Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Seattle Public Education and Mayor McGinn

I met the Mayor at a Starbucks (on the very day there were flash strikes at a few Starbucks but not the one we were in).  He was in an expansive mood and ready to talk Seattle schools.

The Mayor always talks as "we" meaning his team at City Hall.   So he started by saying what "we"  have been doing.  It's a pretty long list:
  • doubled the Families&Education Levy and helped support its passage
  • launched a successful attendance campaign (with private companies and local celeb support)
  • launched an Education Leadership Group, believing that many groups/entities are on the same education road.  It includes Superintendent Banda, reps from our community colleges as well as UW, a Labor Council rep, someone from the Gates Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, and United Way among others.
  • worked on creating programs for pathways to careers, summer jobs  and summer food programs
  • listened to Superintendent Banda's presentation on the district's new Strategic Plan and then went to City departments and asked how they could support student academic achievement.  He said the City had found that many kids and families weren't aware of supports out there (like homework help at our libraries) for struggling/at-risk students and wants to enable that communication.
  • created subsidies for more Early Learning slots through the F&E levy as well as an emphasis on teaching providers how to get those children ready for K
  • did a study on how to fund universal pre-K (I'm waiting on a copy of this study) - He said he had asked for a meeting with Councilman Tim Burgess who is also pushing hard for this.
  • offered help to the district in demography and city permitting for school building renovation
  • when City realized more money from the Chihuly Museum and waterfront ferris wheel, decided that money would go to K-12 arts education.  I reported on this here.
  • Also helped to create the Read and Rise program to partner with parents to prepare kids for school.
  • Also, somewhat peripheral to public education is his support for more and safe bike routes.  With a neighborhood school plan, more students are likely to bike.  
To note (to be fair) - the Mayor didn't doubled the F&E levy nor pass it by himself.  Neither did any other single person.  This was an effort on the part of many people, including elected officials.
We got down to some brass tacks and I asked the Mayor about the governance of Seattle Schools.  He and I had this same discussion the first time he ran but the circumstances are certainly different.   He said the first time he ran that people were surprised he would talk about public education because "it's not the mayor's job" but this time around, it came up at every primary forum.  He said the public has driven this issue at or near the top of the issues pile.

He said that no mayor could ignore the issue.  He said it was an important issue for Seattle because he has heard, from different people representing different groups/businesses, that the SPS reputation is holding back growth.

I asked him about what he thought might be a good way forward in governance.  Would he support some kind of mayoral input?  He, like Senator Murray, was very quick to say that he himself would do nothing.  But, if there were enough stakeholders who wanted to come to the table and have a discussion about supporting the district in a different governance structure, he was willing to have that conversation.  

I asked him what he thought the City could do for the district.  He said he felt they could lend more expertise.  He said he didn't want to "lean in" and tell the district what or where to build but to ask how the City could give support or expertise or leverage to the district's plans.

I asked about a downtown school and he said he supported the idea and the City had certainly done some serious looking around at the possibility.  He said it is being pushed by the DSA and the Chamber of Commerce but he also understood the district's capacity management issues as they stand today.  He said what the City could likely offer is - again - that kind of connection between companies and the district and see if room could be found somewhere.

I asked him about policing and how the City could support school safety.  He said they had increased the violence emphasis patrols around "hot spots" like Rainier and Henderson.  He said they put up the reviled (but apparently effective) speed cameras around schools.  He said that they expanded the Seattle Youth Violence initiative that has street teams (with leaders who came from street life) and work in partnership with SPD.  He also said they are looking at other issues like career bridges for ex-cons and young adults who "age out" of some youth initiatives.

He pointed to the fact that his administration came in when voters were trying to decide on voting funds for a new county jail.  He said his administration had worked with the County, did not build the jail and increased money for education.

He pointed to the need for support for our schools as a way to support our city's economy.  He wants to see growth in high-tech jobs, not more (and lower paying) service jobs.  He said that Seattle is a diverse and multi-cultural city and believes education could be the great unifier.  Not that race doesn't matter and there are still hard conversations to have but education could be a place to start.

He said his top goals were to deal with the rising inequality in our city and how education could change that, recognizing Seattle's diversity and making that a plus for our city and global warming.


The Mayor seemed at ease and very happy to be talking about public education.  He believes he has learned much in his four years - and readily admits a learning curve - but is enthused and ready to continue on. 

I repeated to him what I said to Senator Murray on the issue of any kind of nudge from a mayor about SPS governance - I might trust you but not the next mayor and that would be my worry.  He said that any changes, if there were any, would come from a real city-wide discussion. Neither man criticized either the School Board or Superintendent directly.

His list of accomplishments/efforts in Seattle public education is fairly long and widespread.  It is clear he cares about this issue.  (And for the record, he has one Hale grad, another student there and another student at Salmon Bay.)

I look forward to hearing both the Mayor and Senator Murray at debates on this and other concerns facing our city.


seattle citizen said...

Overall, I appreciate the Mayor's comments and support. Sounds like he ("we") is quite informed and offers positive suggestions.
Concern? That he has heard (from the usual suspects?) that "the SPS reputation is holding back growth."
1) Isn't SPS one of the better performing districts in the state (at least according to test scores)? Isn't SPS growing rapidly (yes, more families in city, but also families choosing SPS)? Isn't SPS recognized for many great programs?
What, exactly, are these business groups referring to when they besmirch the reputation of SPS?
2) Holding back growth?! Seriously? This city has grown by leaps and bounds since, say, 1978 (when I moved here: I'm part of the growth.) Look at the skyline and how it's changed. Look at South Lake Union, transit, office space, diverse industies, shipping...
Tell me, are we not "growing" fast enough? Do business people really argue that SPS is holding back business growth? Do they argue that business (out of concern for employees' families?) avoids moving to Seattle or starting here because of SPS?
What, exactly, are they arguing?
And who are these people? As business certainly carries a lot of weight in city planning, I want names.
But I fear, deeply, that they are the usual suspects.

Anonymous said...

"Essential Public Facilities law, which allows the government to condemn and acquire property if it’s for building public transportation, prisons, highways, schools or other necessary facilities"

Came across this mention in an article about Sound Transit the other day and I'm wondering why this essential public facilities law isn't being used to secure property for future schools in South Lake Union or perhaps Queen Anne for a high school, or in the northeast for needed elementary schools. For SLU in particular, why is the discussion over fitting a school into a commercial development?

Ann D.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ann, good question. I know that many South Lake Union businesses would like a school sited right downtown (as opposed to further out to QA).

This is a good piece of info to keep in mind for the future, thanks.

SC, I suspect for both Murray and McGinn, it's the same people telling them this. Meanwhile, the evidence is that people continue to move here, the economy continues to pick up (and even grow) and the district is expanding. But it fits the narrative that the schools are a problem.

mirmac1 said...

It costs money and time to go through an adverse property acquisition and condemnation process.

I agree SC. McGinn's in the ed reform echo chamber downtown.

Anonymous said...

Given the choice of school districts around here, SOME Seattle schools are competitive. That's the problem. Right now, the SLU crowd with families are buying big in QA, Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard, and Magnolia neighborhoods. But many also chose the Eastside for what appears to be better managed districts (not in the spotlight & less ed reformer meddling) with good public schools.

Seattle demographics are changing and it's getting more and more expensive to live here, especially in desirable neighborhoods. Except for property values going up overall and our taxes as well, I'm not sure the wealth has trickled into poorer areas to turn out better schools or safer neighborhoods. It's not a coincidence that Nickelsville moved into Skyway or CD. I think some of the treatment of these neighborhoods is playing out in the fight for the Mann bldg. For many readers, it seems a straight forward leasing issue. For others there is a long simmering resentment which I get because it's a fight for a community identity (which is changing) that historically has been marginalized with redlining and later, political and economic neglect. For the people who held on through the good and bad times, there is a need to keep something of their history and to acknowledge their preseverence and struggles. We promote and preserve the ID, the Ballard Nordic museum (a former elementary school) and Syttende Mai for that reason. Don't forget when we bring up questionable school sales, remember QA high too.

Whoever will be the new Mayor will follow the same political and economic path of those who put him or her in power. There won't be any earth shattering changes.

long view