The agenda for the September 5, 2012 regular legislative school board meeting is now available online.
Let's review it!
The meeting is scheduled to start at 4:15pm. The public testimony comes at 5:00.
The Board knows, and has been told, that it is difficult for working people to reach the Board meetings by 5:00 on Wednesdays. They have no intention, however, of changing the time for public testimony. It is difficult not to see this as an effort to discourage participation by working people. Public testimony is the Board's primary community engagement and they have diminished it by reducing it from two sessions at every meeting to one, they have diminished it by reducing the speaking time from three minutes to two, and now they have restricted access by starting it at 5:00. Using myself as an example, I left work promptly on time and hurried to the last Board meeting. Despite my haste, I arrived at 5:25, too late to speak to the Board.
Public Testimony is followed by Board Comments. The Board members are not restricted to two minutes and they do tend to drone on.
There isn't anything very controversial among the business items for action this week. A cell phone contract that saves money and improves service - particularly "push-to-talk" service for emergencies, some contracts for Family and Education Levy money, the odd (but welcome) $2 million buy-off from the legislature to Representative Pettigrew, and the annual contract with the Experimental Education Unit at UW.
This section of the meeting should move quickly as the Board has seen all of this before and there is no one opposed to any of it.
Among the introduction items, however, we find some one item with some drama:
Item number 2 for introduction is for the Board to vote to recommend the approval of a conditional certificate for a Teach for America corps member. Yes, one. This vote would normally be a slam dunk since the Board is contractually obligated to recommend corps members for the conditional certificates. Oh, but wait. This Teach for America corps member has been hired to teach special education students on multiple subjects at Aki Kurose Middle School. The federal law that governs most of school, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has a special provision that declares Teach for America corps members as "highly qualified" under the terms of that law. There is, however, another federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which governs special education and has a higher standard for teacher qualifications. The candidate's qualifications for the job are a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, a WEST E endorsement in Social Studies and a WEST B endorsement in Special Education.
The Board specifically asked the staff if a conditionally certificated teacher was qualified to teach Special Education. The long and the short of it is this: Human Resources has confirmed that the candidate has the required qualifications to teach multiple subjects in a special education classroom.
It is worth noting that last year six Teach for America corps members were hired by Seattle Public Schools. Five of them are still working in the same assignments. This year, so far, there is only one hire. This is significantly fewer than the 20-25 that were anticipated by Teach for America and the previous district administration. The contract is scheduled for a review next year. Board members can ask for a review of the contract at any time.
It is unlikely that we will see people queued up to speak on either side of the Teach for America question on Wednesday, but there may be a few appear to speak specifically to the question of a corps member's qualification to teach Special Education classes. There has been no community engagement on this question. The community engagement section of the Board Action Report is blank. I would imagine that the District would want to hear from the Special Education PTA. Or, then again, maybe not. The Board has not shown any enthusiasm for community engagement (see above).