I attended today's Operation Committee of the Whole where some important issues for school year 2013-2014 were discussed. Those would be transportation and what to do in the NE middle school region.
The regular Operations Committee meeting went over some sundry items but President Smith-Blum, who came in late, explained she had been at a meeting about Yesler Terrace. Apparently there will be a large number of very low to moderate income level apartments coming in there and this is something for both the Board and staff to consider in the future.
The Transportation presentation was a bit confusing as there several new options in addition to the current one. The long-term goal is to get to three tiers - each an hour apart - so that they can flip elementary and high school start times, with high school getting a later start time.
Staff had recommended shifting 26 elementary schools 10-15 minutes earlier and 30 minutes earlier for four K-8s. This, according to staff, would imporve sevice levels for all the schools with a more consistent drop-off and pick-up time. It would also save about $230K from transportation. (I believe the four were TOPS, Salmon Bay, South Shore and Jane Addams but they are not listed on the sheet.)
Director Carr, who had not been part of past discussions, cut to the chase. The district needs to make a decision on these times and it needs to be done soon. Carr said they have a $16M shortfall in the budget and those cuts have to come from somewhere as Central has been cut to the bone. Director Peaslee pointed out that those earlier times for the K-8s would be in line with what times other middle schools start.
That recommendation got moved forward for Introduction at the next Board meeting on January 23rd.
Which brought us to the main event - what to do in the NE middle school region?
Pegi McEvoy explained the three new options and I either missed the staff's true recommendation or she didn't actually say but I believe they are recommending the "no feeder patter or boundary changes."
Tracy Libros of Enrollment stated that they would then have no boundary changes for the enrollment plan. But that they would have a "planning principal" in place for a JA Middle School by Sept. 2013.
(Also, it appear the recommendation is to give Thorton Creek one more year of preference to Salmon Bay after the sibling tiebreaker.)
Ms. McEvoy said they had received 500 responses to their e-mail query about which option community members favor. Here was the breakdown:
6th Grade Academy Co-location at No change
Support 57 162 182
No Support 95 78 19
As you can see, No Change got the most support votes and the least no support votes. But co-location received a lot of votes as well.
Phil Brockman, the head Executive Director, said he had spoken with each of the principals in the region. Hamilton wanted support for master scheduling and room utilization. They said if they had more wireless in the building that they could free up some computer areas. Eckstein asked for help with supervision at school and with better utilization of the hallways and lunchroom. And Jane Addams has four new classrooms opening up over the summer.
Then we started with the discussion and Director DeBell, in the first in series, came in first.
He said that he felt that the change in the staff recommendation didn't really cover a multi-year look that would daylight the costs of these mitigations. He said that continuing mitigation isn't a solution which is why he was enthused with opening the middle school at JA.
Then Pegi McEvoy mentioned that one issue that also needed to be considered in the decision is that program placement decisions are to be made in March.
DeBell came back again saying that the district HAD opened new schools - multiple ones at once - and it had gone fine.
President Smith-Blum then carefully walked through the charter that showed costs for each plan.
Director Carr said they should be moving in the direction of a new middle school.
Director DeBell again said that it was "really important" to look at the multi-year plan but we still have no idea when the budget will get better. "All we are doing is deferring and paying mitigation costs."
It was pointed out the JA K-8 principal, Debbie Nelsen, would be doing the principal planning for the new JA Middle School.
Then Director Martin-Morris chimed in about the "multi-year approach." At this point, it felt like Carr, DeBell and Martin-Morris were tag-teaming each others' talking points.
Ms. McEvoy pointed out that they would have to mandatorily reassign about 180 students who thought they would be going to Eckstein.
DeBell came back and said he appreciated that issue and was sensitive to it but, "like the dollars, we are going to do mandatory reassignments anyway (the next year) so why wait longer?"
Carr asked about boundary changes and Tracy Libros said they would be out by winter of 2014 (either December or January). She said it would be long process and promised that no one would be caught off-guard.
Director Peaslee asked about what schools would start the roll-up at JA and would a redraw of the boundaries change that?
Libros said that it was likely that Olympic Hills and John Rogers were likely to end up at JA Middle School but Sacajawea was uncertain.
Then Peaslee asked a question about the planning principal and McEvoy said something that set off alarms in my head. She said that the planning principal would be at the JA site and planning for "Eckstein kids in the north annexed area." Apparently, it could be a rollup OR annexation.
Smith-Blum asked about the possibility of students assigned to Eckstein one year and redrawn elsewhere the next. Pegi said that was an option but that they had given parents the option to choose one school if they had two children.
Tracy Libros also gave a bit of interesting info about JA K-8 - they had 46 new 6th graders who were NOT roll-ups from their 5th grade. Meaning, JA is attracting in new students at the middle school level.
Both Brockman and DeBell said that making the open commitment to a new middle school would signal families to start thinking about it. DeBell said they "missed the boat 5 years ago" and I believe he meant making JA a K-8 and not a middle school. He made it sound like they didn't have all the data. (That is not true; they knew this middle school issue was coming.)
DeBell, to me, came off a bit cold in his next statement which was that JA K-8 has to move and "that all has to be figured out." So it's okay with him that 180 students who thought they were going to Eckstein next year aren't and that JA K-8 has to just adjust to any co-location or move.
Ms. McEvoy asked if each director could weigh in on what their preferred rec was. The results were somewhat surprising.
Sherry Carr said she was torn. "I like signaling the direction but I also recognize that we have caught a lot of people unawares. I could go either way."
Martin-Morris said that he wanted to start on JA Middle School right away. He said the money and the "long view" were his primary reasons and that there would be "pain" in all of this. He said that doing nothing except paying for mitigation would be "paying for that privilege."
President Smith-Blum said that if they start the roll-up but then find the next year that they don't have continued space for JA K-8 and have to move them out, then there will be a large cost to moving JA K-8 twice. And, that it is just as much a financial consideration as mitigation costs. She also suggested pushing more kids towards JA K-8 in order to ward off as many from Eckstein as possible.
Director McLaren said that she while she was sympathetic to parents that she was learning towards opening JA middle school. She said she wanted to see JA K-8 kindergarten "capped".
Director Patu said her question was - how is this affecting current JA K-8 students and the programs in existence there? She said that moving schools affects communities and that the district tends to do moves and not give it much thought. She said she was leaning toward no change.
Director Peaslee said she was in favor of no change along with Director Smith-Blum's idea of more enrollment at JA K-8 for middle school.
DeBell didn't weigh in but it was clear from his multiple previous remarks where he stands.
So, if you were keeping count - that's 2 for JA Middle School, 2 for no change and 2 undecided. It appears that if you have a POV, you work on Director Carr and McLaren (sorry ladies).
There's a lot to be said here.
One, I believe the mitigation costs are a bit of a red herring. The district knew that they would be having to do more (and, in fact, I predict that even if they open JA Middle School, they STILL will pay out some costs anyway).
Two, as President Smith-Blum rightly points out there are costs no matter what they do.
Three, no change doesn't mean "do nothing" and I think it's a bit unkind to say that as if staff will all sit back and do nothing for the rest of this year on this issue. No change means long-term planning and lots of it.
Four, it is somewhat disingenuous for Director DeBell to say "hey, we've opened new schools before." This is NOT just opening a stand-alone school and he knows it. It is opening a new middle school (as opposed to elementary) AND co-locating it with an established program. No, it's not the same thing.
Five, I would point out that waiting for new boundaries would allow the pain to be shared rather than one small group of students and parents having it one year (and then again, possibly the next). Sometimes the sting is lessened if you know a lot of people are sharing it.
Weigh in as you like.