring and placement of staff on space within a building?
He said he didn't know the policy well enough but seemed concerned when I mentioned that the previous policy had a method for public suggestions on program placement but now it just said
"community driven" without explaining how that would work.
I also asked about Spectrum, for example, under this policy. I explained that currently Spectrum is offered differently at every school that has it and I wondered about how the district knew about quality and consistency.
He agreed and said that there is this "tight-loose" idea in administration (I smiled and said that was one of Joe Olchefske's favorite lines) but he said if you de-centralize too much, you do lose the ability to have consistency and understanding of how well programs are working.
I asked about BEX IV because on KING-5 tv he had said that he and staff were going to try to get it down to $600M. He said between the operations levy and BEX IV, it could go to a billion dollars.
He said yes, they were working towards a $600M (certainly under $700M).
I said this was likely to have a significant change to the plan as earlier numbers had been upwards of $750M.
He said they would try to look through "a different lens" at construction, making sure to meet standards but looking for cost savings everywhere.
We had to stop then but he did say he was going to be present for the McDonald's ribbon-cutting and would visit a couple of schools on the first day of school.
I found the Superintendent to be calm and confident. I like his quiet confidence which is quite the contrast to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's more aloof "I'm large and in charge" attitude. When I asked him about attending the BEX Oversight Committee meeting last Friday, he jumped up to check his calendar. He didn't just wave it off and mentioned trying to get to the next one.
I think he understands the urgency in getting those two top posts filled but I believe he determined to get it right.